Operations – Choosing A Distributor

Your choice of distributor is analogous to choosing a teammate in sports.  Success or failure depends on the team, and failure to execute at any level means failure for all.

Business is a Team Sport

Key ingredients to your success as a restaurant operator include menu selection, food source and preparation, service and consistency of delivery.  If you choose wisely, your distributor can help you by eliminating many of the back-of-the-house headaches, enabling you to concentrate on food preparation and service.

In business, we often use the word “partner” instead of teammate, but they are really one in the same.  A real partner will support you and help you succeed against your competitors.  In the case of the independent pizzeria and restaurant operator, the chief competitors are the chain pizzerias, which threaten you with low price offerings and do little if anything to stimulate consumer demand for great pizza.  How can you compete (win) if you use the same products, supplied by the same distributor, as the chain does?  What makes you different and better?

Choose a Distributor Partner Whose Interests are Aligned with Yours

Your choice of distributor partner will be as important to your success as your menu selection or choice of employees in your restaurant.  What should you expect from your distributor?

First and foremost, you need consistency of performance, which means complete orders delivered on time.  Also high on the list should be a distributor who can help when you need advice and assistance.  A great distributor has reps who are knowledgeable about individual products and can recommend ingredients which deliver the desired qualities.  After all, it is the finished product that your customers judge.

Does your current rep take the time to introduce you to new ingredients, offer ways to expand your menu into profitable appetizers and desserts, and make special deliveries to you in emergencies?  Do they understand how to make a great pizza?  If you simply have an “order taker” for a rep, it is likely that you ate buying from the wrong distributor.  Like any other partner, your distributor should look after your interests rather than simply taking orders week after week.

Pricing and credit are always touchy subjects.  Gone are the days when price was the only major consideration.  With so many product choices and quality levels to choose from, we advocate finding a distributor who will get to know you and your business and recommend appropriate products.  Aside from some of the short-term “bait” tactics used by some distributors to lure new business, most distributors work on very small margins and the total order for the same products will be similar from distributor to distributor.

Service and flexibility are two of the most important attributes to look for in a distributor.  Find out who owns the company and ask if the owner is the manager.  As in your business, the owner operator of a local independent distributor will almost always provide a higher level of service and flexibility.

Another frequent question by pizza restaurant operators is whether they should use two or more distributors to “spread the risk” and have a back-up.  The answer is absolutely not.  Modern systems largely remove the old risk concerns.  In fact, you are far more likely to be an important customer of a distributor if they are your primary supplier, rather than a split customer.  As a result, you actually have less risk if you place your trust in a single, locally owned distributor.  The old-fashioned notion that you need multiple distributors to constantly check prices should be replaced with a frank discussion and agreement with your distributor regarding pricing, payment terms, and expected delivery service levels.

Mutually Agree to Service Standards and Hold the Distributor Accountable

Delco Foods is dedicated to the successful differentiation of its independent pizzeria and restaurant operators.  Focus is the key – focus on developing a meaningful difference from the mediocre quality delivered by large broadline distributors and served by the large chains.  If you turn your back on uniqueness and copy the chain competition by buying the same products from the same distributors, you ignore what can make you different and better.

Make a distributor a part of your team.  They can make a valuable contribution to your success.  Show your distributor loyalty, and demand service and performance in return.  Buying authentic, quality ingredients and specialty items will enable a unique offering which will build your business and keep customers coming back.

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