Spares specialists look the part

First Choice has moved into a purpose-built 100,000ft2 premises in Cannock.First Choice has moved into a purpose-built 100,000ft2 premises in Cannock.

The UK catering equipment spare parts sector is getting increasingly crowded, and while the actual components supplied may look similar, what are the differences in offerings between the competitors?

National market leader First Choice Group has massively expanded its storage offering, recently moving into a vast, purpose-built 100,000ft2 premises in Cannock. MD John Whitehouse revealed: “Our stock is continually increasing and we currently have the largest and widest range of catering spares stock in the UK. Now we are established in our new customer designed building we have a programme in place to increase this level of stock by 60%.”

Stocking information is available on the firm’s website, which is currently being reworked to improve customer experience through its customer service teams. “Distributors and service companies need to know the availability of spare parts required to allow them to plan their ‘return to fix’ and thus minimise the equipment downtime for their customers,” detailed Whitehouse.

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First Choice looks to ship most orders from stock on a next day service. “We also offer a direct to site option and a direct collection for our warehouse,” Whitehouse said. “Currently 83% of all orders taken in a day could be delivered directly from stock. We are looking to take this figure over the 90% with an aggressive increase of stocking level across all brands in the near future.”

An ISO9001 accreditation is said to bolster the company’s quality management credentials, as well as fully trained staff. Whitehouse added: “Our state of the art picking and storage system reduces the potential for picking errors – in fact we have 99.2% accuracy in picking.”

For Commercial Catering Spares (CCS), it works on a next day delivery service if the parts are in stock. “We strive to get parts to customers as soon as possible, sometimes sending parts direct to ensure that the customer is happy with delivery time,” detailed marketing executive Tom Devlin.

The company stocks around 12,000 lines from a variety of manufacturers. Devlin commented: “We are always striving to expand our stock while keeping on top of our currently portfolio. We have grown a substantial amount over the past 5 years although we have always made sure that we keep up with our exceptional customer service.

“We are now stocking new brands and trying to expand our variety of existing parts and manufacturers.” CCS’s website also allows its customers to view stock levels and it depicts real-time stock changes.

Devlin stated: “Training is a key part of our new employees’ enrolment and introduction process. We make sure staff are always up to date with systems that are used to ensure morale is high and to enable good quality work.”

Adequate staffing numbers are important in terms of picking and packing for CCS. Its Heywood warehouse runs alongside its IT systems and website to allow for simple picking, with the ordering system designed to ensure correct delivery and packing.

Over at GEV, it claims to be Europe’s leading catering spares supplier, having 85,000 parts in stock ready to fit the next day. UK MD Bryn Vivian reported: “Since GEV’s UK sales office opened over 7 years ago it has delivered 80,000 times to a growing number of leading national wholesalers and service organisations.

“Employing 10 staff we can accept orders as late as 6pm online and still deliver the next day – sometimes as early as 9am in Ireland or Scotland. Shipping exclusively with partners such as UPS and DHL means we are able to make timed deliveries to any destination required by our customers. That could be a retail site, engineer home address, convenience store (one of UPS’ numerous Access Points) or more recently a ByBox locker (one rented by a customer with 24 hour key access).

“Our freight charge is the same as the local competitors so having stock located in Munich is not a disadvantage. Difficult-to-ship items, such as compressors, can also be air freighted for reliable next day delivery.”

In terms of its centralised European warehousing, Vivian revealed: “The scale of the present day operation is not easy to convey to those who have not visited the global logistics centre in Munich which opened in 2013. Later this year its storage capacity will almost double to 10,000m3.

“Today GEV’s stock covers more than 500 brands of commercial catering equipment. Pickers are served by 25 14metre-high Kardex shuttles which house the fastest moving items. The current stock value is hovering around the £10m mark and every day almost 1,000 parcels are despatched.”

Vivian said that GEV works systematically to eliminate errors, with the picking and packing processes controlled by bar codes and data matrix codes. “However, if errors arise, we take an active, collaborative approach to clarifying part replacements with manufacturers,” he commented. “Any deliveries differing from the norm are quarantined until the reason is established.”

He believes: “Not only outbound packing but also order entry processes are controlled by first in class software. To enable customers to effectively coordinate their deliveries with work schedules, they automatically receive an immediate order confirmation and same day dispatch notification with full order tracking.”

