It’s Not Complicated

My father was a pretty good businessman. While in high school, dad began working in the family grocery store where my grandfather, and the other meat cutters on staff, taught my dad how to run the store's meat department.

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Over time, dad became pretty good at what he did. So good, in fact, that when my grandfather sold the store my dad was not out of work for long. Another, small independent grocer scooped him up and he worked for them until his retirement on New Year's Eve 1998.

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Although my dad never went to college, in some respects he was smarter than many MBA types. That's because his approach, while old school, was pretty effective. He believed in an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. Once, when working with him, I made the mistake of complaining that my fingers were a little cold because the ox tails I was placing in trays were frozen. His response? Work faster and your hands won't be as cold.

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Another key to his success was that dad remained very much in tune with the wants and needs of his customers. He provided value on their terms, allowing them to purchase in bulk at prices they could afford.

When it came to working with vendors, my dad was tough but fair. That's not me saying it. That's what the people who called on him over the years told me. Dad always felt a little competition was a good thing and thought it wise to work with multiple vendors just in case one might not have what you need on occasion. When making a purchase, my dad would contact three separate companies and ask for their best price. The company that provided the best price got the business. It was that simple.

Occasionally, after the deal was done, a salesperson who did not get the order would call my dad to ask if there was anything that could be done to get the business. My dad was a man of few words — unless you were playing pool with him, and then he became a cigar chewing, trash talking chatter box — and in these instances his response never wavered: I asked for your best price and you said that's what you provided. Now you say you can do better. Why should I believe you this time? He would never move the business and used this approach to build trust with his vendors. The combination of providing value on the customers' terms and being consistent, fair and honest when working with suppliers earned my dad the loyalty of his customers, vendors and employers.

The foodservice industry enters 2014 in a period of intense competition and continued economic uncertainty, but by continuing to do right by all of your business partners you can continue to earn their trust and loyalty, which provides the stability necessary to grow your business regardless of the challenges it faces.

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