Michelle Burt knew she could order her pizza supplies online, she just never did it. Two years later her distributor rep convinced her to give it a try. Now she's kicking herself for not trying it sooner.

"After he showed me everything it could do, I've used it ever since," said Burt, president of Spanky's Pizza in Freemont, Mich.

When it comes to placing orders, Burt is among the minority of pizza operators who let their fingers do the talking. Distributors say operators loathe to change because they're used to calling in or faxing handwritten orders. What they don't know, Burt said, is how convenient online ordering is.


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"There's no waiting, no missed calls ... it doesn't matter what time of day you do it," she said.

Instead of conducting a marathon inventory and compiling an order all at once, Burt said she gradually compiles her order on the computer. When it's time to order, she logs on, sends it and receives an e-mail confirmation that it arrived.

Before you feel like Luddites, pizza operators, know that your online ordering options are lacking — for now. Only about a dozen large, broadline foodservice distributors offer the service. And those who do offer it say only about 15 percent of their customers use it.

"We've yet to see it take off like we'd like, but we expect when operators understand the time they'll save by doing it, more will order online," said Brian Moore, SYSCO senior manager of brand development. "I think it's going to be a big deal, especially as younger operators, who are more familiar with computers and the Internet, see that's an option."

More time to serve

Ann Reichle, owner of Angelina's Pizza in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, said online ordering allows her foodservice rep to spend more time solving problems and demonstrating new products. He doesn't show up to take orders by hand, rather he usually comes bearing "goodies, new stuff to play with," she said. Like Burt, Reichle likes the ability to order whenever she wants with a point and click.

"There's no hassle to it," Reichle said. "My rep now has the time to spend talking about new ideas."

Burt said she was like some who thought that ordering online would reduce her contact time with her distributor. Au contraire, she said.

"It doesn't seem like it would happen this way, but I get more time with my rep instead of less. I think some (operators) are worried that their rep won't be around if he's not there taking their orders."

Moore said much of the thrust behind SYSCO's online ordering initiative is to free customer service reps to "talk about marketing issues, to show new products and help operators build their businesses. When one of our sales people says, 'Do you think this could work on your menu?' he has the time to listen and get feedback. It's hard for that to happen if you spend most of that time taking orders."

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