ONE SIZE? A single distributor may not be able to service growing concepts.
FLEXIBILITY: Choose suppliers who can grow with you.
Growing in today's competitive marketplace can be challenging at best. Even well-thought-out, wellfunded concepts can experience some difficulty making the transition from the first or second location to additional stores. Whether you are considering growth from a strictly ownership position or through franchising, it may be beneficial to consider whether the supply programs you have in place can support your growth.
These programs are similar to the "skeleton" of the restaurant concept body. Existing supply programs, great local sales representatives and the same buying habits may have served you very well with one or two locations in the same geographic area. However, navigating the perils of growth during or after it occurs can result in continual crisis management and create negative feelings toward the supplier. Setting up programs that can travel well outside of your region usually requires advance attention— to make sure that you are able to receive the quality and service you need when you need them, that pricing remains competitive, that appropriate checks and balances are in place and that your brand can retain its integrity no matter where it is located. Focusing on a few select areas can help ensure that the supply program skeleton can adequately support that growth.
What kind of relationship do you want?
Once you have identified a supply partner, it is essential that the right person be in place from the distributor to oversee the growth. There may be an absolutely great service representative who has been servicing the concept since day one and consistently exceeds expectations. There is no reason to change that person for the local restaurant(s). But keep in mind that this representative may not have the experience, authority or tools in place to oversee the needs of a growing or national concept. It may be wise to schedule a meeting with someone who is higher up in the food chain from that distribution company. Here are some of the characteristics for who might be best suited to represent your concept:
How can suppliers help you grow?
Once you have the correct person in place, work closely with him or her to develop a strategic plan showing how the supplier will facilitate your growth. Addressing key issues and realities upfront can lend itself to a smoother transition for openings and continual service of the new locations. Some areas of concentration that can help guide you through the process are as follows:
Lastly, use this opportunity as a way to "sell" your growth potential to your supply partners. Many primary and specialty distributors may really want the opportunity to partner with a good concept and get in on the ground floor of your potential growth. Discuss the annual and five-year growth projections with them as a way to gain interest and potentially reduce margins.
These basic guidelines can be utilized when setting up accounts in many areas: contracting of warewashing and housekeeping chemicals, pest control/elimination programs, soft drinks and hood cleaning programs are only a few of the areas that can successfully be set up this way to help achieve your growth.
Lee Plotkin is president of L.P. Enterprises, Inc., a Dallas-based consulting firm specializing in creating cost-effective purchasing programs for growing restaurant companies. Call him at 214-328-3530 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.