When Mark Mizer talks about partnership, he doesn’t have to think hard to find an example of it involving his company, RDP Foodservice LLC.
Last summer, a huge power outage afforded RDP the opportunity to show how an independent food service company partners with its customers.
“We took our tractor-trailers out to restaurants, and we collected their product because we had power and refrigerated the perishables so they wouldn’t lose their product,” says Mizer, president and the oldest grandson of company founder Richie DePaolo, who popularized not only the silver dollar-size slice of pepperoni but also the cardboard box for pizza.
Being an independent supplier right in the area has its pluses, but the premise that his company as an independent is a good fit for independent restaurateurs can’t be overlooked.
“Once you realize that you want to be the champion of independence, and you can go out and tell that story of being an independent yourself, it really helps clarify what your role is and what your job is,” Mizer says. “We decided, ‘OK, that is going to be who we are going to fight for. Those are the ones we want to create partnerships that we can help grow.’”
Here’s how Mizer aligns his company’s role as an independent food supplier to his customers, who are independent restaurants, and how the two grow in success together.
A journey to an identity
Developing your identity, that is, your brand, takes considerable thought. And maintaining it over a period of years is no small feat. RDP’s journey took it from a small business to a large enterprise.
The company originated in the 1930s as a family-run grocery store, and in 1957 added a food service business, primarily catering to pizza houses. From 1985-96, the company was part of Sysco Corp., the largest food service company in the world.
“But Sysco decided to dismantle the company, and our family decided to go back to being independent, and we started the whole process over again,” Mizer says.
RDP had drifted away from its identity while under Sysco, and the years there showed the company that food service is a huge, multibillion-dollar industry where it was a drop in a bucket.
When a company is in the position to assess its identity, it often happens at a crossroads. For RDP, its exit from Sysco was prompted by the family members that they had to stand for something.
“What we felt we needed to stand for was the independent restaurateur, the guy who creates that local flavoring in your community or in your neighborhood,” Mizer says.
Mizer and his team looked back on the company’s history and how it supported the independent restaurateur.
“He is the flavor of this country,” he says. “Someone has to go to bat for those guys. When there are people who move away from town and move back, they don’t come back to relive their childhood by going to a corporate restaurant. They really want to find that neighborhood place that represents their childhood.”
Likewise, if you are visiting another city, you don’t want to experience it by going to a corporate restaurant like the same ones in your town.
“So you go to Baltimore, Md.; you want to find that guy who has those crab cakes,” Mizer says. “He has been making them for three generations on the beach, or near the water. That is where you get the flavor of your community.”
Once you realize that you want to be the champion of independence and you can tell the story of being an independent yourself, it really helps clarify what your role is and what your job is.
“So the whole industry became a little bit easier for us,” Mizer says.
Make the effort to hustle
Once your identity has been clarified and your role planned, it’s time to take action — and to hustle.
“I think one of the reasons why we are still here is my grandfather and my uncles just outhustled everyone; it was that dedication where they were manually checking orders to make sure they were correct, working ungodly hours all the time,” Mizer says.
While today’s employees don’t manually check orders off a clipboard, there is a new and better idea.
“I think computer technology today has kind of evened that playing field,” he says. “The technology that is available to me as an independent is the same technology that the big corporate people are using.
With technology as a tool, all players in an industry can work toward perfection — getting your order at the price you negotiated without any errors at the time you want your delivery.
“That’s what we are all going to; all the things that my grandfather and uncles had to do in years past are now being done by a computer,” Mizer says. “If we all get to perfection, then how does that customer make his decision?”
This is when differentiation comes in. Call it added value or a bonus. Mizer calls it personality.
“I think for the very first time now, personality becomes a little bit more of a factor,” he says. “We not only have to sell you Heinz ketchup, we have to put a personality behind it — which is how do we help you grow your business? How do we create an experience for you buying from RDP that the other companies can’t create?”
