It’s like I scripted it.

“I don’t know how early you rise, but you can call me any time after 6 a.m. and I’ll be on the road.”

Meet Dennis Hendriskson. He sells what you produce.

That was Dennis Hendrickson when I was setting up an interview to talk about his job working for a East Coast foodservice distributor. As I dialed, I thought back to when I met Dennis and a handlful of others with similar roles across the country. As I spent a day and half with them, it was the first time I’d made any real connection between the commitment a cattleman has to his trade and that of somebody on the “other side” of the business.

So in calling Dennis for this series, my intentions were to uncover all the similarities between a rancher and this Sysco-Boston district sales manager.

After he asked for an early-o’clock interview, I knew making comparisons wasn’t going to be that difficult. That reminded me of the countless times I tuck my kids into bed and then wait for a producer to call me when he “comes in for the night.” Or when a rancher says, “Call at 8 in the morning. I should be in from feeding cows and having breakfast by then.”)

Indeed, neither is an 8-to-5 job.

As part of CAB's Master of Brand Advantages course, Dennis had a chance to learn all about beef production firsthand. One of the highlights? Seeing an hours-old calf on the Kemp Ranch.

Often it seems ranchers don’t remember when they chose the profession…saying it sort of sucked them in. Dennis feels the same way. At 15, he started as a dishwasher at a seafood restaurant. He worked his way through high school and a business management degree at Merrimack College.

I just fell in love with the business,” he says. So at 21, new degree in hand, Dennis continued his education at the school of hard knocks, helping in a family business and starting his own bar and grill. Major family health issues came and went and eventually the 100-hour weeks weren’t looking so shiny. So today Dennis says it’s like he’s the manager of 350 restaurants. He gets to play a role in their success or failure, and that’s both  empowering and daunting.

He manages salespeople, develops strategies, provides support where needed and, probably most importantly, helps right the wrongs.

“We carry 14 to 15,000 line items for next-day delivery. It’s highly probable at least one thing is going to go wrong. Whether the chef forgets to order it, you didn’t punch it in right, we were out of stock on it—which doesn’t happen very often, but it’s reality. My wife used to say, ‘Do you ever have a time when something doesn’t go wrong?

Check. I just found another similarity.

Dennis says his clientele relies on him to provide expertise on where the market is going, to help explain new cuts and develop menu items.

“A lot of them are chief cooks and bottle washers, operators that are trying to make it.”

The stats are bleak—only two out of 10 restaurants do make it. But if Dennis has his way, that’ll change, and he’s convinced that getting his customers to treat their beef purchases like an insurance policy is one way.

“Do you know what the most expensive cost in a restaurant is? An empty seat. Once Friday night is closed down, you take all those empty seats and you can’t get those sales back. The more they get educated, they realize, ‘We have to serve good beef.’ I can charge $1 to $2 more to the customer, but it’ll get them in my restaurant.”

After riding around shotgun with a cattleman last spring, he feels an even stronger push to rep quality.

“We have to work so the Rusty Kemp’s of the world—their craft goes noticed.” Amen.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

Beef’s a Trip Archives:

Day 1: Starting at day one

Day 2: Who are these people?

Day 3: Stockholders

Day 4: The cowherd’s purpose

Day 5: Deciding to care

Day 6: Quality focus doesn’t have to skip the middleman

Day 7: Stocking for quality

Day 8: SOLD!

Day 9: What have you done today?

Day 10: Working together to make ‘em better

Day 11: Keep on truckin’

Day 12: Packers want quality

Day 13: The target

Day 14: Packers up close & personal

Day 15: It’s not all about the beef

Day 16: Further processors

Day 17: From here to there–and a lot more

Day 18: He’s on your team

Day 19: Beyond prices, grocery stores uncovered

Day 20: Getting quality in the carts

PS—Holly Spangler’s still blogging away about “30 days on a Prairie Farm”. And so are a bunch of other ag writers, too. Check out the fill list from her page.