Monday, February 1, 2010

Working from 2:00-4:00 PM

A couple of weeks ago I had a local farmer spend a couple of hours in my living room explaining to me all of his frustrations about trying to sell his commercial Angus beef direct to restaurants. Unfortunately, his experiences are a case study in all the bad advice a farmer can get about the “local food revolution that will make every family farmer wealthy” and will “bring new young people into the ranks of farming”. Oh, brother!

Over the course of the next several months we will be following my farmer friend, we will call him Joe, chronicling his successes and failures, and sharing some of the stories of his introduction to the world of direct marketing his beef. But we are going to start with his first frustration, just getting a chef to return a phone call.

Farmer Joe has been to several workshops on the “direct marketing of local agricultural products” and “grass-fed beef”. He claims that they have been organized and taught by the State Department of Agriculure and the local land-grant university. Perhaps that is true. What I do know is true is that he had never heard from a farmer who had ever made a dollar selling protein off the farm or from a chef who ever bought protein direct from a farmer. But he was told he had to speak to the chef.

Joe had contacted a restaurant that was currently buying my lamb, and indeed they had been hoping to find a local farmer who could provide them with the beef they desired for a price they could rationalize. A good first, and lucky, start.

His first interaction was from a cold-call. He did not speak to the chef but one of the owners, the female half of the couple who also acts as general manager of one of their two restaurants. As a result of this first phone call he sent a sample package of ground beef and some steaks. Another good step.

However, this is where the story goes awry. From the farmers perspective he had shipped $100 worth of free sample to a restaurant and he expected an outpouring of gratitude and platitudes. Instead, he got silence.

A couple of days went by and he heard nothing. No “Thank You” or other gracious greetings. Just silence.

Joe tried calling the restaurant, asking for the General Manager he had spoken to earlier, and then for the chef, always to be told “they had just stepped out” or “they are busy and will call you back” or “they are in a meeting”. Hardly the “Thank You” he thought he was entitled to after providing them with this valuable “gift”.

Finally Joe decided he knew how to reach the Chef if not the General Manager. He would call at 12:00 Noon. When the hostess told the farmer that “the General Manager was not available”, Joe told her, “I know she must be there, its lunch time!”

Indeed, Joe thought he had answer – do business with a restaurant during lunch service.

There is not much in common in the life and schedule of a Farmer and a Chef. The Farmer has done 3-6 hours of chores and feeding the animals, had a pot a coffee and made breakfast, before The Chef even wakes up. At about the time dinner service is hitting full stride for The Chef, the Farmer is winding down and likely in bed before The Chef sends out his late plate.

A farmer finds it as unreasonable to be bothered by phone calls and emails before the animals have been feed, or the stalls cleaned, or the lamb-bar filled up with fresh milk for the day, or the hay is put out, as a chef does when in they are in the middle of their “performance” or service.

Thus, there are essentially two hours a day that essentially all business must occur – especially new business, trying to secure a new customer; from 2:00 to 4:00 PM.

This is not to say that a chef will return a phone call between 2 and 4:00. Indeed, if we want to create a few “golden rules” one would be “Chefs do not return phone calls”. When one does, you drop to your knees and thank the heavens for finding a gem.

It is the responsibility of the one who is trying to sell to take the initiative and the responsibility. But it must be done responsibly, meaning, between services.

First of all, personal visits are always preferable to cold calls, but sometimes that is not possible. And even then, the visits must be outside of service; before 11:00AM or between 2-4:00 Pm

A farmer should not interrupt a chef during service – it is their performance and their revenue generation time. It’s game time for a ball-player. It’s show time for the actor. Is service time for the chef.

Thus, the farmer may feel like they are making a pest of themselves by calling everyday to attempt to reach the chef, between 2:00 and 4:00, and indeed they may be. But if the farmer calls between 2:00 and 4:00 it shows respect for the chefs time and the restaurants business, and at the worst shows tremendous passion on the farmer’s part.

No farmer is going to make every sale. No farmer will make a sale without a chef on his side. So, the farmer must make contact with the chef, being as creative as you can, and attempt to have as much personal face time as possible.

If the phone is the only way to get a relationship started realize:

1) the farmer is starting in a hole to begin. It is harder to start a sale with a phone call than a personal visit

2) Never count on a chef to return a phone call

3) Free samples is the culture of the restaurant business. Do not expect a “Thank You” for samples – it will only lead to hurt feelings. The farmer will always have more passion and value for the products they have toiled over than the chef will.

4) If you can’t afford free samples to bring a new customer on board, you can’t afford the business.

5) Never call a potential client during lunch and dinner service

6) Don’t ever expect that the Chef’s ideals of business are the same as the Farmer’s or vise-versa. Chefs and Farmers come from vastly different cultures. Business manners will likewise be different. The seller must take responsibility for creating an environment that is conducive to do business within the customer’s constraints. The farmer/seller can always decide to quietly and nicely decide not to sell to a particular customer but it is not the responsibility of the customer to adapt to the seller.

We will be following Farmer Joe’s journey to making his first restaurant sale, or not, in the coming weeks.

1 comment:

  1. I'm friendly with a lot of farmers and this is one of the most important things I try to help them with, stressing the never call during service part. I love to see farmers and chefs connect but it's funny to see one's day being roughly 5:00-5:00 and the other's 2:00-2:00 (or more).