Relationship Matters

The foodservice industry is all about the relationships. If you have heard it once, chances are you have heard it 100 times. But if relationships really are the foundation of the foodservice industry, then we had better call a structural engineer because an abundance of cracks are starting to show.

True, a couple of months ago, the industry had its kumbayah moment when all segments — dealer, operator, consultant, service agents, reps and factories — came together in the industry's biennial town square that is The NAFEM Show to slap backs with one another and gaze at new products. And certainly, everyone put on a happy face at last month's FEDA Convention in Phoenix and more of the same is expected at next month's NRA Show.

In between, when people returned home to rinse a few things out and give the family a hug before heading off to the airport yet again, the story was quite different. As I talked with various members of the foodservice community it became glaringly apparent that one of the unfortunate after effects of the recession was an erosion of trust among trading partners and industry peers. Simply put, the level of acrimony is amazingly high.

The past few years have been incredibly challenging ones for the entire industry. Everyone is working much harder to maintain the business they earned in previous years. Case in point: While discussing our annual Distribution Giants Study with me, many dealers joked that flat is the new up when it comes to sales totals. These dealers are rightfully proud that they were able to keep their revenues relatively consistent with the previous year.

While that is an acceptable win for the time being, there are plenty of other success stories playing themselves out right in front of you on a daily basis. For example, take a look at FE&S' 2011 Top Achiever Award winners. The five people being recognized with these four awards are true leaders within their respective segments. Their ability to apply their product knowledge and business acumen to add value to each individual customer relationship is what allows them to raise the industry's overall level of professionalism. Their passion and commitment for the foodservice industry fuels their honest and ethical approach to working with customers and supply chain partners alike.

In addition, we continue to hear more about how foodservice operators are leveraging the collective expertise of their supply chain partners to deliver more than a product for a price. For example, one east coast pizza and sandwich chain worked with its service agents to research a solution that significantly lowers the amount of electricity their walk-in refrigerators and freezers consume, thus reducing their monthly operating costs enterprise wide. There are many more examples like this quietly taking place every day.

The message here is a simple one: good things will continue to happen to those individuals and companies who continue to invest in their relationships with an eye toward improving business performance. When meeting with supply chain partners look for ways to take your conversations beyond simple price negotiations. Spend less time trash talking the competition or your peers and dedicate the conversation to discussing challenges and opportunities and looking for new ways to collaborate. Taking this approach helps create value that can generate a positive return on investment for everyone involved. And when you consistently do that, your relationships will withstand the test of time.

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