5 Ideas for Dealers From the FEDA Annual Conference

Marie Ffolkes TriMarkWEB resized
Marie Ffolkes, CEO of TriMark USA, presents during the 2021 FEDA Annual Conference, held Sept. 21-24, in Nashville, Tenn.

Dealers, manufacturers and other professionals came together last week for the 2021 FEDA Annual Conference, marking one of the industry’s first mainstream in-person events since the pandemic began. (FEDA also offered the option of attending virtually.) The overall mood was one of concern but also hope.

“We know the delta variant is bringing COVID numbers up in some areas, but we’re seeing that much of the economy is returning to pre-pandemic levels,” says Marie Ffolkes, CEO of TriMark USA, who was the opening speaker and a moderator. “I think we’re all seeing that in our business, and we probably don’t have enough people in our business to get the work done.”

Longer lead times and finding and retaining employees were the more common challenges brought up on stage and in casual conversations. Here’s a look at the key takeaways from the four-day event, held in Nashville, Tenn.

Take a proactive approach toward fulfilling customers orders. TriMark has acquired more inventory to mitigate longer lead times or, if the lead times are substantial and customers can’t wait, substitutes products, Ffolkes says. “The focus has and always will be to continue to fulfill the customers’ needs quickly. If we don’t, someone else will, frankly,” she says.

Transparency and effective communication matters—a lot. Supply chain problems are happening in every industry. It’s hard to get supplies, and prices are way up. Be upfront with customers about it.

“When I’m talking with people, I’m very chill about things. [But] don’t come and tell me, ‘Hey, it’s coming tomorrow,’ when you know it might not come for two, three or four weeks,” says Maneet Chauhan, founding partner and president of Morph Hospitality Group and a Food Network celebrity chef, who presented during an operator spotlight. “One of the most important things last year has taught us is to be ready to pivot. There are lot of solutions or alternatives we can use. I think that only happens when there’s transparency.”

Maneet Chauhan Morph Hospitality Group

Maneet Chauhan, founding partner and president of Morph Hospitality Group and a Food Network celebrity chef, tells dealers she would rather have too much communication than too little.

Ready for an ethnic foods boom. Once everyone was done baking from-scratch bread last year, they started to explore preparing ethnic foods as a way to travel the world, without leaving home. “What I see is there being a distinct [shift] toward more ethnic foods being mainstream,” Chauhan says about the future of foodservice. “I think a lot of dishes and ingredients will creep their way into mainstream dining.”

Conveyor ovens speed up cooking time and reduce labor. By swapping out flattop grills for conveyor ovens in 2019, Restaurant Growth Services was able to speed up cooking times, improve the quality and consistency of menu items and reduce the number of cookline employees from three to two, says CEO Craig Barber, who was a keynote speaker. The company’s portfolio includes O’Charley’s Restaurant and Bar and Ninety Nine Restaurant and Pub, among other brands.

“We were cooking it on a flat grill with a cover on top of it,” Barber says about one brand’s cedar plank salmon. “The cook would look at it and look at it and so, it was overcooked, undercooked or maybe it was cooked right. With the [conveyor] ovens, it comes out right every time.”

Take care of employees, so they can support your customers. Checking in on the mental state of your sales team goes a long way toward weathering supply chain challenges, says Eric Santagato, vice president of sales for Singer Equipment Co.

“It’s really about them … and all these issues they go through. How do we reframe their mindset? How do we refocus them to be more positive in a time like this? Because it’s very easy to jump [to] negative town,” Santagato says. “We just need to coach them and be there for them so, when we do get out of this thing, they’re jolted with energy heading into the future.”

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