Despite both being in the same business of selling food, restaurants and the companies that supply them have completely different marketing needs. Restaurants are forced to appeal to a large class of individuals, and as such often find that TV and print ads, coupons, and billboards work well to introduce themselves to their target marketing. These efforts would be mostly wasted if pursued by a restaurant supply company. Fewer than one in ten American workers is in food service, and fewer than one in ten of them have any decision making authority when it comes to purchasing. That means less than 1% of the workforce is a restaurant supplier’s market.
That can create some difficulties when breaking into a market for those who view marketing and advertising in a traditional sense. However, for those willing to make a few adjustments, there are significant opportunities. Most important of all, restaurant supply companies should focus on the quantity and quality of the goods that they offer their customers, and as such should plan accordingly.
Issues Restaurant Suppliers Face
To better understand the best way to market to restaurants, restaurant suppliers should first take some time to understand the needs of their clients better. After all, if supplying a restaurant with food was as simple as just providing the cases of ingredients, many restaurants would forgo the restaurant supply process and head to their nearest mega-mart. As such, restaurant suppliers that can differentiate themselves on the needs of their clients have the best chances of marketing well.
Restaurant supply companies should always keep in mind when developing their marketing plans that restaurants are other businesses, not consumers. Therefore, the value proposition must be adjusted accordingly. For example, most restaurants will not automatically run to the cheapest option unless all other factors are equal; a case of chicken is no bargain if a restaurant’s customers are going to find the result to be exceedingly dry. At the same time, a quick service restaurant will likely not be as interested in the free range, organic options demanded by a more formal establishment. Restaurant suppliers should bear this need for quality in mind, and understand how different companies have different needs.
Additionally, restaurant suppliers must also be cognizant of the quantity of goods provided. Take that case of chicken, for example. Perhaps it is comprised all of 5-ounce cutlets. If the next is made up of 7-ounce fillets, the end product served to the customer in the restaurant will be different. As restaurants must have the consistency to maintain a client base, giving such drastically different meals is not a good way to go about that. A supplier that cannot maintain consistency will face serious concerns.
Finally, restaurant suppliers need to be respectful of a restaurant’s time. There are several strategies for respecting their time, such as making sure that deliveries are consistent and correct, or limiting sales calls to less busy times of the day. No one wants to talk about the deal on pork loin that your company can offer during a lunch rush.
By understanding the perspective of restaurant owners, a restaurant supplier is already ahead of much of the competition and well on his or her way to building a good relationship that pays dividends over the years. However, once those pieces of the puzzle are in place, there is still a need to market; few companies are lucky enough to survive on word of mouth alone.
Different Ways to Advertise
If the ultimate purpose of advertising is to introduce a set of goods and services to a specified market, restaurant suppliers are indeed lucky that their market is both small enough to be easily approached but large enough to be practical. There are a number of different routes that can be taken to advertise one’s goods to restaurants, but even here there is often differentiation depending on the nature of the restaurants involved.
That said, some universal approaches tend to work quite well, regardless of restaurant size or style. As was mentioned earlier, word of mouth advertising is perhaps the best around, and restaurant suppliers should never shy away from asking established clients for referrals. Having a messaging system that helps get those referrals and keep current customers is essential and a good way to advertise the business. However, if overdone it could endanger existing relationships, making them feel more mercenary that collaborative.
Ads in specialist publications, be they in print or online, are also a great way to gain an introduction to the market. With these, one must be careful, however. A large restaurant supply company will likely want to avoid the many small directories put out by local business groups, while a more regional firm would probably want to target those exact publications. On the other hand, a more regional restaurant supply firm may find their advertising dollars better spent on a number of Chamber of Commerce directories instead of a highly competitive ad in Pizza Today.
Additionally, some restaurant suppliers will likely want to examine the possibilities offered by social media to advertise their services. This comes with a catch. A number of chain restaurants, such as Wendy’s and Whataburger, have build incredibly successful social media campaigns. However, their goal is to target the masses. Even the most viral restaurant supply campaign is unlikely to translate into real results. Instead, focus on connecting with purchasers at restaurants, be they national chains or smaller operations, and sharing relevant information. In short, save the cat gifs for a personal account.
One method that should likely be avoided is anything that can be considered pestering. While there is nothing wrong with a salesperson directly calling or emailing a purchaser at a restaurant, calling during particularly busy times or to excess will do little to curry favor. Restaurant supply professionals should keep in mind that their clients are incredibly busy and, like all professionals, hate interruptions. A call during the lunch rush to tell them that a shipment will be an hour late would be appreciated; one to advertise a new seafood offering would not
A Classic Solution
Many advertising methods are not perfect fits for restaurant suppliers, but direct mail offers an alternative that could solve the problems of many suppliers. After all, it is non-intrusive, it gets a message across in a professional way, and it can be used to demonstrate the ability to provide both substantial quality of goods and an ability to deliver them.
While many people may be likely to label all direct mail as “junk mail” and throw it away, they are missing an important point. 42% of such mail is read before it is recycled, according to Target Marketing Magazine. While that may not sound like much, keep in mind that few other advertising channels offer half of that read-through rate. If done properly, direct mail can provide a substantial opportunity for advertising a restaurant supply company.
Making the Most of Direct Mail
That said, it is incredibly easy to transform an opportunity into another addition to the trash can. Direct mail should be engaging to those who look at it for just a second or two; after all, many of those 42% are flipping through it to ascertain if it is a bill or check. As such, direct mail pieces should be well-designed, get the point across succinctly, and provide information for potential customer to follow up with a supplier in a non-committal way.
While many would prefer only to leave a phone number or an email address, direct mail can be part of a well-engineering sales funnel that allows an interested party to go to a website in order to learn more about how the restaurant supply company can help their restaurant.
One of the points that should be emphasized by a direct mailing is the ability of a restaurant supply company to deliver on quality. Your commitment to excellence should be apparent from the instant that the potential customer picks up the mailing. However, good design on heavy paper is not enough. A potential customer should also see some indication that a restaurant supply company has built relationships that can deliver. Ideally, these are with other restaurants in a similar market space as the establishment in question. Alternatively, the mailing should show the relationships that the supplier has built with other companies; a partnership with a highly-regarded farm is something worth talking about.
The other big point to stress in a direct mailing is the ability to deliver goods timely and in sufficient quantity. This is an ideal place to mention some of a restaurant supplier’s largest clients. If a company can meet the ground beef needs for a massive burger chain, it can surely meet the steak needs for a regional group of steakhouses. Of course, it is also worth stressing here that smaller companies will not be abandoned or disadvantaged in favor of more substantial purchases.
Restaurant supply companies face a number of challenges in successfully marketing their goods restaurants, many of which are dictated by the unique challenges faced by restaurant owners and purchasers. Understanding those challenges is key to succeeding as a restaurant supplier. It also helps to dictate the advertising choices taken by restaurant supply firms. While word of mouth advertising, social media, and targeted print and online advertisements all offer some level of success, one of the best possible routes for many restaurant supply companies is direct mail.