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FE&SEditorial Archives2005 — July — Feature Story

Meet Our 2005 Top Achievers

The foodservice equipment and supplies industry’s channel of distribution has served it well over the years and continues to do so today. Of course, any system is only as good as the collective abilities of its individual parts. It is with that in mind that FE&S presents our 2005 Top Achiever Award winners.

Representing four distinct yet interdependent segments of the distribution chain, these highly successful individuals earned this recognition by developing businesses that raise the bar for market dominance and progressive management, equitable and honorable dealings with customers and channel partners and for making meaningful contributions to their trade associations and the industry at-large.

FE&S’ Top Achievers have dedicated themselves to:

  • Continuing their professional education and skill-building
  • Learning how to anticipate customers’ needs to keep sales growing
  • Building market-responsive organizations that provide the maximum number of profitable products and services.

Their individual paths to success are as unique as their personalities but their passion for the foodservice industry and unflinching commitment to excellence unites them. We have enjoyed finding out what makes our Top Achievers tick and are excited to share their stories with you. While their approaches to building a successful business may not be for everyone, we are confident that you will come away with a few ideas to apply to your own company. —The Editors

Walne Donald: Mobile Fixture & Equipment Co. — Dealer

There is nothing complicated about Walne Donald’s success as president and CEO of Mobile Fixture & Equipment Co.: Hire good people, pursue the opportunities that present themselves and do what it takes to satisfy your customers.

This simple formula has served Donald, FE&S’ 2005 Top Achiever-Dealer, and his company well. When he took over as Mobile Fixture’s leader in 1997, its sales were approximately $4 million. Last year, the company’s sales reached $16.5 million.

Not surprisingly, Donald’s history with the dealer goes much further back than his tenure as CEO.

Mobile Fixture was founded in 1927 by J.L. Bedsole. In 1979, Bedsole’s family sold the company to a partnership consisting of Donald’s father and three other men. After graduating from the University of South Alabama in 1986, Donald took a post in the firm’s showroom, where he worked with walk-in customers and handled inventory; he eventually moved to outside sales.

Then, in 1997, Donald’s father encountered some health problems, while at the same time one of the firm’s other partners decided to retire. At that point, Donald acquired the stock of the retiring partner and became leader. In 2003, he bought his father’s stock, giving himself 50% interest in the company. Two silent partners control the other 50%.

One of Donald’s defining characteristics as a leader is his readiness to seize new opportunities.

When he took the helm of Mobile Fixture, the company had just one location. Now it has three. Its headquarters’ location in Mobile, Ala., consists of offices, a distribution center and a cash ’n carry operation. Newer initiatives begun by Donald at this location include a home chef section in its showroom, a used equipment business and a consumer appliance business. Mobile Fixture has a full-service branch in Destin, Fla., operating under the name Destin Restaurant Supply, which opened its doors in 2003. Mobile Fixture also operates a consumer appliance business in Gulf Shores, Ala., which opened in January of this year.

In addition, plans are underway to open a fourth office in Nashville, Tenn., in early 2006. This location, he says, will be a full-service branch with a large cash ’n carry presence. “We have some business up in that area already, so I want to build a branch to support that,” he notes. “I also see an opportunity. In Nashville, there’s not a dealer with a large showroom floor.”

In order to handle all this growth and expansion, the company has increased its payroll significantly, going from 22 people in 1997 to 66 today.

Expanding the company’s employee base, Donald says, has itself led to additional growth. Much of the firm’s success, he says, is due to the dedication and hard work of its employees. The company has done particularly well, he states, in balancing experienced staffers with young talent. The dealer’s younger employees benefit greatly from the years of knowledge accrued by their longer-serving colleagues, Donald notes.

With these employees, Mobile Fixture, a member of the EDI Marketing Group, goes to market as a full-service dealership. The company delivers, uncrates and sets equipment in place; offers credit lines to its customers; provides design/build services; and maintains a large showroom. Mobile Fixture’s goal is to charge for many of these services in order to support its high-overhead business model. Not surprisingly, these efforts have been met with mixed reaction by customers. But those customers that do recognize the value of what the company provides, says Donald, are the ones with whom the dealer will attempt to form the closest partnerships.

