Roger Peterson, chain account director for Beltram Foodservice Group in Tampa, Fla., has a pretty straightforward theory about why he has done well enough to be named FE&S’ DSR of the Month for August.
“I bring the customer to the front,” he said. “The way I feel about it is that, in our industry, the boss is the customer. That’s my boss. I help them in a lot of different ways, with different things that I’ll do for them that other people won’t. I’ll give them cut sheets. I’ll work with them on particular products. I’ll give them a 30-day trial on some products. I’ll do different things and jump through hoops for the customer as needed.”
Peterson specializes in large chain accounts, some of whom he’s been working with for nearly a decade. Today, one account covers more than 30 kitchens in as many states. Last year, he accounted for between $1.5 million and $2 million in sales.
Peterson’s first job in the foodservice business was with his father, Joseph, in their family-owned dealership in Staten Island, N.Y., Ames Equipment.
He pointed to Harold Karmin, the owner of Elaine Products, the Queens, N.Y.-based full-service dealer for whom he worked for almost 10 years, as his primary mentor. “I don’t think there’s anything I didn’t learn from that man,” he recounted. “I learned how to work with a customer. I learned the importance of sales, and of mark-up. I learned everything from him, to be honest with you.”
In addition, Peterson credited owner Dan Beltram with making it possible for him to succeed. “Danny gives me the tools. I always say this: It’s like a mechanic working on a car. You can’t take the spark plug out unless you have the spark plug wrench. You can’t go in there with a pair of pliers. The tools are what Danny gives to me.”
Peterson, who came to Beltram almost five years ago, said he likes to focus more on the big picture with his accounts. “The equipment is what I really look for. When I look at a chain, I look to lock in two- or three-year deals. I don’t like to sell them just once and leave. If I can set up deals with my manufacturers for two or three years, what I’m doing for that chain is giving them a preferred list of manufacturers that they need to work with.”
At Beltram, Peterson is looked to as a leader because of his experience. “People will come to me for discounts that I’ve already negotiated with particular manufacturers. We try to pass those deals on to other DSRs, or on to the company itself to let them take advantage of the relationship I already have with that preferred manufacturer.”
Providing the extra help for a client is indispensable when it comes to laying the groundwork for future business, he noted. “A lot of times, someone will question you about a piece of equipment. When you get the right answer and talk to that customer again, you’ll find out that he’s looking either to build a new location or grow the one he has. By knowing what he’s looking for and then asking the proper questions you can usually find out that this guy is probably going to build another place, or may already be building that place.”
Peterson and his wife, Virginia, live in Spring Hill, Fla., about 30 miles from Tampa. Son Jeffrey is a New York City Police officer, while their other son, Robert, works as a chef at the Piedmont Hotel in Orlando. Daughter Veronica lives in New Jersey.
His advice to colleagues is simple. “Remember who your boss is. As long as you do that you’ll be successful. That’s the way I look at it. In this industry, your boss is the customer.”