My company, Morro Bay Oyster Co., sells fresh oysters directly to restaurants and high-end grocers throughout California and in parts of Arizona and Nevada. Direct restaurant sales make up 90% of the company's revenue.
We've grown largely due to the successful relationships I have forged with chefs over the last seven years. I've put a lot of effort into maintaining those relationships. One time a restaurant came up short on its order of oysters, so I drove two and a half hours on a Saturday to the restaurant with 200 oysters so they wouldn’t run out on their busiest night. On the flip side, if a restaurant orders too many oysters, I’ll replace them free of charge. I recently had a restaurant order 1,400 oysters, 150 of which they didn’t use. Instead of letting the extra oysters go to waste, we swapped out them out for fresh ones at no charge. By meeting the needs of individual orders, we get to know many of the chefs on a both a business and personal level.
Here are some tips on how I keep my business relationships strong and what I’ve learned along the way.
Be honest about your product.
The first step to building a good relationship with clients is to understand your product's value and be realistic about that value when selling your product. If you have a great product, chances are it will speak for itself. People have an amazingly easy time separating truth from a lie, so don't risk overselling something that is even a stretch from the truth.
I’ll even go so far as to point out potential problems with the oysters I sell. I have found that the more honest I am with my customers, the more willing they are to continue buying from me.
Keep customers in the loop.
Keep customers in the loop about product changes, updates and potential problems that could affect them. I don't want to take my customers on a roller coaster ride every time there's a hurdle on the horizon, but I don't want to hide anything either. I ask myself, "If it was me, would I want to know this?" If the answer is yes, I’ll give them an update, but keep it short and sweet. For example, I’ll shoot them a text if their package is delayed. Having my clients’ personal cell phone numbers lets me communicate with them directly, rather than calling the restaurant line.
A chef should not spend hours trying to deal with my oysters or my service. They are trying to run a business too, and if I can help them stay on course by not getting in their way, it will serve us both in the long run.
Stay aware of your surroundings.
I deliver oysters into kitchens across California, and there are a set of unspoken rules that exist in all of these spaces. I had to learn them quickly or face upsetting the staff and my clients. For instance, announcing when you are coming around the corner of a busy kitchen can prevent collisions between a tub of oysters on ice and a waiter carrying six entrees on his shoulder. Good situational awareness has allowed me to remain in these busy kitchens while I conduct my business and avoid a negative impact on an important customer.
Respect everyone on staff.
While my oysters are sold to the restaurant chef, the kitchen support staff may spend more time with my actual product than the chef does. They care for the product, keep inventory and prep it for serving. Showing respect to everyone on staff and not just the top dog is vital—both for keeping up customer relations and growing your business. I have on occasion struck up a casual friendship with chef's helpers who have gone on to work in new locations, bringing my product with them and helping me grow my business even more.
Remember to say “Thank you.”
I have been lucky to work with great people who take my Pacific Gold oysters–my pride and joy–and turn them into a masterpiece on the dinner table. I always try to go out of my way to thank the people who are treating my life's work with respect and at the same time helping my brand grow. I’ll give them free oysters here and there throughout the year, and if they ask for a discount under special circumstances or events, I’ll go along with it.