Branching Out: Spokane General Manager, Tami Kennedy, Talks Success and Empowerment

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With a management style respected and admired by her entire team, General Manager, Tami Kennedy, has helped the Bargreen Ellingson Spokane branch reach tremendous success. Covering all of Eastern Washington from the Canadian border to the Idaho Panhandle, Pullman, Moses Lake, Spokane and beyond, the small team of fifteen brought in 8 million dollars in sales in 2015, and has helped grow the "meat and potatoes town" into "a vibrant, multicultural" city with an ever-growing food scene. Read Kennedy's interview below to learn about her journey to success - a journey that she pursues every day with a positive attitude, determination, diligence and dedication to her team and herself. 

Describe your journey leading up to this point. How did you get to where you are today?

I started my 24-year career as a receptionist for a dealership in Oklahoma.  My computer knowledge enabled me to computerize their purchasing, and I became their purchasing agent.  This provided the opportunity to learn about manufactures, products, options, shipping, and inventory control.  I was drawn to the technical side of equipment and design layout for the variety it presented.  The opportunity to move to Design Engineering and Contract sales was a natural fit. As I designed my first project - a commissary kitchen for a school district - I learned AutoCAD Light 95 from watching borrowed VHS tapes at home in the evening, with my computer on and copying the lessons on the screen. 

Simultaneously I began studying to acquire my Certified Foodservice Professional Certification (CFSP) with NAFEM.  The rigorous comprehensive process gave me the foundational building blocks for a successful sales career.  In 1997, I decided to return to my home state of Washington.

Researching dealerships in Washington, I set my sites on Bargreen Ellingson because of their forward approach to the industry and their reputation for excellence.  In January 1998, I joined the Seattle branch as a commissioned contract sales associate.  Seven years later, having achieved the Pinnacle Award for sales three times and the Companies On Board Award for cultural engagement, I was offered the opportunity to take over the Spokane Branch as General Manager.  The branch was struggling at the time and the assignment was to make it profitable while establishing a solid contract sales presence in Spokane that would support our talented territory sales team.  In 2007, we were honored as Branch of The Year for Bargreen Ellingson and WRA Spokane Chapter Supplier of the Year.

Today, we continue to build on those accomplishments by embracing the changing market dynamics and striving daily to bring innovative ideas to our customers.  We were honored to again receive the 2015 WRA Spokane Supplier of the Year award last year.


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What do you enjoy most about being the General Manager for Spokane?

I love facilitating, encouraging, and cheering growth in our team, and our customers.  Being a part of helping others be their personal best brings me tremendous satisfaction.  Watching Spokane transition from a meat and potatoes town to a vibrant, multicultural, innovative trendsetter in food service and knowing that we have helped the transition, is something I take a lot of pride in.  

What is your biggest challenge as Spokane's GM?  

I think the biggest challenge for any GM is managing growth.  Keeping the right balance of trained team members, new products, and technology implementation to ensure consistently high service levels for all of our customers requires diligent dedication.  Developing key team members to support this effort through cross training, and a universal  “whatever-it-takes” attitude has enabled us to meet this challenge. 

What has been your greatest success?

Bargreen Ellingson is clearly a recognized leader in the Spokane marketplace for foodservice equipment, supplies and design services.  Understanding our community's needs and engaging those needs through work with Feed Spokane, Big Table, and the local chapter of the Washington Restaurant Association has established us as a company who cares about the community we live and work in.  Serving those who serve others is our mantra.  It is so much more than selling products and taking home a paycheck.  I have always believed that success in business is achieved by doing the right things because they are the right thing to do.  

How do you measure success?

Success is a moving target.  What works today probably won't work tomorrow. Being willing to embrace the changes in the marketplace and adapt our processes to provide relevant services to our customers enables us to succeed every day.  The greatest indicators of success are the truly satisfied customers who tell others about us and encourage them to call us when they have a need for the products or services we provide.

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What draws you to the restaurant and hospitality industry? 

This industry is full of great people who genuinely care about other people and their communities. For any individual willing to fully engage the industry the opportunities are limitless.  Food service and hospitality are everywhere.  The variety of customers, projects, and challenges permit me the opportunity to learn, share and grow every day.  

What is the best advice you have ever received throughout your career and how do you apply this advice to your job every day?

“People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  It is age old advice.  It is about providing the right solution to a customer, to ensure their best success.  We don’t know what we don’t know, nor do we know what the customer knows.  The only way to find out is to ask questions.  Lot’s of questions to ensure we fully understand the goal or challenge we are being asked to provide a solution for.  Educating the customer on the available options and the pros and cons of each.  Good service requires establishing clear expectations for all concerned.  In this process relationships thrive.  It’s all about relationships.
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What is the most inspiring client story you’ve recently experienced? 

Sustainability is a buzz word in our industry.  We often think of it in terms of energy usage or food sourcing.  I have been blessed to witness it in industry growth. Several years ago Chef Adam Hegsted of the Coeur D'Alene Bingo Casino decided to strike out on his own. He trained Chef Molly Patrick to take over at the Casino and moved on to build three of his own restaurants; The Yards Bruncheonette, The Wandering Table, and Gilded Unicorn.  Enter Patrick McPherson who built Manito Tap House and more recently The Blackbird.  He hired chef Molly McPherson to run his kitchens and develop his menu’s which have been quite successful.  Throughout this process, I have watched Adam Hegsted encourage and cheer for Molly even though she no longer worked for him. I predict there will come a day when Molly will also open her own restaurant or three and continues to develop the food culture in Spokane.  This inspires me because at the end of the day it is all about the people, and caring about one another's success.  Bargreen Ellingson is honored to work with these very talented and energetic individuals.  

What are you most looking forward to in the future?

I am looking forward to seeing the success of the customers and employees I work with as they pursue their chosen endeavors. I see huge potential in people and food service concepts.  I also recognize that for each there will be struggles and challenges.  I look forward to the day when tomorrow's leaders embrace their success with the sense of fulfillment that I have today in doing what I am privileged to do.


MUG Text.jpgWords of Appreciation

Cindy Babinski, Accounts Receivable 

  • "Tami is a family-oriented encouraging manager who is appreciative of her staff but doesn't necessarily want all the details.  She has an open door policy and frequently encourages others to come to her with questions, complaints, inquiries at any time. She allows us to do what we do best without constant supervision from her."
 Laurie Rhodes, Customer Service
 
  • "She has the ability to understand different degrees of complexity in certain situations . She is able to act on those situations quickly and efficiently . Her capability to resolve a problem and work not only in the customers best interest but for the individual sales person as well. Tami's is consistently working hard in her relationship with our industry ,  our community , and especially her team here in Spokane."
Ryan Lockwood, Territory Sales
 
  • "Tami's management style encompasses three words...passion, autonomy & discipline. She is passionate about our work as a branch, gives us the autonomy to service customers our own way and demonstrates discipline in all aspects of being a GM. It makes us all proud to be apart of this family." 
Erik Keyes, Territory Sales
 
  • "Tami Kennedy is an outstanding General Manager. Her leadership and approach to management blends well with the employees here in Spokane as well with our geographic area. She has the ability to be our GM, contract sales person, sales manager and primary installer. I don't know how she does it! And she still has time to lead and contribute to several worthy Spokane Charities. On top of that, she is a mother and wife. In short, she is hands down the best manager and leader I have ever worked for."

Visit the Spokane team at 223 West Boone Avenue Spokane, WA 99201

Chloe is the Social Media and Marketing Coordinator for Bargreen Ellingson. She is an avid reader, loves London Fog lattes and her budgie, Brodie.
Topics: Branching Out Interviews