1998 ID Magazine DSR of the Year

January 1998

Dana Tanyeri

Rodney Carrillo, age 31, has parlayed a nine-year foodservice career into a $9million enterprise. iS with a blend of great people skills, smart selling and an intense focus on driving customers costs down.

When Rodney Carrillo was recruited by Labatt Food Service just two weeks after graduating from college, he knew nothing about distribution--or sales, for that matter. Groomed for his dream job in the FBI, he detoured into foodservice as a rookie transportation manager in Labatt's Dallas branch, trusting a gut feeling about the company's entrepreneurial spirit, business philosophy and growth potential.

His trust was not misplaced, nor was Labatt's in Carrillo's ability to develop into a star performer. After spending a year and a half in transportation, both Carrillo and Labatt management realized he had the qualities demanded for success in sales. He had a strong desire to do bigger things, and that's exactly what he's done over his nine-year foodservice career.

Today, Carrillo is a multiunit specialist whose annual sales push the $9 million mark. His 50 to 60 accounts range from the venerable Four Seasons, for which he serves as lead salesperson for three Texas properties, to the fast growing Souper!Salad! chain, to Luby's Cafeterias, where he first got his feet wet in sales.

He's focused, knowledgeable and a rock-solid sales rep, one who serves as the "go to" guy for customers and coworkers alike when problems arise. He's made it his business to exceed expectations, to educate customers about how to reduce costs and to make sure that strong business ethics define his sales approach.

"When I'm asked what I do for a living, I say I solve problems," Carrillo says. "I seek out only large-volume accounts, and I don't spend much time doing hot shots or similar tasks that can stunt your growth. A good hot-shot driver and a good sales rep are not the same thing. I help customers maintain and grow their business, and I'm passionate about finding ways to help drive down costs. Being able to do that gives me tremendous satisfaction

Being able to do that has also earned him the right to grow alongside his customers. By aligning himself with strong, aggressive accounts, his sales have risen from an average of $15,000 a week in his rookie year to $200,000 a week today.

Among Carrillo's proudest accomplishments is the program relationship he's established at Four Seasons, a pace-setter for service and quality in the high-end resort market. Thanks to Carrillo's efforts, Labatt now enjoys a lock on the grocery business at the three Texas-based Four Seasons resorts, including the flagship operation in the Dallas suburb of Irving and sister properties in Houston and Austin. While other reps service the Houston and Austin resorts, Carrillo functions as lead salesperson and account coordinator for the group. Keys to his success at Four Seasons, according to Domenic Parrota, director of purchasing at the Dallas at Las Colinas (Irving) resort, are his service orientation, his trustworthiness and the extra effort he puts forth to help establish systems for working smarter and reducing costs.

Among these systems is barcoding of storeroom inventory to match Labatt's own radio-frequency barcode system. The net result: easier inventory management, reduction in man hours required to take inventory and compile orders, and significantly improved accuracy. Another is quarterly business reviews initiated by Carrillo and made possible by Labatt's MIS team, which creates templates for tracking key information.

The reviews pull together all purchasing and rebate activity into professional presentations delivered to all Four Seasons of Texas purchasing team members in meetings led by Carrillo. The business reviews have become a cornerstone of Labatt's primevendor, value-added service package for key accounts. They've also been embraced by Four Seasons as a prototype program to implement nationwide.

"We use them as report cards for how things are going on both ends of the relationship," Carrillo says. "We review total purchases and sales volume for each property vs. the same period the year before. We chart our fill rate and outs per month by location. For outs, we include a summary of why we were out and what action was taken."

Another key component of the business reviews is a summary of operational credits by location. "We track the number of credits due to damage, mispicks, shorts and customer returns," he says. "And we show the impact that these have on our overall service level to the account. We point out their errors, as well as our own, and explain the associated costs. When we first started doing the reviews, the number of customer returns was close to 100 per quarter per location vs. less than 10 returns per quarter typical today. They now understand the importance of accuracy on their end in reducing overall costs."

Part of what makes Carrillo so valuable to his customer is his dogged determination to save them money. Servicing multiunit customers-many of them out-of-state-means the time he devotes to in-person product sales is less than what an average street sales rep might. But his sensors are always out for new items that may be appropriate additions to his customers' menus or that may offer comparable quality at a cost savings.

He takes delight in the fact that a single, well-researched recommendation from him can save customers a lot of money. "Because my accounts are high-volume players, I can have a big impact," he says. "If I make one really good hit on their behalf, it makes a difference on their bottom line. Last year, for instance, working with contracts on shrimp saved one customer $10,000. Whenever possible, I hedge the market on commodity items and it pays off. Service basics are a given today, so I have to find ways to differentiate myself. It's all value-added selling now

Al Silva, Labatt general manager, notes that Carrillo "really is a buyer for his accounts. With the type of business he manages, he has to know how to buy. An increasing percentage of our business is in the multiunit arena, and it's up to the reps to make sure their products are managed for their customers. Rodney's a model rep in this regard."

At Four Seasons, Carrillo recommended a mayonnaise brand switch that generated savings of more than $7,000 in a year in the Irving and Houston operations combined. A similar switch in sports-drink brands netted $4,000 in savings and a new bottled water brand, $2,225 in savings. When the price on pure maple syrup went sky high, he investigated and sampled syrup-honey blends that met the operation's high quality standards but cost considerably less. He was able to get the Irving unit's bread business, which previous went to a local bakery, by introducing comparable products that were not only lower priced, but also offered manufacturer rebates.

All savings resulting from changes in manufacturer programs are tracked and documented in the business review presentations, as are rebate totals.

