Three Answers to One Question: Proven Ways to Grow Sales, Part 1

At Catersource 2018 in Las Vegas, our Michael Roman Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Bill Hansen, CEO, Bill Hansen Luxury Catering, moderated two sessions, asking caterers of small, medium, and large scale revenue for insight based on their own successful experiences, as well as the hard knocks they learned throughout their catering careers. Seated on this panel were:

• Greg Hicks, Owner/Senior Event Specialist, Impressions Catering

• Joanna Sherriff, General Manager, The Waterview

• Kris Reinhard, Partner, Fifth Group Restaurants; Bold American Events

The following session was presented on the Catersource tradeshow floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Due to its length, we are splitting this recap into two parts. Click here for part 2. Then, return next month (June 4) for Bill Hansen’s second session, “Proven Ways to Find Money Hiding in Your Business.”

QUESTION: How do you establish your sales goals for your firm and for each salesperson on your team?

Greg Hicks: This is new for us. We finally have sales people other than me and this year will be setting goals. I think my approach will be two-fold. 1. Setting an individual goal of an attainable increase over last year’s sales. 2. Possibly setting goals for a sales person assigned to specific venues.

Joanna Sherriff: We take our most successful year of sales and use it to set sales targets for each month. The combination of an overall sales goal, e.g., $5M and a monthly target e.g., $600K for June, $200K for December, helps us to stay on task. We also track where we were in total sales booked at the same point 12 months prior, which helps us to know when we are falling behind.

Kris Reinhard: We look at growth year over year, but we also take into consideration who is on our team (any expected turnover or medical leaves). We look at any change in our preferred caterer status at our venues, either positive or negative, as well as any citywide conventions or large sporting events such as Final Four, Super Bowl, etc.

“If you are looking for plated choice of onsite or under a tent with no running water, we are your caterer. The higher the degree of difficulty, the better we perform.”—Kris Reinhard

QUESTION: What is your unique selling proposition? What do you provide that your competitors do not?

Greg Hicks: Full service rentals, linens, etc. in addition to catering.

Joanna Sherriff: Our selling proposition is that we offer a beautiful location that is focused primarily on hosting weddings. Because weddings are our focus, those clients take priority over all of our other business. That means our brides and grooms get an incredible amount of attention from an expert staff, in addition to a beautiful location. We are also an on-premise caterer, which means we can make wedding planning much easier for busy brides and grooms. But we are also very flexible when it comes to what we allow our couples to incorporate into their weddings—pets, signature drinks with specialty liquors, curated craft beer stations, grandma’s cookie recipe—all in an effort to help our clients bring a personal touch to their event.

Kris Reinhard: We have the highest food quality and service in our market. We focus on made from scratch mise en place and finish everything on site. Our FOH and BOH ratios on site are usually very similar. If you are looking for plated choice of onsite or under a tent with no running water, we are your caterer. The higher the degree of difficulty, the better we perform.

Many events come to us when they have had a bad experience elsewhere, or have outgrown a space, so our focus must be on building trust through experience and offer new ideas to take their events to the next level.”—Joanna Sherriff

QUESTION: Give examples of how you focus your sales efforts on the larger clients that bring in the most revenue per sale, rather than the smaller ones.

Greg Hicks: We qualify our new business hard using a standard that we call “The Big 6.” If they are going to be a good customer for us, meaning proper profit margin, we have a systematic way we go after them. If they don’t fit into a financial profile that we are interested in pursuing, most of the time we don’t even talk to them. Also, I personally set aside time in my weekly calendar to pursue and work on larger/more complex new prospects and on current larger events.

Joanna Sherriff: For our wedding clients with 300+ guests, we make an extra effort to help them visualize how a venue like ours is uniquely positioned to make their event a success. Many couples don’t understand the logistics of serving a large group, so we give specific examples of how our facility can service a larger number of guests with ease. For example, a rainy-day ceremony plan, the logistics of dinner service for 300+ etc. This educational sales pitch opens their eyes to some of the potential pitfalls of a big wedding, and the unique solutions we offer.

For our corporate clients, we give them detailed examples of other large corporate events and galas that we have hosted and position ourselves as experts. This involves sharing menu ideas, detailed floorplans, timelines, and vendor partnerships. We have taken care to build partnership with exceptional A/V vendors and event planners whom we can refer with confidence. Many events come to us when they have had a bad experience elsewhere, or have outgrown a space, so our focus must be on building trust through experience and offer new ideas to take their events to the next level.

