Foodservice Equipment Reports

Love Your Reps

We note the passing in this issue of three well-known reps: Ed McCarthy, who owned North Star Agency in Minnesota; Joe Sabatino who founded High Sabatino in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area, and Gary Bowker with Denver-based Redstone Group. Jan, who writes all our news, asked if we should run them again in this issue of FER Dealer Report since many of you also get FER Fortnightly and may have seen the obits last week. We decided yes for a simple reason. Almost no one knows reps better than the dealers they call on, often for decades.

That was brought home to me last week before we ran the item on Joe Sabatino when our partner, Ken Gill, forwarded me notice of Joe’s death with a note, “A great guy.” I knew all three and they were all amazing reps and human beings. Rest in peace. And our condolences to their families, colleagues and many, many friends.

It all got me to thinking about the relationship between dealers and their reps. At their best, reps and dealers work together synergistically, almost symbiotically, with the rep as the conduit between the factories and the dealer, partners in serving the many needs of their mutual operator customers. The rep’s knowledge of the business and the factories’ products becomes a spec resource and a training resource at dealer sales meetings; it helps with a kitchen design, and turns him or her into a help-mate in installation and start-up and demos. The smart dealer uses these resources and a rep’s time wisely, fully aware of the incredible demands on a rep’s time. They also work together with their reps to “package” a project for the customers, whether they be a big chain customer, a hospital or school kitchen, or maybe just a mom and pop redoing their kitchen.

But we all also know stresses and strains have always been part of the relationship, too. These have been aggravated by several developments in the past few decades, almost all tied to the margin squeeze that has affected all parts of the business. Manufacturers for some time have been asking reps to do more: in making end-user calls (often in support of a dealer); reporting; upgrading of their communications capabilities; opening test kitchens; and the like. On the dealer side, the emergence of the buying groups in the ’80s cut into many reps’ margins, as the factories had to find the rebate money somewhere and sometimes took it out of rep commissions. In response, some reps found other ways to make money, moving into two-tier distribution and other “side” businesses. And meanwhile, the growing chain and multiunit character of American foodservice provided lots of stresses on the dealer-rep relationship, as some chains tried to go direct.

Those of us who have been around awhile remember when two very close friends of ours, then-dealer Harold Gernsbacher when he was FEDA president, and rep Mike Posternak, when he was MAFSI president, got into a public dog fight (they are still both “big dogs”) about the roles of each function and who should get the money. We were all grateful when they settled out of court.

Those stresses and strains are still out there. If anything they are worse. But when I see reps and dealers together at local chapter meetings or a trade show, it’s easy to see most of you are all still friends, working together to serve that pesky operator who knows little but wants everything. So remember to show your reps some love next time you see them for everything they do for you.  You know you need them. And they need you.


Robin Ashton


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