In fact, Carrillo has made rebate management one of his calling cards. He has more than doubled the number of rebate programs-and dollars generated from them-at Four Seasons over the past two years. "We now have them on some 30 different rebate programs, up from only about 10 a couple of years ago," he says. Total rebates for the first two quarters of 1998 exceeded $16,000. All rebate checks are sent directly to Carrillo, who logs them into the business review template and then distributes them to the units.

An additional $7,500 was saved through food-show coupon savings. Carrillo tracks and documents all food show savings for his customers, as well.

Characterized by associates as intensely logical and level-headed, Carrillo enjoys the challenge of creating solutions to customer problems. He excels at smoothing out the rough spots that can occur almost daily in this business, and jokes that he spends some days "just trying to put out the bonfire with the water pistol."

Dave Ferry, a Luby's unit manager and one of Carrillo's first customers when he took on the chain's out-of-state business some eight years ago, says his confidence in Carrillo's ability to handle any situation laid the foundation for a long-term, win-win relationship. "Rodney was always a quick study," says Ferry, who at the time managed Luby's in Oklahoma City and is now in Houston. "He knew he'd make mistakes starting out, but he was honest and he never made the same mistake twice. He always followed through to make things right. The more I bragged about him to other Luby's managers, the more his business grew along with ours."

Today, Carrillo services 20 Luby's in Oklahoma and Kansas. He has penetrated the accounts to the point where he supplies 90 percent of their grocery needs. He's instrumental in new unit openings, and, as at Four Seasons, has focused on value-added selling, driving down costs and solving problems.

One challenge he addressed was to devise a way for all of the Luby's units he serves to take advantage of Labatt's food show savings. The show is structured so that deals are available only to those customers who actually attend. Labatt covers the cost of transportation and lodging for customers in outlying areas, but bringing in 20 Luby's managers was cost-prohibitive. Not willing to let his customers miss the savings, Carrillo came up with a system whereby one manager can attend and buy for all 20 units.

"Each customer gets a `credit card' to use to make show purchases. But it was impractical to think that one guy from Luby's would to go around with 20 cards to buy for the other units," Carrillo explains. "So I went to MIS to see if we could tie all 20 units into one card. They did, and we sold $100,000 worth of product to Luby's in a single day because we made it easy for them to do so. We paid for one manager to come and all of the stores benefited."

To make it even easier for Luby's designated food-show buyer, Carrillo compiles complete reports prior to the show detailing what each store averages on featured items.

For MultiRestaurants, Ltd., which manages foodservice operations at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, Carrillo has worked with director of operations, Lisa Freyer, to devise systems that have been implemented in other accounts, as well.

"We were having too many errors in the ordering process, in part, because the guides were hard to read. Lisa suggested that we simply skip a line on the order guide between items to make it easier to follow item numbers and descriptions across the page. I asked MIS if it could be done, and it was. It's a simple thing that has dramatically reduced errors. All Labatt reps now have the option of using skip-line order guides."

Souper!Salads!, a 118-unit (and growing fast) salad-bar concept specializing in top-quality, freshly prepared foods, is Carrillo's largest account. Like Luby's, it's represented a strong opportunity for him to partner with an aggressive, growth-oriented chain.

"I do more than $100,000 a week with them," he says. "I started with nine units five years ago in Dallas/Fort Worth and will soon open up my twenty-fourth unit. All told, Labatt services 50 to 60 units. We helped them open up the Oklahoma market and are now opening up with them in Kansas."

As the chain grows outside of Labatt's service area, Carrillo works to put Souper!Salad! buyers in touch with other hand-picked independent distributors and ensures that those units get comparable pricing and service programs. He's even arranged for shipments of items such as paper goods for store openings in locations as far away as North Carolina, just to help them until local supply lines are established.

Originally serving Souper!Salads! grocery business only, Carrillo recently won the produce business, as well, which added $2 million in annual purchases. "We were able to add dedicated produce trucks to make it work," Carrillo says. "We now have virtually all of their business."

Kervin Jackson, the Dallas area district manager for Souper!Salads, credits Carrillo's consistency and commitment to customers for his success there. "I know I can always count on him," he says. "He is Labatt to me. We've grown together and he and Labatt have continued to meet our needs."

Juggling large-volume, multiunit business in a manner that makes each account feel like it has his undivided attention is no small feat. The stress is constant, but it's the kind of energizing stress that, most days, Carrillo thrives on.

"I'm happy doing this. I intend to keep growing my sales and to bring more business in for the company," he says. "I can't imagine not having customers to service. That's what I do."

One way Carrillo looks forward to growing his sales is through Labatt's new DSR mentoring program, which he helped Silva to develop. "A dedicated DSR-in-training will work with me exclusively for a year and a half I'll be able to help train a new Labatt sales person and also to expand my business base-something that's hard for me to do now and maintain service levels."

Other key components of Carrillo's approach to managing stress are organizational systems that he follows with almost superstitious precision. He develops spreadsheets with key information on all accounts. And he uses a simple mailing-label system on order forms that ensures no mix-ups are made during the ordering process among the many chain units he services. "I refuse to even take an order unless one of those labels is on the sheet first," he says.

Most of all, Carrillo credits his family with giving him the emotional and ethical grounding necessary to make his success possible. While his people skills are the first thing his managers point to as keys to his success, he concedes that off the job he sticks close to home. "The three people I'm closest to are my wife, Andrea, my mother, Delia, and my brother, Gerald. I talk with my mom and my brother every day. My circle is small, but very tight, and that gives me the support I need."