Article by Jonathan White, White Coffee
It seems impossible to believe, but as of this August, as our company marked eight decades in business, I began my thirtieth year in the foodservice industry.
Like everything else in the world over the past three decades, today’s foodservice industry, in many ways, bears little resemblance to when I gave up the legal world full-time. Some observations of the “changes”:
Everything Is Faster
Companies used to think in “five year plans”. These days, many ideas can be outmoded in five months. The pace of continuous change, and the need to constantly re-evaluate your programs and plans, is likely to continue. And, with the ubiquitous presence of smart phones, customers expect 24/7 responses. No longer is “the weekend” a time when you can expect a customer to wait for your response. I regularly receive communications at all hours from customers looking for action. And a lack of a prompt response (not days, but no more than a few hours) is interpreted as not caring.
Quality Expectations Have Improved
Having “great quality” was a potential differentiator for companies. Now having great quality is assumed a cost of doing business. With the internet, more products are easily accessible. With larger vendors having more national, and international, reach, customers can get higher options. Food safety/food quality certifications are becoming the norm. Customers will measure your quality performance with third party audits.
More (and Fewer) Options
It used to be enough just to offer one or two products/services as part of the sales pitch. Now customers expect their supplier to be a commodity provider, equipment manager, and marketing consultant, all rolled into one. And offer a wider range of products to meet customized needs across the board. With the growth of local and micro-companies (let alone the internet), the competition has never been more plentiful. And as companies (both potential customers and suppliers) have consolidated, the remaining players have more scale to compete and become ever more aggressive to secure business from the fewer customer options in the marketplace (and since those customers are fewer yet larger, they have more leverage to extract a greater deal).
Everything Will Keep Getting More Expensive
$15 minimum wage. $19 bridge tolls. $2.75 subway. $115 tickets. Higher health insurance with fewer options. Shipping costs. Government regulation on everything from sick leave to idling trucks. Congestion pricing on the horizon. The list could keep going on with other industry specific items. And none of these things will ever get decreased. Never ever. Ouch.
I sometimes miss that simpler world of thirty years ago. And yet I have no doubt that today’s more complicated, competitive and costly world has an upside— it puts everyone on their toes to continually improve.
Most importantly, at the end of the day, what got companies business thirty years ago is the same thing that will get business today: truly exceptional service that exceeds expectations, vendors who offer true value on their products (not necessarily the cheapest), a unique offering of fine quality products, and a partner they can count on to help them grow their business and differentiate themselves from their competition.
Being able to continually, and quickly, adapt and adjust to both the marketplace needs and, more specifically, individual customer needs. On its face, it seems like the same old stuff- but as the world becomes ever faster and ever more challenging, it is harder to do. But as the old expression goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.