For all his customers, though, Donald sees his job as to “get these people through each week, to make their pain go away.” This philosophy has led him to make significant additional investments in time, money and energy to provide services that far exceed normal business practices.

The company, for instance, maintains a large inventory, enabling it to provide operators with the items they need quickly. Further, Mobile Fixture has loaned clients used and even new equipment when one of their pieces is being repaired. The company also offers weekend deliveries and will open its warehouse at night to get a customer that one item he forgot to order. Such efforts have earned Mobile Fixture the gratitude of many operators.

“Generally, in my position you don’t get a lot of phone calls thanking you for your help, but I do get some,” Donald says. “Those are the kind of calls I enjoy.”

Donald has three children: Forrest, 14; Taylor, 13; and Sydney, 10. In his spare time he enjoys hunting, playing softball and coaching little league.

—Toby Weber, Associate Editor

Georganne Shockey, FCSI: Ruck-Shockey Associates Inc. — Consultant

Veteran consultant Georganne Shockey, FCSI, seemingly never had a moment’s hesitation in charting her career in foodservice — which may explain why operators have never hesitated to call upon her.

Ruck-Shockey Associates Inc., which she and partner Carolyn Ruck, FCSI, founded in 1997, specializes in operations and management advisory services. Shockey’s more than two decades of experience include operational review and assessment studies; service integration such as multi-service/multi-unit; meal delivery programs; oversight reviews; implementation processes; and request for proposal (RFP) leadership.

Shockey has worked with numerous administrators in acute-care facilities, retirement communities, long-term care and healthcare systems around the country. Based in Houston, she also has experience in contract management processes, training and development of staff within healthcare organizations, financial and cost-benefit analysis, capital planning and forecasting for ROI, team building and new market development.

Shockey knew early on where she wanted to go, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Home Economics with a Nutrition emphasis from Ohio State University. For three of her four years in Columbus she worked in a local hospital’s dietary department. “I worked all around the kitchen like a worker bee,” Shockey recalls. “I got hooked on the management aspect and decided I didn’t want to go the clinical route.”

After joining Marriott Corp. in Washington, D.C., Shockey rose from assistant foodservice director at St. Ann’s Hospital (1980-1981) to associate director of retail operations at Memorial Hospital System (1981-1983) and associate director of foodservice at Cedars Medical Center (1984-1985).

A stint at Sodexho USA Inc. was marked by another steady climb up the organizational ladder: from director of foodservice (1985-1988) to regional sales manager (1992-1996) and national account manager (1996-1997).

“When I was out selling, I realized that operators weren’t doing as well as they should have been or they wouldn’t have been looking for me to come in,” Shockey recounts. “I saw that there was a need. It kept nagging in the back of my mind: ‘What could we do as a corporation?’ and later, ‘What can I do personally to help some of these folks?’”

Her partnership with Ruck seems to have been fated. “Carolyn was also employed by Sodexho,” Shockey says. “When we would go away for management training, the company would room people together. Since we were two females, they put Ruck and Shockey together in a lot of situations as roommates. We began talking and things evolved. One thing led to another and we both resigned from Sodexho within a couple of weeks of each other and started the business. Things happen for a reason.”

Success breeds complexity, as well. Scheduling multiple clients, for example, is one of her toughest tasks, Shockey acknowledges, so her policies cannot waiver. “When I put clients on my schedule ... that date is locked in unless they cancel it. If a client then calls in and says, ‘I need you that same day,’ I tell them, ‘Listen, I know you appreciate that I wouldn’t cancel you for another client, so can we work around these days?’ And 98% of the time, that works.”

Both Shockey and Ruck, who works out of Alameda, Calif., frequently address industry groups. “We try and give back to the industry when we do any kind of public speaking,” Shockey notes. “We do it for the educational side, and we don’t usually charge people. We consider it a marketing opportunity, and we love to do good educational talks.”

Shockey is a member of the Foodservice Consultants Society International, having sat on its North American board of directors from 2001 until 2004, when she served as chair, and its worldwide board of directors from 2002 to 2004. She is also a member of the American Society of Hospital Foodservice Associates, the National Association of College & University Food Services, and Healthcare Food Service Management.