Besides a complete range of colour catalogues, GEV’s main shop window is its webshop and related smartphone app. In both, 1.5m parts can be found – many of which are displayed with full technical detail including accessories, dimensional drawings, alternative parts, operating instructions for items such as electronic controllers.

“Of course, accurate, to-the-minute stock status information is constantly available to all customers whose work efficiency depends on excellence in this area. Lead times for non-stock items are calculated by averaging the previous delivery times for that particular part, so they are anything but nominal,” concluded Vivian.

Elsewhere, Caterparts’ phone and fax lines are open until 4.30pm each day to enable dealers and engineers to get next day delivery on emergency. The firm specialises in warewashing parts from all manufacturers, but also offers spares for ice machines, coffee machines, refrigeration and catering ancillaries.

National accounts manager Robin Coates detailed that urgent spare parts can be ordered up to 5pm too. “Caterparts was the first to introduce the 5pm cut-off back in 2013; previously the cut-off time had been mid-afternoon, which was generally the industry standard.

“The service is primarily aimed at engineers looking to get hold of urgent parts right up until 5pm, rather than as a means for customers to place regular stock orders later in the day. Caterparts is aware that not all spares are available from the UK, therefore we are able to source these from our network of suppliers worldwide.”

The business continues to evaluate its stock levels in light of market trends. “We set no limits on our stock holdings and we are not afraid to hold stock if customer demand is there,” commented Coates. “Another unique feature is our stock holding of older warewashing parts that other suppliers would deem as ‘too old to repair’. This is a feature that really sets us apart from our competition.”

He added: “Caterparts is pretty unique in the decision that we made some years ago to have a completely open webstore. Unlike others sites, we don’t hide behind login areas and passwords; our webstore is open to all to freely identify parts and ancillary items.

“Our website benefits the customer by showing live stock information. Caterparts’ trade customers have an enhanced access area to the site and they can benefit from special terms the webstore enable them.”

According to Coates: “However, what we never want to lose sight of is that sometimes you need to talk to a human being and not just rely on a computer, so we ensure we have a sales desk manned by people who care and want to help any customer.”

Furthermore, the firm has procedures in place to try and eliminate errors during the picking and packing of spares. By having a one person to pick the items required and a different person packing each order, they are able to sign off and check that the order is correct before despatch.

At LF Spare Parts, orders received by 3pm are processed the same day for next day delivery. Orders can be placed 24/7, online via the user-friendly website or using the LF Apple/Android app, and are designed to be fully traceable using the customer’s unique login details.

Users can access live stock information on the site. UK director Mark Brooks explained: “Live stock data is critical to the industry so that fast informed decisions on sourcing can be made. We constantly communicate with the market to ensure that the depth and breadth of our one-stop offering is relevant to an ever changing market. Bulk and scheduled orders can be arranged to ship via truck to keep costs down; we are flexible to the customer’s requirements.”

LF’s logistics centre in Cesena, Italy, comprises 10,000m2 of storage space, a 33% growth over the last 5 years, with eight automated stacker cranes at its heart. The company has purchased additional land onsite to allow for further growth. It currently has 56,000 items available from stock from a searchable database of £2.3m cross references.  The firm supplies parts for commercial cooking, warewashing, refrigeration (inc. ice machines), coffee machines, vending and laundry and now an increasing range of spares for domestic appliances, said to be a unique offering from LF Group.

LF officially launched the domestic sector at the last Host exhibition in Milan. “By doing so, we have become the only spares supplier in the world able to provide a spare parts service for both the professional and the domestic sector,” commented Brooks.

He emphasised: “Every part delivered into the warehouse is photographed, measured where necessary, packed into individual bags and added to our extensive database with a unique LF part number and barcode. This information is then used on subsequent goods receipts to ensure 100% accuracy.

“Errors are minimised by automating the picking and packing process using state of the art technology. There is an automated double check on each picked item and highly trained personnel to ensure accuracy. Shipping documents are only printed at the packing station eliminating paperwork errors.”

Brooks concluded: “As we export to over 100 countries globally, the quality of the packaging is paramount. LF Group packs each parcel to ensure it reaches its destination undamaged and in pristine condition.”

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