Ed’s view: Real and virtual convergence

Although there is a certain school of thought that online catering equipment dealers are “ruining” the industry, with accusations flying around that they run margins into the ground and offer no after-care, I have noticed a bit of a counter-trend in the industry.

Following the CMA’s investigations into price fixing, which concluded in May 2016, manufacturers have been extremely careful not to incur the wrath of the government regulator. Switched-on firms have therefore taken the time to meticulously word their dealer policies so as not to exclude web-based distributors.

But they have been very canny in this regard, offering better discount structures to dealers who have assets such as showrooms and in-the-field sales and support personnel – features which have traditionally been the domain of bricks and mortar distributors rather than their ‘clicks’ counterparts.

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So, many online dealers are now aiming to take advantage of these preferable rates by hiring on-the-road salespeople and generally increasing their face to face engagement with end users. In just the last month or so, Catering Equipment Superstore and eCatering are among the web-based firms to take these types of steps.

Conversely, some traditional distributors are launching internet-based sales channels, the most recent being Torquay-based Allsop & Pitts’s Food Equipment Direct.

Therefore if web dealers are investing in traditional service elements, and more traditional distributors are bolstering their online presences, what can you say are the actual differences between the two? I would argue that as the real and virtual sales channels continue to converge, the answer to that would be ‘not much at all’.

I think we can say then that the clever manufacturers have encouraged better service levels all round for end users, but as these investments may result in higher overheads and outgoings for web dealers, they may also have to raise their prices. Which then makes the distributor channel more sustainable with higher profit margins. So in theory, everybody wins.

Elsewhere, the internet is also having a major influence on catering appliances’ capabilities themselves. Interconnectivity is the name of the game for a lot of cutting edge equipment and this is having a major impact on what factors are possible to measure and analyse.

This is exactly why Catering Insight recently brought together a panel of industry experts to debate the effects of the tidal wave of data and capabilities which will lead the way in this and many other sectors. You can see the results of this fascinating discussion in our April issue. One thing’s for sure, the smart kitchen is the future, and if you are not prepared for it, you will get left behind.

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