Chris Folz, Principal, The Redstone Group, Englewood, Colo.
For the past 17 years, Chris Folz has worked in the foodservice industry as a manufacturers’ rep. He’s forged positive results from tough circumstances, including manufacturer consolidations and the economic downturn, and his experiences motivate him to continuously add value to his growing business, The Redstone Group, in Englewood, Colo. He also serves on the board of directors for the Manufacturers’ Agents Association for the Foodservice Industry (MAFSI). Recognizing his substantial contributions, FER named Folz the winner of the first Young Lion Award—Manufacturers’ Rep.
In 1995, Folz graduated with a communications degree from Barry University, Miami Shores, Fla., and was searching for a job. His uncle and mentor, Jerry Rhinehart, offered him a position at Hartco Inc., and Folz found a career.
Folz began answering phones working in the warehouse before he moved into quoting. He was given a couple accounts that sent him on calls and from there he moved into a full-time sales role.
He worked at Hartco until 2009 when the company merged with EMi Marketing, a top competitor. It was then that Folz and his current business partner George LeCavalier, merged the two companies to form The Redstone Group.
The Redstone Group serves as a leading manufacturers’ sales agent for the foodservice industry, offering equipment, supplies and furniture. The group runs five offices and reps in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and western Texas, Utah, Idaho and Arizona.
Folz says forming The Redstone Group was a highlight of his career, and he looks forward to watching the company grow. The company’s value-added services include a test kitchen, 60-seat training facility and furniture showroom.
“Rep companies have changed over the years,” Folz says. “It used to be a couple of guys with catalogs in the back of their cars going out and making calls. The business has evolved into much larger corporations with many resources.”
Along with offering value-added services, Folz says, The Redstone Group and similar companies have evolved with technology.
“People expect things a whole lot faster than they used to,” he says. A Colorado native, Folz remembers skipping school and hitting the ski slopes with his dad, who worked for Ocean Spray, and watching him check messages from a payphone. Now with smartphones, he says, you don’t have the option of not responding quickly.
Looking back on his career, Folz says, manufacturer consolidations were among the toughest obstacles he had to overcome. He recalls working for Hartco only a few months before the company lost several major equipment lines as a result of mergers.
“You learn real fast how difficult this industry can be at times,” he says. “You better always be prepared and reinvest in your company to continue moving forward.”
He also notes the importance of relationships and customer focus. The Redstone Group follows a “sundown” rule: No customer ends their day without an answer or returned phone call.
In addition to his responsibilities at The Redstone Group, Folz serves on the MAFSI board of directors and was co-chair for the MAFSI 2012 Business Development Conference in Palm Springs, Calif. He also participated on the Colorado School Industry Board for eight years. Additionally, Folz has earned his Certified Foodservice Professional (CFSP) and Certified Professional Manufacturers’ Representative (CPMR) certifications.
When it comes to everyday work life, Folz encourages and motivates others by staying positive.
“We need to have fun with this business,” he says. “There are obviously times when you have to be serious. I’m an extremely competitive individual, but I also believe that you have to have a good time.”
For those starting out as reps, Folz recommends staying humble, working hard and knowing that you’re going to make mistakes.
“The first time you try to solve a problem, you may not have the relationship or the contact to get it done,” he says. “But with time and experience, you’re going to build those relationships and be able to handle those things maybe better than you could in the beginning.”
Folz’s career in the foodservice industry began when he had dinner one night with his uncle. Now, years later, he has The Redstone Group along with a great family—his wife, Noel, and their three children, Mason, 14, Caroline, 11, and Josephine, 1.
While he can’t predict the future, Folz says, he can spend time reinvesting in his company. “That’s what drives me,” he says. “I want to keep growing The Redstone Group, to make it the best company it can be.”