Wendy's, Jimboy's, Pita Pit leaders share tips on supplier best practices
As a restaurant's lifeline, suppliers can make or break a brand and have become especially key player in these times when consumers have set new and higher demands for innovative menus and more healthful and sustainably sourced foods. In fact, you'd think in that kind of ultra-competitive environment brand leaders might keep pretty "hush-hush" on their success tips for sourcing and dealing with suppliers.
But if you attended an hour-long session on the subject of suppliers at the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit last week in Louisville, you walked away with a very different impression. In the educational session, leaders from three different brands — Jimboy's Tacos North America CEO Bob Anderson, Pita Pit CEO Peter Riggs and Wendy's Quality Supply Chain leader John Inwright — spoke candidly about best practices in working with suppliers to drive brand sales and profits, as well as the importance of cutting ties and moving to other vendors when the time is right.
|Shown left to right are Taylor Company Senior Vice President, Global Sales, Service and MarketingMelissa McCormick, who moderated the panel, with Wendy's Jon Inwright, Jimboy's Bob Anderson and Pita Pit's Peter Riggs. (Photo: Willie Lawless)|
The session, moderated by Melissa McCormick, Taylor Company's SVP, global sales, service and marketing,started out asking the three restaurateurs about how they use their suppliers to meet customers' changing and sometimes difficult-to-meet needs.
Jon Inwright/Wendy's: We look to them really now to design products. ... We're looking for long-term strategic relations and we focus very heavily on supplier relationship at the very top of our organizations.
Bob Anderson/Jimboy's:We want to look at where we can extract the most value from vendors. ... As a small chain that is very important for us — we want to make sure vendors are aligned with our core values ... and they care about our business as much as we do. Our trade-off is that we care about their businesses.
Peter Riggs/Pita Pit: We really want to change those suppliers as little as possible, but we have to balance that with making sure they're always the right supplier for (Pita Pit). ... They should always be pushing you to grow your brand ... and maximize the impact of your brand and their business as well. ... They always understand they have to continue to be putting in work to make sure your brand stays relevant ... because if you've got a supplier that thinks they can just show up, they're probably not the right one.
"The test is when you want them to step up because you are doing something outside (the norm), then the partners that say, 'Yeah, but that sounds like a lot of work...'may not be what you want. But you want those who say, 'That's exciting — that's great!' ... and they're excited to be part of the team." - Pita Pit CEO Peter Riggs
Q: How do you find the best suppliers for your brands?
Riggs: Trial and error, and also places like this [Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit] where you get to meet with other people with smaller and medium and even large brands and talk to them about it ... so groups like this are incredibly valuable. ... We talk about challenges we're all facing and everybody's very honest about those things. It's really the rare person who will want to try to pull something close to vest.
It's kind of bizarre because even though we're competitors worse than ever, collaboration is better than ever. I'll just say, 'Can somebody please help me with this' and the amount of people who will jump to your aid is really surprising.
Anderson: We really take a methodical approach to (finding great suppliers). ... We say, what is it you're trying to accomplish ... because there's some companies that (specialize) in prices and some that go all over the country and some are just regional guys, so be sure you understand what you need to acquire, then ask what other companies who have had similar needs and what did they do.
Inwright: It's a little different for us because people usually come to us ... and we supply lots of data to our suppliers to see what products are being shipped into restaurants every day. ... So we have really high expectations of them — that they can understand really what our needs are.
Like "fresh not frozen beef" so we have a very short shelf life, so (with promotions around burgers) we have to make sure that, number one, we have enough, and number two, we don't have too much beef which is very expensive."
Q: How does the supplier's performance ultimately impact the brand?
Riggs: Every time you see a success, it's because the supply chain had part in it, whether that's a major promotion or trying to streamline what you do, you're involving these supply chain partners in that to try to make happen. It's the kind of remarkable things that mostly the public is unaware of. But when you see a brand not staying relevant and working on new things, sometimes it's head people (at the brand), but a lot of times, it's the partners taking a blasé attitude.
The test is when you want them to step up because you are doing something outside (the norm), then the partners that say, "Yeah, but that sounds like a lot of work..." may not be what you want.. But you want those who say, "That's exciting -- that's great!" ... and they're excited to be part of the team and make everything more effective and efficient when you're trying to do things a little outside of the norm.
Anderson: We expect they understand our business ... and that we're pushing on the edges and that they stay open to our ideas, because we're open to their ideas. It's a two-way street I think.
Q: What kind of overall lessons around this subject would you share with the group here today?
Anderson: If you're having challenges with suppliers, you really need to look at what you're doing internally and what type of customer you are. ... When I arrived (at Jimboy's) all those suppliers are gone now. The reason is that the company selected them because they were nice partners ... but you really need to know where you want to go.
You have to be a great customer. ... We flip it. I tell them (suppliers), 'I'm going to be the best customer you guys have, but the toughest customer you have, too.'
Inwright: We experience the same thing. We just happen to experience it on a much higher scale. ... but be prepared for change. Change is going to come. ...
We have suppliers we have worked with for years and suddenly — I mean truly suddenly — they're under distress. ... So the lesson we learn every single day is that something is going to change from yesterday, so be prepared for that. Make sure you have functional experts in place, then look to them all to become sources of information on whatever challenges you're going to face.
Riggs: The biggest lessons we learned, continue to learn and still struggle with, is that even the suppliers you've worked with long time, knowing when it's time for those relations to end perhaps. ...
It's always tough to find right balance, from being overly soft to people staying longer than they should. Neither of those are situations you want to be in with any of your partners. So, it's really tough but you have to just always be looking at the situation to figure out if they're still the right partners. Then, when you decide they aren't, you need to be clear and specific about it and explain, "Here's the reason why we will not be moving forward with you."
Feature photo: iStock
Inset photo: Willie Lawless
Topics: Back Office, Burger/Steak/BBQ, Business Strategy and Profitability, Chicken, Customer Service / Experience, Equipment & Supplies, Food Safety, Health & Nutrition, Mexican, Operations Management
Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.