Spares providers pledge further investment

The spare parts market is a sophisicated animal these days and specialist providers are reaping the benefits as the sector goes from strength to strength.

A continued move away from manufacturers’ direct supply of spare parts to an increasing number of dealer-type suppliers has paved the way for independent providers to carve their own niche.

This, coupled with improvements to logistic functions allowing manufacturers to have single European spares hubs, has led to a sea change in the way that spare parts for catering equipment and refrigeration are sourced and procured.

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And, on top of all that, it is widely agreed that service standards are improving all the time, a point best illustrated by ever-later cut-off times and the emergence of alternative carrier types such as ByBox, which are affording the market greater flexibility.

All of the major spare parts suppliers continue to make enhancements to their businesses as the competitive landscape increases.

First Choice Catering Spares, the largest UK-based parts supplier, has been ramping up the focus on its refrigeration parts division this year and that investment has led to a 35% growth in business over the last 12 months.

Recently, it welcomed Combico into the fold, an acquisition that allows it to provide increased Rational spare parts support together with Rational engineer training. In future, it aims to develop this service to provide additional engineer training on other branded equipment.

The Cannock-based company’s plans to improve its offering don’t stop there. “Our computer system, web and digital services will be getting a complete overhaul later in the year, with the introduction of a new, highly-sophisticated system,” reveals MD John Whitehouse. “It is a massive project that will improve our current processes, including sales, CRM, accounts and, of course, our web presence and usability.”

An improved digital presence is a theme that runs throughout the sector, with Northamptonshire-based Caterparts one of several providers to report that online sales are rocketing. “Customers want to order parts later in the day and still need a next-day delivery service,” says technical development manager, Matt Titchener, adding that the company was the first in the industry to introduce a 5pm cut-off for next-day delivery.

He says that when it comes to the internet, Caterparts boasts a completely open webstore. “Unlike others, you won’t find us hiding behind login areas,” he says. “Our webstore is open to all to freely identify parts and ancillary items. Caterparts trade customers have an enhanced access to the site and they can benefit from special terms. The webstore enables customers to order parts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, from wherever they are in the world.”

Lancashire-based CCS has just launched a new website with particular emphasis on an improved technical section that allows engineers to browse a vast database of drawings to identify the parts they need, either from a desktop computer or a mobile device when on site.

“We are also constantly increasing our stock holding, up 20% this year with a plan to acquire an additional warehouse by the end of 2014,” reveals MD Jonathan Booth, who notes that the company’s debut at Hotelympia this year was another example of its investment in growing its profile.

Over at LF Group, which is based in Gloucestershire, the UK website has just undergone an update to enhance current features and introduce a more user-friendly feel, while investment has been made in developing an automatic stocking system.

Mark Brooks, director at LF Spare Parts, says the firm is currently increasing its office space by 30% to 2,100 sqm and its warehouse by 25% to 8,600 sqm. This project will also see the installation of a fifth lean lift in its automatic stocking system.

“This has been achieved by purchasing land adjacent to our HQ facility, allowing us to improve all aspects of our operation without any unnecessary upheaval of our day-to-day work,” he explains. “The purchase of extra land means future expansion can be achieved on the same site.”

LF’s range of products has been enlarged, too. New parts and brands in areas such as refrigeration, granita machines, laundry, vending, barista accessories, and oven, laundry and refrigeration gaskets have all been added over the past 12 months.

Equally, product expansion has been a focus for Euro Catering Parts. It already provides spares for Middleby Group brands Middleby Marshall, Pitco and Houno, but recently took charge of all Viking’s warranty parts.

Additionally, the Oldham-based outfit has struck a partnership with Unox UK. The tie-up means the company now stock parts for Unox’s combination ovens to ensure excellent after-sales service for engineers.

“To be working so closely with two major manufacturers alongside our existing brands and assisting them in their spares operation is a huge honour,” said managing director Nick Hughes. “We strive to maintain this and bring more brands to Euro Catering to continue our next phase of growth.”

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There can be no denying that distributors and service firms are extremely well-served when it comes to sourcing catering spares these days. With the bar constantly being raised, all providers claim to provide fast and flexible services that put the customer first.

“We still think good customer service is key,” says Booth at CCS, which won the CEDA suppliers award for outstanding customer service this year. “A big part of this comes from our technical back-up with our technical team, including refrigeration, continually improving their knowledge to pass onto customers and our sales teams through partnered training sessions with manufacturers.”

CCS has also invested in a training kitchen to allow manufacturers such as Rational and Fagor to hold training days not only for spare parts customers but also their product customers.

One of the growing trends in the market is the use of mobile devices among engineers to access information and speed up the quotation and ordering process.

Nottinghamshire-based spare parts provider, GEV, believes it is well-placed to cater for this following recent investments it has made .

Director, Bryn Vivian, says it offers parts from more than 450 different brands and possesses the ability to ship up to 1,000 parcels per day, almost 365 days a year. What’s more, items can now be ordered on the spot.

“An app was launched this year, making it easier for engineers to search and select parts from where they are working,” says Vivian. GEV insists the technology won’t just make life easier for engineers, but reduce the burden on back office and purchasing staff, as theoretically it means quotations can be prepared by the engineer before leaving the customer’s premises. As well as providing technical details, the app gives engineers access to the latest price and stock information.

“Catering service engineers are involved in a demanding line of work that calls for technical accuracy and speed of work,” he says. “The new app provides full access to a customer’s webshop account where drawings, parts lists and detailed parts specifications can be found. This virtual toolbox of resources enables field engineers using a single, mobile device to work efficiently and complete work in a single site visit.”

Vivian says GEV’s enhanced web service is being backed up by other improvements to its infrastructure. “We continue to invest in our state-of-the-art logistics centre, enabling us to hold greater stocks and improve shipping efficiency,” he says. “And there are more extensive catalogues with comprehensive product information in the pipeline.”

LF highlights breadth of offering, accuracy of stock and longevity in the market as key aspects of its strategy — “we deal with all the major European carriers to ensure that we uphold our delivery promises”, says Brooks — while First Choice claims it offers the widest selection of stock in the industry.

This, says John Whitehouse, allows a high same-day pick rate, alongside a 5pm cut-off for orders for stock items, which can be processed and sent for next-day delivery. “Our automated storage and picking facilities enable us to hold and pick parts super efficiently and reduce mistakes in the picking process.”

Caterparts has undergone quite a significant rebranding exercise in the last couple of years, introducing a complete new range of catalogues that makes parts identification clear and simple for engineers.

Titchener says that with its wealth of experience and product knowledge, the firm is on hand to assist dealers, no matter what their request. “Just send us the part, a photo, a drawing or a serial number and our sales team will investigate for you!” he says.

In the increasingly competitive world of catering spares, there is no doubt the customer is king.

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