Eyes on the catering equipment prize

How are catering equipment manufacturers adding value to their relationships with the distribution channel, as well as end-users? Nicki Stewart of Office Depot gives her view from a reseller point of view and speculates what demands will be placed on the supply chain in future.

The wholesale catering equipment and consumables market is arguably more competitive than it’s ever been, so there’s never been a better time to take stock of the ways in which manufacturers are adding value to the sales process.

Clearly, activity in this area will depend on the type of products being supplied, which range from consumables right through to heavy and light equipment. However, a central theme that runs through the way manufacturers incorporate value across all categories is that this is determined partly by market demands and partly through proactive and innovative efforts to compete more readily — this not only requires high levels of initiative, but also expertise in consumer behaviour.

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For consumables manufacturers, the latter is vital if they are to keep up with the fast-changing aspects of the way in which people eat and drink. One aspect that has been quickly recognised and acted upon is a shift in the way people consume food and drink.

For example, many pubs now serve tea, coffee and even breakfast options which, when combined with the fact that they are now open for longer, allows them to readily compete with traditional cafe and bistro outlets.

Manufacturers must find ways in which to recognise or even predict these kind of consumer trends as they could open up opportunities for them to service far more types of outlet than ever before. If thinking in this way, some see London as the pinnacle of ‘trends’ that, as history has demonstrated, end up filtering out to other areas of the country — field trips to the capital to evaluate shifting demand can therefore be an advantage, especially if a manufacturer wants to be ahead of the wave when it comes to meeting these needs.

Moving onto the provision of both heavy and light equipment, there are specific sustainability-focused needs coming to the fore that manufacturers should address within each of these categories. For light equipment and consumables, purchases are made more frequently as products have a shorter lifespan.

Here, sustainable savings are made by encouraging end-users to group or consolidate their orders to reduce the carbon footprint of individual deliveries. This is a major advantage for end-users in terms of convenience and administration as well, proving that by making the entire process more sustainable, the benefits apply to more than just environmental matters.

In seeking to provide the market with heavier equipment, manufacturers have quickly recognised that the sustainable saving that’s made within this category relates to the long-term or life-time usage of a product. As well as having to be durable enough for long-term use, heavy equipment has to deliver sustainable benefits over its life-time in terms of energy and labour savings. Indeed, the cost of buying heavy equipment with ‘green’ credentials has come down as a result of high demand for products that facilitate better performance measurement.

Another key area where manufacturers — and increasingly distributors — are adding value and setting themselves apart from the competition is in the provision of end-user training on how to use major pieces of equipment. For many, time is at a premium, so the provision of ‘on-the-spot’ training from the external team that either designed or sourced a given piece of equipment is a great way of ensuring customers are aware of all the features of a product and how to exploit its potential fully.

One final aspect of canvassing new business prospects for manufacturers is the need for them to really drill down into the kind of demand that their clients have for their own catering-based services — this should fall within the great quality advice and consultation that equipment providers should see as a natural add-on to the services they offer.

For example, there is no point in stressing the advantages of an expensive coffee-making machine if there isn’t enough demand to make it a worthwhile purchase.

Even where manufacturers make a sale in this kind of scenario, as soon as the customer realises that the cost or item does not justify demand, the chance of repeat business is lost — yet surely this is what every manufacturer is trying to generate: a loyal and long-term customer base.

Looking to the future, manufacturers will continue to play a vital role in adding value to the sales process; however, there is an interesting dynamic which is seeing resellers and distributors become even more integral. For the end-user, who will often favour using a smaller pool of suppliers to avoid business disruption and admin upheaval, there is a fine line to tread.

Manufacturers and suppliers are continuing to evolve their product offering and service provision, and together with the acknowledgement that market ‘trends’ will come and go, there is a need for the end-user to be aware of developments that could improve their operational efficiency and competitiveness at all times.

Resellers and distributors are increasingly filling this role with their ability to streamline supplier bases, manage costs and maintain best value, as well as keeping apace of innovations, therefore taking on the management process to ensure the end-user operates as proficiently as possible.

Nicki Stewart is head of UK facilities supplies at Office Depot, a global provider of office solutions, including catering equipment. The company has annual sales of $10.7 billion (£6.6 billion), and employs 38,000 associates.

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