A pizza operator and a distributor are a lot like a married couple: Each relies on the other daily and they largely get along. But occasionally someone miscommunicates or forgets a commitment, an argument starts and the blame game begins.

Though the relationship will never be perfect, pizza operators and distributors agree it could improve if both parties commit to working at it.

"It behooves a distributor to make sure that operator becomes successful," said Brian Moore, SYSCO senior manager of brand development. "To do that, the distributor has to become the operator's business partner."


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A partner that not only stocks the products an operator wants and needs, Moore said, but one that helps him understand the bigger picture.

"The more knowledgeable a distributor can make an operator, the better," Moore said. "A distributor should be a source of product knowledge, somebody who can explain why one sausage or cheese is different than another, why prices are high on toppings. It's more about teaching an operator than about selling him."

Ann Reichle, owner of Angelina's Pizza in North Olmsted, Ohio, likes the teaching distributor who challenges her creativity. In addition to pizza, her business has a full deli and a catering arm.

"I want a distributor to have time for showing me new product samples, how to use them and then stay and play for a while," Reichle said. "A good rep knows how it all connects together. He knows that it has to work with the cheese and the toppings, the whole package."

Chuck Thorp, CEO of DoubleDave's Pizzaworks, wants numbers from his ideal distributor. "Research and report on industry trends in the pizza business."

A two-way street

The distributor shouldn't be expected to do all the work in the relationship, said "Big Dave" Ostrander, a former operator-turned-pizzeria consultant.

If there's one thing operators should do, it's cut distributors some slack," Ostrander said. "They're human. They make mistakes just like operators."

Operators help distributors, he continued, by sending checks that don't bounce, by being organized when it's time to order and being loyal.

"If you're everybody's date, you're nobody's steady," said Ostrander. Setting up a prime vendor relationship is key to a good partnership, he added. "Find the distributor you like best and give that guy 80 to 90 percent of all your business. In return for loyalty, they'll give you buying power."

Scott Anthony, a Fox's Pizza Den franchisee, said simple gestures, such as making sure loading dock areas are free from snow and trash, go a long way to fostering a good relationship.

But even if all that effort doesn't work, Moore said don't be afraid to ask for a change in the line-up.

"Having a good relationship with that sales rep is key, and if you don't trust something about it, it's a waste of time for everyone," said Moore. "If that partnership just won't come together, we encourage an operator to call and say, 'I need somebody else.'"

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