Ask most any foodservice professional about the most potent tool at their disposal and they will likely cite the tried and true response "relationships." And there's some truth in that answer. At the most basic level of any transaction, people generally do buy from people. But if I learned one thing in putting together this issue of FE&S, it's that relationships, while important, are far from the most impactful tool foodservice professionals have at their disposal.

No, the most potent tool in a foodservice professional's toolbox is having the ability to collaborate. Take a close look at any successful foodservice company today, be it an operator, consultant, dealer, service agent, rep or factory, and I guarantee you they are working in a collaborative manner not only with their customers but also with their supply chain partners.

Take, for example, the three operations and design teams that earned recognition in FE&S' 2014 Facility Design Project of the Year competition. At first glance, these projects all seem fundamentally different. One is a hotel restaurant built on a parking lot that connects to a large mall via skyway, another is a remodeled college foodservice operation and the last is a café, conference center and full-service restaurant run by a community college's culinary program in a remodeled downtown hotel. Each one could not be more different, right? Well, yes and no.

Each project had its own goals and objectives and faced a series of structural and design challenges — like a swimming pool over the kitchen — and they all produced inspiring, best-in-class results. How? Well, the project teams worked collaboratively, listening to one another and working diligently together to achieve their goals.

Collaboration also represents a key element in the success of FE&S' 2014 Dealer of the Year: Wasserstrom. To the casual observer, Wasserstrom is a foodservice equipment and supplies dealer with an impressive national smallwares package. To others, it's a custom fab operation. But those definitions are too convenient for a company with more than 1,500 employees spanning 20 locations.

At its core, Wasserstrom is a values-oriented, customer-centric organization. The company provides customers with business intelligence, logistical support, assistance in concept development and much more. In other words, the value Wasserstrom provides has more to do with the way they collaborate with their customers and vendor partners than the products they sell. The company's associate-driven nature facilitates a feeling among the employees that everyone plays their own important role in creating successful outcomes for Wasserstrom and its customers.

The company takes a long view to its business and focuses on its customers and associates instead of topline sales or artificially accelerating its growth. As a result, Wasserstrom remains a flexible company that is able to roll with the changes from one generation to the next without skipping a beat and selflessly give to the communities it serves — something every foodservice organization should look to achieve.