Meet the Newsmaker: Joe Ferri

The good thing about the world of foodservice sales is that it changes by the day. It can also be what makes it challenging. But for Joe Ferri of the Manufacturer's Agents Association for the Foodservice Industry, or MAFSI, it's the lifeblood of being president.

Can you give our readers some background on MAFSI?

The organization, a 65-year-old non-profit trade association with 275 representative agencies in the U.S. and Canada, specializes in sales of commercial foodservice equipment, service, tabletop and furnishings. We're the only ones who touch all the segments. We're the window to the marketplace – service agencies, consultants, dealers, the various categories of end users, manufacturers. We're the only ones who know the entire industry. We could be in your kitchen measuring where a piece of equipment goes, or outside looking at venting, talking to Con Ed, sometimes with the dealers, sometimes the service guy. We're there to help support you anywhere in foodservice.”

How did you get into the business?

I got my start as a little kid working for Triboro Soda Fountain Refrigeration on the trucks with my brothers-in-law. I've worked as a distributor and for dealers, had my own business. I've worked as a rep since 1990. I've been in the business 45 years this year.

What's the niche the rep fills in the marketplace?

We're channel partners. We don't take title to goods. We don't add cost. If anything, we reduce the cost of goods. We're a window in, a facilitator. It's a very different role than pure sales.

What makes MAFSI unique?

Compared to other trade associations, MAFSI is very much an education and relevancy-driven organization. These days, we're technologically driven. We're data-driven, and in terms of big data, we're doing a lot about that now. We're compiling industry information in a way no one else has before.

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Can you outline your agenda for MAFSI?

We touch all the sectors of the industry. We're the only ones positioned to have our hands on all that data. We can help reps both inside and outside.

We have The Barometer, a predictive tool, and a quarterly survey for reps around the country and when we look at it historically, it's tracked exactly what the industry does. It's a great predictive tool because we have those feet on the street, and we've expanded our categories, and made it more granular, in terms of results. 
We have a new annual market forecast – we call it The MAFSI Market Forecast — that draws together the national trade pubs, economics, the USDA, the predictions of reps, published in a booklet that pulls together all that data like only MAFSI can because we have all the data points. I want MAFSI to be the one place anyone can go to find anything they need to know about the industry.

What was accomplished in the previous administration?

They were the first to set up our goal of helping successfully to guide the customer through the conception, selection and acquisition of the phases of purchasing.

What are MAFSI's goals for attracting the next generation of reps?

We're particularly interested in recruiting millennials. They're drawn to our business model because it's inclusive, they're digital natives and we're so data-driven. Plus, we have a flexible work schedule, and an entrepreneurial aspect. Most millennials want to be independent but part of an organization – running their own business within the framework of a larger business. The rep business model is extremely well suited to them. You can rise through the ranks so quickly. You can have immediate success. It's fast track, and they like that.

What impact do you see the Net having on the supply chain?

I don't really see it as having as much of an impact as the merger and acquisition activities, like Sysco and US Food. That will change the game. With the Net, you have logistical problems. How do you deliver something like heavy equipment, for example? I've experienced that problem myself. You can order things online but how do you get them? I don't see the Net having a big impact on what we do.

What are some of the upcoming highlights of the MAFSI 2014 agenda?

We just held a regional conference on what we call “repology,” which included the roll-out of a software platform that wraps up rep agencies' data, including all data points from the annual market forecast, customer relationship management, with predictive capabilities, as well as a new software piece, SpecTract. That's a national curation service of product specs. We are going to be the librarians for all of the 11-400 construction specs that include food service documents so when a project is spec'd by a consultant; MAFSI will embrace that and create a database accessible by interested parties. SpecTract, will be subscription-based, for members only.

We're in an advisory role. We're not in the arbitration business; we're not going to be the peacekeepers. It's why we're getting so heavily involved in data and tracking. We want to curate the information, so folks can go out and do what they need to do. We intend to be that clearinghouse that gives them everything they need to know.