Author: Kate Foster, CWC, CMP
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with a longtime friend and industry powerhouse, Kevin DeHimer, Director of Sales for legendary catering company, Rocky Top Cateringlocated in Raleigh NC. Like every one of us in the hospitality, catering, restaurant, and customer service industry, the impact of COVID-19 has been life-changing. But leaders like Kevin are forging new paths and creating new streams of revenue to sustain their businesses. Here is what he had to say:
KF: Tell me a little about your career journey and how you ended up in Catering/Sales?
KD: 20 Years ago I was living in Upstate NY, selling publication advertising. Inspired by a friend in the area, I decided to move to North Carolina to start a career in sales. Initially, I took a job as a server at a busy restaurant, but eventually, I fell in love with the hospitality industry and saw it was a viable option for a career.
Fortunately, the hospitality group I worked for, Rocky Top Catering, began to expand from restaurant service only, into catering large events. I threw my hat in the ring and I have now spent the last 16 years from the infancy of a small catering division, all the way to where it is now, producing over $8 million a year in catered food and beverage sales. (Until this year)!
KF: That’s a pretty awesome trajectory and to have watched this company grow firsthand, I can testify to the impact you have had on that growth! 16 years later, what do you love most about your job?
KD: I love working with clients to see their vision from inception to execution and I love problem-solving on their behalf. Equally, I love the collaboration and learning about all my other vendor partners in the hospitality and events community. There is some major talent.
KF: I agree there are some stellar vendors in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. Having personally worked in the Los Angeles area for the last 10+ years, I believe NC can confidently rival the talent we see here in Southern California! Like yourself, these vendors/businesses have been in a state of change over the past 7 months. Can you share any creative ways you and your team have evolved your services to adapt to the constant state of change we are going through?
KD: This is a tough question, as we are still in the situation, and it is constantly updating. Initially, we partnered with planners and other venue partners to start to produce “Micro Wedding” Packages in lieu of guest count restrictions, which also continued to solidify our partner relationships.
Since corporate catering has gone dark for the most part, we decided early on to focus on producing individually packaged meals for companies that had to bring their workers back onsite. So, we set up for each of their employees to receive grab-and-go lunches. These hot and cold meals are delivered daily and are a great way to keep employees from coming in-and-out of the office during lunch breaks. This service has been steadily growing as the need continues and word-of-mouth is spreading. From the initial onset of the pandemic, we were able to stay busy with a few companies ordering 100-200 meals a day, 7 days a week! This has definitely helped.
The third way we have re-invented our service was to focus on the Non-Profit market. Partnering with our county public school systems to produce take and bake meals for their families with food insecurities. Early on, we built partnerships with food purveyors to produce meals at a remarkably high volume and low cost. While this provides no profit for our company, it allows us to keep our employees productive and working. We are also partnering with several non-profits to help on the funding side. (Overflowing Hands, World Central Kitchen, Interfaith Food Shuttle, and Private corporate donations)
KF: I think you are sharing some very tangible ideas that other businesses can use to not only open revenue streams, but maintain partnerships, retain employees, and support the community!
Switching gears here, what is your best advice to other sales professionals and business leaders?
KD: Best Advice is to set boundaries with your employers & clients. This industry is around the clock. Once you get to the point of burnout and the feeling that you will never be able to get “caught up”, it is extremely hard to pull yourself out of that slump. It is ok to let people know what to expect. If you leave an out of office notice up that says, “I will be returning to the office on Monday at 9 am and will answer all of your emails and concerns at that time”. Also, build a community within your industry. It is helpful in a jam to just be able to make a call and solve a problem for someone.
KF: I could not agree more. Unfortunately, many of us in the industry must learn this lesson of burnout the hard way, myself included. One of my favorite ways to avoid burnout is organization. Do you have any resources/software programs/online tools that you could share with other sales profs and business leaders?
KD: My favorite online program that helps keep me successful is our CRM, Pipedrive. This is an extremely easy to use program, and it keeps me organized to a “T”
KF: Finally, as we are entering Q4 of 2020 I want to encourage our readers to stay passionate and motivated. Sales is a marathon, not a sprint. Typically salespeople get gratification from achieving their monthly sales goals or quotas, but this year that has all disappeared. Do you have a motivational quote that reminds you to remain on course?
KD: I actually have a quote that sits above my monitor as a reminder:
“If you are not taking care of your clients, your competitor will”
Nothing has proved more true than to see my sales results improve after 16 years, due to the “time” I currently have to focus on all of the details, be the first one to respond back, and get the proposal out with lightning speed. I have been living this truth, and have become, in some cases, the competitor that has taken care of another’s client!
Kevin is available for questions at