Dave Riley’s 25 years at Hobart UK have seen many changes within and outside the firm. Starting as a national accounts executive in 1991, he was based in Bolton and covered the national accounts headquartered in the north.
This was far from his first foray into the catering equipment industry, however, as for 5 years previously he was the general manager of distributor, Gardner Wilkinson, running the northern operation. Even before that he’d run his own hotel, having studied hotel management at Hollings College. However, he was tempted away from the course 6 months before the end to join the catering industry. “In hindsight I would have finished the degree, but if I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t be the MD of Hobart Warewash today,” he mused.
Back when he first started at the manufacturer, he had early success covering high profile accounts including Stakis Hotels and Littlewoods, which put him on the radar with company management. Swiftly they gave him the regional sales manager role for the Scottish area, which Riley found very different to his national accounts role. “National accounts is fairly autonomous, but as regional manager I had many people reporting into me,” he recalled.
However, as he didn’t want to move his family to Scotland, after a year in the role he passed his responsibilities on to his colleague, Peter McCraith, and continued to focus on national accounts. His family were open to moving elsewhere though and so in 2000 they relocated to Peterborough so that he could take on the regional sales job for the northern Home Counties.
He’d already had discussions at that time regarding starting up a distributor channel-only division of the business, but immediately he concentrated on his day job, which won him the firm’s sales trophy in 2001. Nevertheless, his plan came to fruition in 2003 with the advent of Hobart Independent. According to Riley: “It was built as a company that would only sell mid-tier products through the distribution channel, and it has been a 100% dealer-focused business since then. It has grown tremendously, 30% year on year in that early period, and has been recognised three times by Cedabond as being the most improved supplier, the most recent being this year.”
While historically dealers had been a little wary of Hobart, due to its direct selling reputation, Riley wanted to change perceptions. “I’d got a bit of credibility from distributors anyway, having been one of them, and then when I delivered Independent and we stuck to it, our reputation changed to definitely being much more pro-dealer.”
His career then continued on an upward trajectory, becoming commercial manager in 2004 and subsequently commercial director, looking after the marketing and pricing responsibilities of the business.
Then in 2010, Hobart’s parent company ITW announced it would be segmenting the company into warewashing, cooking and servicing divisions. “They’d spotted that we weren’t growing as fast as we could, so with each division having its own unique sales force it meant we could all be specialist in our own product areas,” revealed Riley. The segmentation was fully completed in 2012, by which time he had taken up the position of MD of the Warewash business.
One of the things Riley loves about Hobart is the history of the company, as it was founded in 1909. This historic nature landed on his doorstep when he became MD, as because the firm has a royal warrant, taking on this role meant he became the royal warrant holder.
Furthermore in 2015 he took over responsibility for the Scandinavian region and at the beginning of 2016, Holland and Belgium’s warewash sales were also added to his roster.
Looking back over his career with the firm, Riley is proud to have ended up as MD, as from when he was a student he would go to trade shows and “marvel at the size of the Hobart stand, and think to myself ‘that must be an important company’”. He also credits colleagues past and present, including Steve Martin, Ian Garner and Roger Kellow, as positively influencing him. While reflecting on the industry changes over that time, he feels that speed of communication is one of the biggest. “Suddenly everything’s got to be now all the time,” he commented.
He believes another major change has been the professionalisation of the industry. “When I was in CEDA before I joined Hobart, it was still the old boys’ network. But now dealers have the ability to do massive projects, and CEDA director general Adam Mason has really advanced that, particularly with the e-learning programme,” Riley commented. “CESA has also developed great training programmes, so everyone’s had to up their game and come on board.”
Looking ahead, he is excited about the future developments to Hobart’s warewasher ranges, and in more general terms he can see further advances in IT. While he still feels uncertain about the Brexit impact, one thing he is sure of is that the industry needs more young blood. “We’ve got to see this as a career to be part of,” he concluded.
One of Riley’s driving forces as MD of Hobart Warewash has been to court the dealer community, and this has paid dividends in the amount of business going through that channel. In just the last 5 years the dealer channel supply percentage has risen from 38% to 68.1%.
And for public sector business the figure rose over the same period from 30% to 71%. Riley reported: “People thought we couldn’t get the government business through dealers because of government prices, but by strategically working with the right dealers and creating partnerships, we are doing that.”
Estimating that overall dealer channel sales will top out at around 75-80% in the next few years, he detailed: “There is a certain level of business that will never go through the dealer route because it is the choice of big national accounts. Some dealers wouldn’t be geared up for that complete national approach anyway.”
Reassuring that this strategy has not and will not cut the numbers of Hobart salespeople, he emphasised that even when he started at the firm, a third of sales were through dealers. “A third of our business is almost the same size as other manufacturers’ turnover. Today we account for 50% of German-imported machines sold in the UK,” he said.
“One of the reasons for going through dealers is the increased demand from customers for a one stop shop,” Riley explained. “So dealers can work with us with a commitment to promote and supply our products as their number one choice.”
To that end, the firm has publicly unveiled its Focus Plus 5 dealer platform, which it initially rolled out at the end of 2016. This promises dealers closer working relationships, preferential trading terms, increased product and sales support and dedicated administration support.
This will be available via the new Hobart Partners website, where distributors can see transparent and current trading data and information, relevant and personalised Hobart personnel contact details, search and compare machines, and access sales support material packages. In return, dealers have to actively promote Hobart Warewashers, meet sales growth targets for these appliances and ensure that relevant sales, design and planning staff attend a training day at Hobart UK’s headquarters. Distributors have their own site logins, where they can view their targets and track orders, all in real time.
“We want to work with dealers who want to create a true partnership and are geared towards the growth of their business, because we want to grow our business too,” said Riley. “Of course other brands can get specified, but they should try and convert as many as possible. If they do that we can work with them and take the enquiries to them.”
Marketing manager Chris Birch said: “We didn’t want to just create a short term promotion. We wanted to do something different and we have spent 2.5 years talking to about 180 dealer representatives to look at what their pain points are. Dealers needed to know how to get hold of product information, who to contact and how to get orders processed quickly.
“Focus Plus 5 is an ongoing process, being developed thanks to dealer feedback. One example of this is we introduced a function to just display list prices instead of a dealer’s specific prices if a dealer salesperson wants to show the site to an end user. We received that feedback early on and reacted straightaway.”
The website is continuing to be updated, with further developments including qualified sales leads delivered straight to a dealer user’s dashboard, and swift credit checking facilities.