Friday, October 21, 2011

Food Shows

When I first started out at Jake's, the two main companies that sold to us were smaller, in state companies. I believe their names were Pacific Fruit and Portland Wholesale. Now they are part of national companies, Food Services of America and Sysco Foods.

I remember the first food shows that I went to. It was in an ice cold warehouse somewhere down by the river in Portland. I wished that I had worn warmer clothes but I came home with bags of goodies and had learned quite a bit about making deals for products.

I believe food shows must have just been starting back then as I was wooed to come to them. I was given overnight stays in nice motels, lavished with gifts, overwhelmed with samples, and enticed with rebates for the business. It was kind of a Disneyland effect.

I remember one local show back in the 90's where they were giving away prizes to the purchasers. I had learned how to 'work' the system pretty well by then and ended up with a bag full of tickets. I won so many prizes that I began giving them away to the people around me as I wanted the grand prize.....a trip to the Oregon coast. Judy and I enjoyed that trip, staying right on the ocean at Depot Bay.

As the two companies got bought up by their now larger ones, the enticements for coming to their shows grew. One show, we walked away with not just a TV but two smaller ones for our kids. In another, I gave my young kitchen manager a 30 inch TV and VCR. It was a nice homecoming present for his young family. Still, in another show, they got you to buy more product by giving you minutes in a money box. There were bills in the bottom and they turned on blowers that blew the money all around you. Your job was to grab as much as you could in the time allotted. I had gotten to know the owner of the food brokerage giving this one away and he showed me the tricks of getting the most before I went in. I ended up paying for our trip to the coast with this one.

At the same time, the more local bread company out of Eugene, Williams Bakery was working hard to get and keep our business from the Portland based, Franz Bakery. Every year, they would take me to Oregon Duck games and even after the two companies combined, the Duck games were still there and Blazer games were added. At one time, I was given my choice of both.

Back then, the 'fringe' benefits were unbelievable. I knew of one local grocery store manager who was given box seats in the games and I can only imagine what he would have received in the food shows.

Jake's owners encouraged me to go to as many shows as I could as I would always bring them back at least 6 - 700 dollars in rebates for product, one time I even earned them over $1000.

Then, somewhere in the later 90's, things changed. It was as the companies began to get larger and larger. The Bread company CEO changed to a more 'numbers' man who realized that he could sell just as much by taking care of the larger chain restaurant leaders and the spiffs for independents started to come to a screeching halt.

Almost overnight, the games were cancelled for us and even for the local bread managers. I believe the tickets were given to the more district managers of both their business and the ones of the chains.

At the same time, the now huge food purveyors found that they could squeeze money from the brokers themselves and the show spiffs began to wane. It was still worthwhile to go, however, in most cases. The big shows were getting bigger but somewhat manageable with the companies asking us to bring only a couple of representatives and no children to the show. I could still wrangle some pretty good rebates of 3 - 500 and could come away with some pretty good samples.

Somewhere along the line, they started letting anyone into the shows. I found them to be much harder to work. So, I began preordering our product and just not going to the packed shows. This did not work well for them as they wanted me there so I was told in order to get my show rebates, I needed to be there.

So, one of the companies had it's big Portland show on Wednesday. Judy and I got up early and headed over the pass. We did enjoy the fall drive with the leaves turning and arrived at the show at around 11 or so.

The show was packed. We were lucky to get parking spots not to far away and met up with our local salesman as we walked in the door. He told me not to bother trying to get any more 'points' from anyone other than our two largest buys as they were just not giving out many extra points. So, I marked those two on my map as we began going down the isles. Now, there were plenty of samples to be sampled right then and there but most of the packaged samples were wrapped up tight with tape. They were for visual only as now large groups and families roam the floor, many of them just looking for these free things. These now large groups caused yet another problem, clutter.

Just walking down one of the isles was became a challenge of it's own. I saw one larger chef who had sweat pouring off of him, his hair matted with it from just fighting the crowd. I bet, in certain ways, it was cooler in his kitchen than it was out on that floor. We were bumped, jostled, and pushed. One lady who had managed to get herself quite a few of the elusive free samples dropped her bag right in front of me, tripping me with it. Now, getting a bit frazzled, I told Judy that I felt like kicking the bag.

We stopped at the two larger purchases and I made my way into them to receive as many extra points as I could. Usually, these guys would load up pages of points for me but today, there stickers were much lighter. One mentioned that they had much less to deal than they had in the past. I thanked him for what he did give me. The second gave me one sticker. I looked at him with a inquisitive look. He mentioned that he saw our price deviation sheets eluding to the fact that I was given a better price than most on his product. I did not argue that fact nor did I counter that the agreement was made so that I would purchase other products exclusively also. It was just not worth it.

By the time that we had gotten to the last two rows, Judy and I were pretty done. We decided to walk down the middle of the isle and look both ways. If we saw something interesting, we would decide if we wanted to fight the crowd to see more or just reach in and grab a info sheet that would allow me to explore more online. That didn't work so well either as the middle of the isle seemed to be where the families would gather and just 'talk'.

By the time that we finished the show, we both felt like we had worked a full shift. I had four or five samples in my bags along with a puzzle and a spat that I had won on a wheel spin. I did stop at a wheel that had Blazer gear on it, thinking that I might try and win something for Jay. But, in order to spin the wheel, I needed to purchase Blazer tickets. "Why should I buy tickets to something that may not happen?", eluding to the soon to be cancelled season if they cannot agree to terms. "Because they are fully refundable.", came the smile back. After looking at the prices (ouch), I decided that I would rather just watch them on TV.

We made our way to the person who counts up the points. "Congratulations!", she smiled. "You have earned 1700 points. Wow, that is one of my larger point totals today. You can use half of them now on gift certificates to Fred Meyer or on our prizes here and you will receive the rest when you purchase all that you have promised to buy.". "I would just like that as a rebate when I finish up with my purchases. Would that be OK?', I asked. "Yes", she said as she worked her calculator, "You will receive a check for $170. That is if you purchase it all." Since I had overbooked to insure the best possible rebate, I knew that figure would be more like $120 or so.

As we walked out the door, I was working things out in my head. $120 minus gas alone was now $60 not to mention wear and tear on the car. The fresh air on my face as we exited felt incredible. We walked back to our car to head home spending over two hours in that packed building. I realized that I had not gone back to the Coke booth to get us a drink for the way home. I looked back at the building and told Judy that I was just not up to fighting that crowd just to get a free coke. We stopped for gas in Troutdale and I bought myself a coke. Judy, on the other hand, had not been able to get herself enough free samples to feed herself and ducted into the local subway for a sandwich for the way home.

We arrived back in Bend around 5 or so. We both called it an early night as the next day we would be driving back to.....Portland. But this time in a much more relaxed atmosphere. A day trip with some of our Model A friends. A much more relaxing enjoyable day trip. I kind of think that food shows might be coming to an end for me.


Vicki said...

A friend of mine told me about the food shows and that they aren't as good as they used to be. When he would go, he would win trips and all sorts of prizes, but as time went on he said that they gave away less and less and it just wasn't worth it for him to go anymore.

When I went I didn't end up saving a lot and to be honest, my salesman did what he could for me as far as giving me the specials. I didn't even go to the Perkins show that was held at Gillette Stadium a couple of weeks go through the crowds was just more than my mind could handle that day...

Kina said...

I couldn't agree more.

I went to food shows the first few years after opening our restaurant, and it seemed to be the exact same stuff at every show.

And if I was able to jostle my way to an interesting booth, the first question would be "how many units do you buy for?" and when I'd answer with "one" they'd move on to the next person.