Kris Reinhard: We have quarterly reviews as a team, so we always know who our largest clients are. We take this information and make sure all our department heads are focused on these clients (director of ops, exec chef, GM, DOS) as well as the sales manager. We entertain them quarterly and invite them to our new restaurant openings and any other special perks or “in the know” items, we can offer.

“It is part of our culture that we believe and behave with the mindset that everything we do in front of people is teaching them who we are both personally and as a company.”—Greg Hicks

QUESTION: It is said that clients decide whether they will buy or not in the first seven seconds that you meet with them. What do you do to be sure that you bring out your best first impression?

Greg Hicks: First, it is part of our culture that we believe and behave with the mindset that everything we do in front of people is teaching them who we are both personally and as a company. Secondly, we have systems in place to ensure our customer’s experience both in-house and at events is pleasurable and consistent. By the time we have set up a face-to-face consultation, we have already qualified them and have an idea of what style, menu items, etc. they are looking for. During the consultation, we display a slideshow containing many items that they spoke about during our qualifying process. Also, we offer our in-house guests a few appetizers, and have a comfortable meeting area.

Joanna Sherriff: We spend an enormous amount of time and energy keeping our grounds and building immaculate. That means having everything from the parking lot swept, to the grounds manicured to the building painted on day one of wedding season. We do that so that whenever a client pulls in the driveway, their first impression is “Wow!”

We also encourage our reception team to welcome clients by name and say “congratulations!” It is amazing how many people tell us we were the only venue to say that.

Kris Reinhard: We always try to be timely with our responses. We explain we will customize their proposal just for them. We also have an iPad with pictures to help them visualize what their event could look like. Relationship building is one of our major focus areas.

“We actually took an idea I got at Catersource to developed a twice-annual “Showcase” event where we showcase our food stations. It is not a food tasting, per se, but we do pass hors d’oeuvres and showcase our stations.”—Joanna Sherriff

QUESTION: What successful strategies have you developed for your food tastings?

Greg Hicks: In my area, I am not aware of another caterer that even offers tastings, let alone at “no charge.” By the time they come in for a tasting, we have already qualified them as a profitable customer, prepared in a menu/proposal, and have either already got them booked, or this is the booking decision. When they come in, we give them as close to the actual experience they are hiring us for. Menu items, presentation, colors of linen, china, etc.

Joanna Sherriff: Logistically with the number of events we host every year, we cannot offer individual food tastings. We actually took an idea I got at Catersource to developed a twice-annual “Showcase” event where we showcase our food stations. It is not a food tasting, per se, but we do pass hors d’oeuvres and showcase our stations. We also invite in our vendors to meet with couples. It is no charge for our brides and grooms, and we have increased our station sales by 50% as a result.

Kris Reinhard: This continues to be a giant expense for us and something we haven’t solved yet. We used to only do individual tastings, one per client, but we have now added group tastings six times a year. This allows potential clients to see our set up and service in action as well as taste the food. If they have a plated event, we allow an individual tasting as well. We typically get talked into other tastings as well, but we try not to offer them. If we feel like we are being taken advantage of, we will charge for the tasting, $50 per person.

"We do focus on SEO to make sure when potential clients are searching for a good caterer, we come up as one of the top 3 choices."—Kris Reinhard

QUESTION: What percentage of your revenue do you invest in marketing your firm and your brand? Which give you the best return on investment?

Greg Hicks: 2-3% of annual sales. This includes business cards, website, etc. in addition to bridal shows and “vendor open house type events.” We focus our outreach marketing efforts on bridal shows a couple of times each year. We also use a CRM software for long-term email marketing as well as integrating that into our web presence. Not only has this increased our visibility, but we also use it as a pre-qualifying gatekeeper that has been very effective.

Joanna Sherriff: In terms of advertising, we only invest in online marketing, and spend less than a half of a percent on marketing (as a percent of revenue). The best return on investment is ensuring that every guest we host has a great time, and they either return themselves, or refer a friend. In terms of advertising, we still find The Knot to be the best source of quality online leads. We also advertise on Wedding Wire and local CT wedding websites.

Kris Reinhard: We spend just under 5% of our total revenues on marketing. Our biggest ROI comes from entertaining our clients one on one or in small groups. Showing them what we can do. We haven’t been as successful with our print advertising. We do focus on SEO to make sure when potential clients are searching for a good caterer, we come up as one of the top 3 choices.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of this session recap!

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