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Industry Perspective: Building Relationships

Whether you’re pursuing your passion in the foodservice or beverage industry, building a relationship with your distributor – to further develop and refine the experiences you’ve dedicated to providing to your customers – should be a focus for anyone looking to take their business to the next level. And as technology continues to play a critical role in your day-to-day business operations, those foundational relationships will only become more important as you refine your craft.

This document highlights the importance of relationships and relationship building between a distributor and operator/owner of a food or beverage establishment. It discusses the value of aligning yourself with an organization that is diverse in their offerings and able to think outside the box to help you attain your goals. Whether you’re a small, independent brewer or head of a restaurant chain, renovating or remodeling your kitchen, looking for a complete tabletop solution or interested in the benefits associated with a robust digital marketing plan, having a solid, working relationship with your distributor is essential to the overall health, growth and success of your business.

If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten.

While many distributors may have the same (or similar) ideas to help you get the edge on your competition, the methods by which distributors provide value has evolved, and should continue to evolve over time. In order to realize your dreams, it is imperative to partner with a distributor that is committed to your vision and able to respond to the ever-changing industry landscapes to most effectively support your needs: day-to-day, month after-month and from one year to the next. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. This statement, while applicable in many situations, no longer necessarily rings true when applied to building relationships within the foodservice and beverage industries. Expectations are constantly changing, and if your distributor partner is unable, or unwilling, to change to accommodate for those expectations, you may begin to see your business losing ground.

Moving forward with new ideas, opportunities or innovations will become increasingly more difficult to realize and, as a result, your business will suffer and eventually become stagnant in a diverse market that has seen consistent maturation. Due to an ever-increasing number of external forces, owners and operators should frequently look back on the services they’ve received from their distributor in order to get a better sense of how they may (or may not) be succeeding and evolving. Evaluate the past year and compare your goals to what you have seen from the competition. What worked yesterday may no longer be effective today. Ensuring that you have partnered with a distributor that is able to meet these external forces head-on, while elevating your business and providing value, is essential to the development of a long-lasting and productive relationship.

However, value is not always just about a wide range of product availability at a great price. While this is often a means to an end, the idea of value has grown to include the necessity of information – how information is obtained, how it is made available and to what extent. When combined with your overall vision, brand impact and profitability, information is a powerful and engaging resource. From a customer-distributor relationship perspective, this is immensely important as you work through and develop the experience that you are trying to create for your customers. Having a partner that is willing, knowledgeable and has the expertise to assist in the development of your own experience model is essential.

But what is your vision? What unique experience are you creating for your customers? What part do you expect your distributor partner to play as that story develops? Ideally, this relationship will stretch beyond just product application and develop into additional products and services that best fit within the template designed to take your business to the next level, moving it forward and moving it beyond. Has your distributor relationship resulted in greater profitability for your business while also providing an enhanced, value-added experience for both you and your customers? If your answer is anything other than a resounding yes, there’s likely room for improvement.

The old saying, "work smarter, no harder" rings true across the board.

An evolved distributor, one that has found a way to go beyond routine quoting of products and services, is one that is able to take a step back and assess the bigger picture, review the needs of your business and work with you to find the best solutions. A distributor should consistently go the extra mile and see things all the way through to the end? They should closely examine your facility, but through a slightly different lens? Their conversations with you need to be elevated from simple quoting of equipment and/or design fees, to engaging with you and discussing opportunities to help you pursue your passions further; all of which ultimately help you to become better at what you do.

It should also come as no surprise that the role of technology continues to be on the rise, both in terms of what is in the hands of you and your loyal customers – on their phones and through a more personalized interface with your business – as well as the technology your business may currently be utilizing. The increased involvement of technology is very much a generational change and one that restaurant and bar owners are recognizing as a means for them to become better and more productive at what they do. As a result, we’re seeing technology take a variety of forms that are propelling business owners to do more business, faster and more efficiently: adding kiosks that take your customers’ orders, restaurants that have your food, ready and waiting when you arrive, more (and better) self-service opportunities, etc. The list is long and continues to grow. This growing trend in technology is a strong reflection as to how business owners are looking to maintain their operations with their distributor – online, expedited, quick-to-answer and respond and capable of addressing all of your needs through a variety of technological channels and initiatives. It would be unfair and, quite frankly, unacceptable, for a distributor to suggest that you engage with your customers through the advancements of technology if they themselves are not capable of providing the same level of service to meet your day-to-day business needs. Technology will continue to impact and affect buyer behavior. This can be seen both from the customers that frequent your establishment, as well as the way that you engage (or want to engage) with them.

While it's true that people do business with people they like, they also look to do business with the people that are committed and able to execute.

Interfacing online with your distributor, while still being able to conduct face-to-face meetings whenever needed, can be a difficult, but not altogether impossible, solution. Working with a distributor that is capable of supporting your business needs from both ends of the digital spectrum is an essential part of furthering your relationship with them. And while some may consider this as a drastic change to the overall relationship you have developed, it should instead be viewed as yet another opportunity to deepen that relationship; building upon it, making it stronger and securing it for years to come. Consumer preferences are changing faster than ever, dictating how your business must respond. The distributor that you have chosen to partner with should be in the business of delivering value. When they deliver on value, it demonstrates an understanding of what is truly important. A distributor capable of delivering value and unforgettable experiences is infectious, and it will help you, in turn, deliver unforgettable experiences to your own customers. A thoughtful and in-the-know distributor should always have the pulse of what consumers want as a means to help you innovate and continually reinvent yourself in order to remain relevant in a highly competitive landscape.

When they can adapt and respond with speed and agility, they help you to keep pace, remain relevant and often outpace your competition. Ultimately, their business should be dedicated to helping you succeed with yours, utilizing non-traditional methods to better serve your needs through more interesting and engaging uses of product management, technology and education. While it’s true that people do business with people they like, they also look to do business with the people that are committed and able to execute. Finding a distributor that can serve you better and become a comprehensive, go-to resource for all of your business needs is the end game.

Eric Boelter

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Topics: Foodservice Management, Industry Perspectives, Beverage

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