Among the accolades she has received have been the 1993 and 1995 Salesperson of the Year Award for the U.S. Division of Sodexho; the 2004 President’s Award from the Society for Healthcare Foodservice Management (HFM); and, now, the 2005 FE&S Top Achiever Award-Consultant.

Shockey and her husband of 20 years, Greg, live in Houston. Away from work, she enjoys swimming and running. “Music is a passion. I played all the way through high school. I dropped it for a lot of years, but I’m taking it back up,” she adds.

—Howard Riell, Contributing Editor

Bill Cassidy: Equipment Preference Inc. — Manufacturers’ Representative

Bill Cassidy, CFSP, CPMR, a founder of and principal in Equipment Preference Inc. (EPI) in Southlake, Texas, has built a stellar career by both taking advantage of opportunities and taking chances.

Cassidy’s independent manufacturers’ representative group specializes in foodservice equipment, covering the Texas and Oklahoma territories with offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. EPI has 21 employees, with annual sales of $75 million.

“Our company, to the best of my knowledge, is the largest rep group in the country,” Cassidy says. “We’re about 50% larger than the biggest rep group listed in the MAFSI Barometer.

“One of the reasons we’ve been successful is that we actually train and have brought through a lot of youth in our company,” Cassidy says. “We also have had a team of experienced successful leaders to teach that youth. Part of doing that is taking the good ones and ‘locking them up’ as owners.”

In contrast to most rep firms, which operate like traditional small businesses, Cassidy runs EPI like a large corporation. “For example, we’re in a 15,000-square-foot building and we have a 2,500-square-foot state-of-the-art test kitchen. We have 8,000-square-feet of conference facilities, and we run our own inhouse trade shows. We run our own training programs for the manufacturers.”

Channel partners include consultants and dealers, but EPI’s focus remains on the end-user. “The end-user has been a big topic of conversation in the industry in the last few years,” Cassidy says. “The dealers say, ‘I’m the customer,’ and in a lot of cases the dealers are the customers. But ultimately, I think the manufacturers have now recognized that the end-user is their real customer, and a vital part of the equation.”

Cassidy is proud that his company’s culture encourages innovation and a lot of initiative in terms of new and creative ideas. And, quite candidly, he is proud of his young and energetic team, that includes seven graduates from his alma mater Purdue. “Youth tends to be harder to train, but its energy and enthusiasm push us to new heights,” he says. “We’re probably one of the few rep firms that really recruits younger professionals, trains them and brings them up. Our average age is probably 28-to-32 years old.”

In January, EPI reorganized its structure, creating smaller business units. The firm now has six people who exclusively call on end-users. Other units call solely on dealers and consultants. EPI also added a new national accounts department. The result of the change? “Higher accountability,” Cassidy says, “which will allow us to make changes faster and respond better to the customers’ needs.”

Admittedly, Cassidy had an inauspicious introduction to the industry. Upon graduating from Purdue University’s School of Restaurant and Hotel Management he “finagled” a job at Vulcan-Hart.

The job “went really well,” Cassidy recalls, except for “a bit of politics that I was too young and too green to understand. About six months to a year into it, they let a colleague go and assigned me to that territory. At that time, it was about 15th in the country, but should have been in the top five. I took us to number one in terms of volume.”

He remained at Vulcan-Hart for eight years and climbed the corporate ladder to the rung of territory sales manager. Then, a shift in the company’s strategy led Cassidy to make a change.

So in 1994, Cassidy and co-founder/co-owner Les Hanley started EPI. The relationship between Cassidy, who has controlling rights to the business, and Hanley, who serves as the company’s vice president, goes back to their days at Vulcan-Hart.

Cassidy earned his CPMR certification at Arizona State University and credits the program as playing a significant role in his personal and corporate success. “The program brings manufacturers’ reps together from all over the country and from 15-to-20 industries,” he says. “That’s where I learned a lot of the innovation, and how to take a chance and step out there and do things differently than what normal reps have been doing.”

He credits his Christian faith for much of his success. “When it was tempting to do the easiest thing, it’s kept me on the course to do the right thing,” Cassidy says.

