Working With Distributors

ATTENTION PIZZERIA OPERATORS: PMQ is looking for your best tips for working with distributors for an article in the upcoming June/July issue. Please email with your top tips before March 31!

Please include your full name, pizzeria name (plus city/state) and a headshot for inclusion.

Liz Barrett, editor-in-chief
PMQ Pizza Magazine

You mean like Sysco, US Foods, Shamrock, Pepsi, etc?

Hi Lou,

Yes, all food distributors (GFS, Roma, US Food, etc.) We’re interested in little tips that help you get great deals, save money or just help make your business run smoother.


Check out Cheese Reporter regularly, I also hit Restaurant Depot once a week for a few items, & do some price comparison while there. It’s been my experience that ALL food distributors will charge whatever they can get away with. The reps all come across as your bestest bosom buddy - unfortunately, in this business, there really IS a sucker born every minute.

Do I sound cynical? you bet, but my CGS has gone down by about $10k a year since adopting my “new attitude”

I am with NY Pizza. You can not trust these companies AT ALL. They do NOT have your best interests in mind, they WILL charge whatever they can get away with.

  1. We get a price list every week from our two main suppliers (there is the first hint; have more than one source) and we buy the best price on like items. Red onions are red onions!

  2. Pay your bills on time. Most companies will go the extra mile to take care of a good customer… but paying late removes you from that list.

  3. Food pricing has a lot of moving parts… original supplier, broker, distributor, rep… each of them can change the price. To get the best price on your key items, you need to go up the chain past the rep and the distributor.

  4. When they really screw up, stop buying from them until they ask why.

  5. Reward vendors who solve your problems. If you have one rep that will drive around town and find that thing you forgot to order, give them the business when prices are close to each other.

  6. If a rep finds you a specialty item, buy it from him or her exclusively for a good while before shopping the price.

I agree with Lou…great writeup. I recently opened a location in another state and when I met with the vendor…in the end I was asked if I wanted a job.

Look, your two items to control are food and labor. With that said if you do not understand the market and how items are procured how in the world can you control food cost?

I do not trust the big names and rely more on speciality houses since they have far less “private-labeled” products. Good example…BIG BOX SUPPLIER will spec out a fritter style tender to you on day one, then oddly some months later you will receive what you believe to be the same product in a box with the same code number and same descriptor on the box with their private lable logo. Little do you know that they treat their products like a commodity and if they can get a “like” product into the box and make more money…THEY WILL DO THIS WITHOUT A SWEET NOTE ATTACHED.

If you buy a box with Tyson 1234 on it…it is 1234. YES…mfg’s will discontinue products but alone with that is a new code on the box and you can then question your supplier.

On the other side…BECOME FRIENDS WITH THE MANUFACTURER REPS AND OR BROKERS. This builds a stronger honest relationship with your supplier since they know…that you know the in’s and out’s.
Again, but no means do I like the Big Box broadline suppliers. Just about a month ago my old friend who is a Sysco rep said to me that he should have listened to me 10 years ago when i said that Sysco will soon have problems competing in my area in the pizza supply business. A few years later they tried a Pizza Focused sales staff, which failed miserably. Now, they have little to no pizza business here in the Burgh. Why? Simple, people realized that 25% margins for inconsistent products was ridiculous in an ever-competing price oriented business such as bpizza.

Sorry…I can’t help but giggle a bit. Does no one know Lou Holtz?

I think if you can get on a cost + % agreement you can keep a vendor honest, years ago when I was a rep for a distributor it is how I did it, I knew what I needed to make and told the customer, those who agreed got MY price sheet and they could add the % themselves.

in most cases I was able to build a loyal customer from this, everyone need’s to make money, once you find an acceptable balance business can be profitable for all.

This is the approach I will take with vendors once I open my shop later on this year, I also know that smaller shop reps tend to have more latitude when it comes to these types of agreement.

Also it is important for them to know that if they try to pull a fast one business is GONE… for good.

My job was easier too, I knew that cheese was a certain %, tomatoes another, and so paper goods etc.

I could sell a bunch of cheese at double the margin but then lose on another 2 or 3 k of other business, I was happier with a stable of loyal customer buying 10k a week at a lesser % but who never questioned my prices or tried to negotiate every price than having to attempt to sell this guys as if it was the first time.

I have noticed that Steve gets called Lou quite frequently over the last few weeks. I guess people don’t realize that is a quote attributed to Lou Holtz.

oops for me…working on an iphone with small screen

I saw that and got a good laugh. “Lou” :stuck_out_tongue:

Maybe if I ever get to the show in Vegas I’ll ask for a nametag with “Lou” on it.

BTW, our area manager for Sysco came into our retail store (men’s clothing) yesterday and spent $600. I have to say it made me feel good about him/them. I have never seen anyone from US Food in our store.