Foodservice Equipment & Supplies

APR 2018

Foodservice Equipment & Supplies magazines is an industry resource connecting foodservice operators, equipment and supplies manufacturers and dealers, and facility design consultants.

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32 • FOODSERVICE EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES • APRIL 2018 "I get up at 4:30 and go to work every day because of the excitement of the unknown," says Joe Schmitt, president of Rapids Wholesale and Affiliates, based in Marion, Iowa. "Every day there is something new and challenging for our customers, our employees, ourselves." The affiliates referred to in the Marion, Iowa-based company's name include Rapids Foodservice Contract and Design and Chain Restaurant Solutions. The story of Rapids' suc- cess is the story of Schmitt's entre- preneurship and leadership, which has guided growth and expansion from a simple catalogue company to a diversified customer-focused business. How It All Began Schmitt started his career as a certified public accountant (CPA) and spent roughly a decade in public accounting. "I decided to get out of that world after we had three of our four children, so I went into banking," he says. He moved the family from Chicago to Dubuque, Iowa, to begin his new career. It wasn't long before he realized he had made a mistake. He chafed under the strict conventions of the banking world. His entrepreneurial spirit was rising to the surface. As a CPA and banker, Schmitt had seen many small businesses and realized the people who owned and ran them were doing very well for themselves. "It always had a kind of appeal to me," he explains. So Schmitt began to think about owning his own business. In the market to buy a company, Schmitt came across Rapids Wholesale, a catalogue business selling equipment and supplies. The company was a client of his older brother, who was also a CPA. "I had no knowledge of the industry," Schmitt says. "But I knew the company had been profitable. We put together financing and purchased the company in 1992." Schmitt soon realized that selling through a catalogue was limiting. "It's a numbers game," he notes. "You mail a hundred catalogues, and you get two orders. You mail two hundred cata- logues you get three and a half orders. There is no direct contact with any customer, so your growth is dependent on how well you can produce a compel- ling offer and a catalog." Rapids had been around since 1936 when it began as a supplier to the beer industry. The company still handles the beverage side of the business, in addi- tion to foodservice. Schmitt shares ownership with his wife, Geri, as well as her brother and his wife, Joe and Diane Dodds. Recently, Schmitt's son Eric joined the family team. Growth and Diversification Soon after Schmitt learned the ropes and wanted to grow, the company hired its first outside salesperson and launched a differ- ent way of doing business. Over the years, the company increased the sales force and added a design and consulting business, which helps operators create kitchens for their foodservice operations. The Rapids Contract and Design team consists of full-time designers, including three interior designers and two LEED-certified designers. The team also includes equipment layout specialists. Rapids initially focused on independent operators but then expanded the customer base to the multiunit seg- ment in 2005. "We started an affiliated company called Chain Restaurant Solu- tions," Schmitt explains. "It's an equip- ment and facility management service for multiunit operators across the country." Services include asset management, scheduling and tracking of planned maintenance, review and audits for compliance. These services remove operators' need to worry about equip- ment issues and lets them concentrate on food and customer service. Rapids now serves colleges and universities, K-12 schools, stadiums, hotels and convention centers as well as chain and independent restaurants in all segments, from full-serve to quick-serve. Several Panera franchisees were among Rapids' first customers; Rapids now serves between 650 and 700 Panera locations. ACHIEVER DEALER T o President Rapids Wholesale and Affiliates By Caroline Perkins Joe Schmi

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