I started supplying rooftop grease containment systems to the market in 2002. At that time, I represented only two products. Our initial strategy to bring the containment system to market was to work directly with the hood & duct service providers. As we know, the hood and duct guys have all the relationships with the restaurant decision makers. We thought: Why work against the industry that we felt would ultimately be our largest partner in solving rooftop grease containment problems?
Since computers and I were not on a first-name basis, I reverted to the old reliable relationship model — mailing information about my company and our solution to rooftop grease issues to roofers, HVAC companies, property management firms and especially to hood and duct cleaners. On my follow up calls, I learned that many of my sales prospects were already aware of the rooftop grease issue and were offering other solutions (than those from my company) to their customers. Of greater interest to me was that fact that many of these service providers didn’t know what to do about rooftop grease problems other than to keep cleaning the affected rooftop area every visit. I knew if I began with information, I could end up with sales.
I started my calls with, “Look, you know this grease containment problem exists,” and then recited all of the possible negative outcomes of the lack of an effective grease containment system:
I thought my message was on track until one hood and duct guy told me: “I know all of that; you’re preaching to the choir. If it was my money to spend, my clients would have had grease containment systems installed a long time ago. But most of my customers don’t see it that way. Grease containment expenditures are at the bottom of their priority list, if they’re on the list at all. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.”
This comment made me re-think my sales approach. I realized that I didn’t have to sell the need for grease containment to the hood and duct cleaning community — most of them were already sold. My job was (1) to help them inform their restaurant clients of the need for grease containment, and (2) to get the decision makers to see that the benefits of grease containment far outweighed the expense.
I became an information resource, creating brochures and flyers outlining the benefits of rooftop grease containment and why it was so important. I found my flyer to be effective — if it ended up in the right hands. The problem was that in many cases, the “right hands” were those of the restaurant owner, and he or she was never there after hours when the cleaning crews were onsite. The odds were the owner or manager would never see my helpful materials simply discard them like junk mail.
This scenario underlined for me that owners need to be shown the effects of grease on the roof. Some restaurant rooftops are in pristine condition. If so, great, they don’t need grease containment or already have an effective system. But many are not and those are the ones to whom we need to get information. If a restaurant has a rooftop that rivals a Gulf Coast oil spill, it would be a real eye-opener if the owner would climb up and take a look. But if that’s not an option, break out your digital camera. Take pictures of the affected areas of the roof and also of the source of the grease. Take lots of pictures with various angles. Also note reasons why grease is escaping from areas other than the drain spout. (Lack of an effective hinge kit is a frequent cause of a fan having escape routes for grease and is another solution you can offer to your customer.) If you are the owner or a crew manager, make it a high priority for your crew members to observe and write down any problem they see:
Have the crew bring a notepad or a clipboard with a form which should be as much a part of standard equipment as a pressure washer and scraper. Offer financial incentive to crew members to note this kind of detail and the results will surprise you. (You might also want to make an inspection of the grease dumpster corral area as part of your service program.) Then put all of this information and the pictures together and schedule a meeting with the owner or decision maker. That conversation is your opportunity to really explain to the owner what the dangers are and have the written info and pictures as details to back it up. If the owner is difficult to schedule, put a copy of the info and pictures in a folder and do your best to get it into his/her hands or on the desk and keep a copy yourself. Then follow up with a phone call (preferred) or an e-mail.
Enlist others in your effort to influence the restaurant owner. If a grease-stricken restaurant is in a mall, make sure the property management company is aware of it. Take advantage of stricter codes and increasing awareness on the part of fire marshals. Develop relationships with fire marshals in your area and make sure they know what problems to look for and the importance and urgency of doing so.
Nobody wants to spend any more hard earned money than they have to, especially during times like these. Restaurant owners are no different. They need to be shown that grease containment systems and related products like hinging systems are relatively inexpensive insurance policies that protect them from much larger expenses or disasters – huge roof repair bills, insurance liability due to injury, EPA and other governmental fines and shutdowns and maybe even a fire that could shut them down for good. The more proficient and consistent you become at enlightening your restaurant customers about grease containment, the better will be the service you provide and the higher your profit margins will be.