Going it alone — as an independent — is actually a strong point, he says. While conventional wisdom may say there is strength in numbers, Mizer can politely disagree; RDP’s annual revenue tops $164 million.
“Independence is a strength; independence isn’t a weakness,” he says. “When you open your own restaurant or whatever that might be, you are putting your own personal interests on the line. And when you do that, you may feel like you have to go to a corporate giant because those corporate giants get the best deals with the best products or the biggest selection. That’s not necessarily the case in food service. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.
“We think we are as competitive as anybody,” Mizer says. “We think that when we are helping the independent restaurateurs, they shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything by working with another independent.”
Motivate with mottos
One of the last steps in securing your identity is to get all employees on board with the program. That means engagement in the mission, which when brought to fruition, creates a sense of satisfaction.
“When they get a chance to see that they can actually put their thumbprint on the growth of a company, it is really invigorating to them,” Mizer says.
While everybody at your company plays a role in your success, they need to realize how they fit in with selling a product that may not be unique. It’s the experience that will make it different from the competition.
“Every year we have these little mottos that we use like motivation throughout the year,” he says. “They are all part of it, so one year, it was ‘Move the needle’ and if there wasn’t something in this organization that moved the needle, then we cut it out and didn’t use it anymore. We went with a different approach.”
Mizer and his team use a motivational phrase to help keep the excitement going.
“Last year, we had the motto ‘Create the experience’ and that was everybody in this company realizing that for a customer to be satisfied, we have to create an ultimate experience, whether it is from the receptionist to the salespeople to our drivers, to how we treat them to special events, you really create an experience for that relationship because we don’t sell anything that is unique.
“I don’t sell iPads. You want an iPad? You have to buy it from Apple. We sell Heinz ketchup, which you can buy from anyone, from a grocery store to any of my competitors, so you have to find a reason to create that experience.”
Mizer’s motto for this year is ‘Pull the rope.”
“We all realize for a restaurant to be successful, every department within this company has to work together; we all have to pull the rope at the same time,” he says.
Mizer passes his enthusiasm weekly with the senior management and three different huddles throughout the company with all the employees.
“Then they are hearing it from the passion of me so they all understand exactly what our goals are,” he says. “If there is something that we need to do a better job of, we will voice it then. But everybody needs to know that every department has to work closely together pulling that rope.
“This is what’s on our plate for this week. This is how we can be a better company.”
How to reach: RDP Foodservice LLC, (614) 261-5661 or www.rdpfoodservice.com
Take a journey to an identity.
Make the effort to hustle in your business.
Motivate with mottos to keep the troops engaged.
The Mizer file
RDP Foodservice LLC
Born: Dayton, but I moved to Columbus right afterward.
Education: Upper Arlington High School, then I graduated from Ohio University. I studied business communications, and then I actually studied to be in the fashion world. My first job out of college, I went to work for The Limited, and it really set the tone for that kind of outside-the-box thinking.
What you was your first job and what did you learn from it?
My very first job was dragging clay tennis courts. I think I learned that people depend on you and punctuality. And if you’re not there, you’re going to lose your job.
Who do you admire in business?
I admired a guy named Dick Solove. He has passed away. He was known as being a really tough businessman. Yet when he got older, he gave back to Ohio State University. They named the cancer hospital after him. Solove taught me the importance of giving back to the community and how important that is. Also the Les Wexners of the world. I think what I find interesting in business leaders are the ones who are successful, but yet they want to go down in history for more than just that. They are the ones who want to give back to the community.
What is the best business advice you ever received?
Sam Walton said, ‘The true CEOs of our company are our customers. And they can hire and fire us at any time by just buying their products from somebody else.’ That is one I use a lot.
What is your definition of business success?
I think the definition of success really is the ability to change the lives of not only your customer base, but of the lives of your employees. We really are a team over here with my two cousins who are executive vice presidents, Rich and Chris DiPaolo.