Cassidy, 42, and his wife, Jennifer, live in Southlake, a suburb of Dallas/Ft. Worth, and have four children: Emily, 13; Hayden, 10; Brooke, eight; and Max, five.

—Howard Riell, Contributing Editor

Anthony Rapanotti: AR Repairs Baker’s Kneads Inc. — Service Agent

Like so many others in this industry, Anthony Rapanotti, FE&S’ 2005 Top Achiever-Service Agent, grew up around a family-owned foodservice equipment business. Unlike most, though, he later struck out on his own, founding Detroit-based AR Repairs Baker’s Kneads Inc.

In the early 1970s, when Rapanotti was around 10 years old, his father co-founded a service agency in Detroit. Rapanotti worked as a service technician in the late 1970s and early 1980s for his father. Wanting to take his career in a different direction, however, Rapanotti left that company on good terms in 1981, going to work as an electrician in the music industry for the next two years.

Then, in 1983, his cousin put him in touch with a local restaurant chain executive who was having electrical problems at his home. Rapanotti went to the man’s house and quickly fixed the problem.

When the executive asked how much he owed for the repair, Rapanotti paused to think for a moment and then said he was considering starting his own service agency and would like a short preventative maintenance contract with his chain, just to get his company off the ground. After discussions with the executive, Rapanotti landed the contract. (He first, though, obtained the blessing of his parents, who sold their interest in their own service agency a couple of years later and joined AR. His father worked with AR until his death earlier this year, and his mother continues to serve as the company’s comptroller.)

“I took $900 in cash, my brand new Camaro Z28, which I sold, and a credit card and started my company,” Rapanotti says.

Since this humble, almost spur-of-the-moment founding, AR has grown into one of the premier service agencies in Michigan. The firm now employs 24 individuals, has a fleet of 12 service vehicles and is on pace to exceed $4 million in revenue this year.

Of course, to reach this level of success, AR has had to differentiate itself from the competition. When seeking out customers or discussing deals with channel partners, then, the company stresses two main attributes, Rapanotti says.

First, he emphasizes the agency’s willingness to take on practically any responsibility the operator asks. AR will do everything from receiving and warehousing equipment to acting as a general contractor for kitchen renovations by hiring subcontractors to handle the plumbing and electrical work. Second, the company emphasizes the levels of training and certification its technicians possess.

Every AR technician must earn at least one CFESA certification within 90 days of joining the firm. Before they earn certification, techs do not go out in the field full-time, do not take a truck home and do not get benefits.

This does not mean, however, that Rapanotti hires only those with deep technical backgrounds. Rather, in a new employee, he will sacrifice technical know-how for the ability to communicate well with co-workers and, especially, customers.

“I’ll take a person with marginal technical skills if that individual has the ability to communicate with people. I’ll spend the money to train that person on the technical end ... because it’s too hard to take someone who doesn’t know how to deal with people and teach them how.”

This hiring philosophy has obviously succeeded for Rapanotti. For it is his employees, he says, who make the firm succeed. He also credits the company’s executives, singling out his sister, Lisa, the company’s vice president, for their skill and dedication.

“I used to be a micromanager, a control freak who worried about everything,” he says. “Now that I have these people I just get out of their way. They take care of everything.”

They take care of so much of the firm’s work, in fact, that Rapanotti has been able to allocate much of his time in recent years to working for the betterment of the industry, he says. A member of CFESA’s board of directors, he served as co-chair of its installation committee and is presently co-chair of its business technology committee.

This time that he dedicates to industry service has led Rapanotti to grow in appreciation for cooperation among dealers, reps, manufacturers and service agents.

“I’ve always believed there’s one customer: the end-user, and we’re all vying for his approval,” he says. “Since we’re dealing with such a small niche, we rely on repeat business, so why sit there and argue that a problem is someone else’s fault? It’s counter-productive. Instead, I’ll discount my bill and the company we’re working with will take a little bit off and we’ll make the customer happy.”

Rapanotti, 43, lives in Commerce Township, Mich., with his wife, Lisa, and his two children: Matthew, 13; and Gabriella, seven.

—Toby Weber, Associate Editor

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