Pro Foodservice Reps (PFR) made a splash in the market 2 years ago when Andy Piggin and Ross Gibson set the sales rep group company up near Leicester. But how has the catering equipment industry embraced this US-based commercial model?
“As soon as we talk to people face to face, they get it,” said Piggin. “For manufacturers we provide a ready-made sales and marketing team to take their products to their target market (distributors) in a set territory, at a reduced cost compared to direct employees, enabling them to keep product costs down with the added benefit of PFR offering a complimentary product range. Independence gives us freedom – we can be the eyes and ears for manufacturers in the local market.
“The benefit to the dealer is on many levels. We only represent manufacturers who sell exclusively via dealers, therefore we are trusted by them to talk and specify with end users. It’s also one point of contact for several aspects of a project or multiple suppliers of theirs.
“I had a former CEDA chairman tell me in person he sees the import model as ‘broken’ now that firms like PFR can take dealers to the factory door, bypassing importers fees. I had another dealer who was hesitant to meet us describe our service as an ‘eye opener’ and such a win-win he would definitely invite us in for future products.
“We have had dealers bring us brands that they would like us to represent or ask us to source alternatives to brands they don’t want to deal with, and we’ve seen dealers seek guidance from us on industry legislation such as MEPS and things like buying groups. We are not just a sales/quoting function for a dealer.”
Going back to the early days, Piggin recalled: “Ross and I were realistic about the challenge of setting up a new business in an industry generally unfamiliar with our concept.” Quipping that the firm’s plan for the first couple of years was to “still be in business”, given the risk the pair took in departing from their previous roles and the turbulent economic environment, he detailed: “We do have a long term plan, and as it stands, we are ahead of our planned development which is a sign things have developed quicker than we expected.
“The main reason for this is that the market understood our offer quicker than we had anticipated, and our product offer is in line with market demands. In the first 6 months we saw dealers being cautious of our market approach, but once we have the chance to explain our whole model is designed to help the dealer we have seen a lot of traction with some key distributors.”
The positive response has meant the PFR team has rapidly expanded. Charlotte Deykin was the founding duo’s first hire, joining as sales and marketing executive in April that year, having worked in various roles at Hobart since 2012.
Piggin commented: “We knew she understood the industry and her ambition secured her the role of providing office and marketing support. We found Charlotte by an industry referral, which is a major part of all aspects of our growth.”
Deykin’s responsibilities at PFR have increased since she started, as she now heads up the firm’s light equipment division, which includes providing professional chefs’ knives and utensils along with a front of house buffet and tabletop offer. Gibson feels that initiating this division was one of the best decisions the company has made, as it helps to even out any potential work gaps. PFR has an onsite showroom for light equipment at its headquarters, and has held dealer days there to demonstrate the products, with more planned.