Wising up to web washing

Buying and selling heavy equipment on the internet is becoming ever more commonplace, but with sophisticated appliances such as warewashers, a purely online sales channel may not always be the most appropriate approach.

Manufacturers such as Electrolux Professional have already established a limited number of online dealers offering their products.

As the firm’s head of business development Nigel Westall detailed: “This provides challenges and difficulties but if a dealer of whatever persuasion or specialism is good at what they do, and can show a sustainable growth in the sales of a company’s products – while achieving consistent customer satisfaction – then this is a channel most brands will be keen to maximise.

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“The proof of this is in the presence of the major suppliers across the well-known equipment websites.”

He believes that warewashers are in a group of products that feature heavily on dealer websites, alongside refrigeration, ice machines, and light to medium duty cooking equipment.

“Most sales of these items can be attributed to price-led distress replacement purchases, meaning that warewashers are conducive to being sold online, but only if the customer can be given good advice by staff who have been well informed and well trained,” Westall said.

“The internet genie is now well and truly out of the bottle and, like other markets, we will have to adapt and react accordingly. Amazon has a lot answer for!”

The manufacturer only wants to work with reputable, fiscally-sound businesses that provide their customers with a positive experience throughout the process of buying from the Electrolux brand. Westall added: “Clearly, an online dealer will not be able to add value to the buying process in the same way as more traditional dealers, at least in terms of a personal sales visit and survey.

“However, the majority of dishwasher manufacturers have a two-tiered offer, in order to appeal to both types of customers. Online channels are not as well-suited to selling more sophisticated models, as these larger investments require a more protracted buying timeframe, since it is important for kit to match the specific needs of each individual environment.”

Elsewhere, Wexiödisk works with a number of key ‘lead’ dealers and then a network of standard dealers to provide coverage and sales channels across the UK.

“Having said this, we are yet to work with any online dealers, relying on dealers who operate in a more traditional face to face manner to supply our extensive range of products,” said UK and Ireland country manager John Shepherd. [[page-break]]

“By purchasing in a virtual marketplace where operators are not able to physically see the equipment first-hand; the tendency towards purchasing from one of the more recognised warewashing brands is evident.

"Having only launched into the UK market around 3 years ago, Wexiödisk is still a relative newcomer in this highly competitive market and as such can often struggle against some of the more well-established brands in the warewashing industry.”

However, he feels that over time, warewashers will become more conducive to online sales, as technology develops and features that were installed on top of the range models filter down to become commonplace.

“Technology has a major influence on the warewashing market with constant developments and updates furthering the sector; therefore I believe the market will always be in the position of having to sell the latest equipment through traditional dealer channels,” he said.

Currently Wexiödisk does not have a strategy for working with online dealers and distributors exclusively, as it likes to be involved in full site surveys, specification and installation, even when kit is purchased through a dealer.

Nevertheless it does believe that online dealers provide “an essential service for the industry, offering a substantial marketplace of small to medium sized equipment and a whole host of appliances for foodservice business, often at highly competitive prices”.

Maidaid Halcyon only sells its equipment through distributors, many of whom are utilising the internet more these days.

Sales director Julian Lambert said: “Many people use the internet as a comparison tool to find the cheapest deal. Maidaid has found that this is a double-edged sword; purchasing a piece of capital equipment via the internet for the cheapest price has its risks, you may think you are getting a good deal but are you? What about warranty, installation or servicing issues? 

“These are a few pitfalls that people overlook and can be caught out on. Purchasing through a reputable dealer can remove these pitfalls.”

He believes that using the web aids users looking to compare like-for-like warewashers, but issues can arise if they want to fit out a new site or purchase a larger capacity machine. [[page-break]]

“A site survey will not only ascertain if you have the correct services in place, but also if the machine will fit in the area, through doorways, past worktops etc. This is one of the most important parts of purchasing a new machine and a service the internet cannot perform.

“The move into the digital age is all well and good but we have to be mindful of the companies who are potentially damaging our marketplace by selling goods with a very low margin and who are unable to support the product moving forward. Maidaid Halcyon works with distributors who can provide the right machines at the right price along with the right level of service and support for the end user.”

Over at Meiko, MD Bill Downie reports that the manufacturer tends not to be favoured by exclusively online dealers where the key driver is low price. “With Meiko products manufactured in Germany, we are unable, or willing to compete at this level,” he said.

“What we do offer to our partner distributors is bespoke marketing material highlighting all-inclusive “No-Bills” offers on both our Eco series and Premium series front loading and pass through machines, personalised with their own company details to enable them to send it out to their own customer base and for marketing on their own website.”

Meiko sees front loading glass and dishwashing machines as more suitable for web-based selling as they are more plug and play products. However, it believes that pass-through dishwasher sales are more involved and a number of questions need to be addressed to ensure that the installation process runs without snags, for example, regarding building access or the new machine’s electrical phasing compatibility.

“Our strategy is to offer our partner distributors added-value promotions rather than simply offering lower prices to everybody and their brother,” detailed Downie.

“If a general online dealer wishes to incorporate some of our machines, then we would want to know where our products would fit into their general marketing plans, rather than simply having the product available to offer to a customer that has received a proposal from one of our partners, at a reduced price with no consideration given to the installation or support of the product.

“Where we see pricing levels with single figure margins, combined with online marketing from dealers that have no postal address, then we are very wary of offering products to those organisations.”

Smeg is similarly cautious when it comes to web-based dealers. Phil Coulstock, commercial channel director, said: “Internet selling offers good exposure and free marketing and brand awareness for all manufacturers but low margin advertising is only damaging to relationships with other dealers. Internet sales should be left to simple products such as sundries and light duty equipment that carries basic warranty cover.”

He believes that any product which requires installing by a qualified engineer or needs specific features to work correctly should always be specified after a full site survey. [[page-break]]

Smeg avoids opening trading accounts and offering terms to dealers that don’t employ field sales staff or engineers, or at least subcontract this locally or nationally. “Anyone not doing this we feel will only be selling our products on a price point basis and then putting a lot of expectation on us to support any mistakes or problems encountered due to their lack of knowledge of the products,” commented Coulstock.

“These types of online dealers would always find it hard to talk about the equipment’s relevant features and benefits to a specific customer as very rarely have they actually ever seen or used the equipment they are trying to sell.

“Being able to sell anything heavy duty and over £500 in value online should only be allowed by trained and knowledgeable distributors. Shifting a box with a £12k value and making a single digit margin is criminal.”

Bob Wood, director of DC Warewashing & Icemaking Systems, feels that buying online is all dependent on the information that supports the kit. “However the availability of information on sites varies significantly and some of the concepts involved when purchasing a warewasher, such as drain pumps and break tanks or electrical supply, water quality or extraction issues, can at first glance appear bewildering, overwhelming or even a little baffling to customers.

“In these cases it may be preferable for customer’s requirements to be discussed face to face or at least over the phone with an experienced distributor. Whilst the web is improving all the time, one to one communications still play an important role.

“Simply put, we would expect dealers to offer the same level of professional service online as we expect offline. The services they provide are reflective of their business model in the same way they are offline.”

Winterhalter doesn’t necessarily distinguish between dealers and online dealers. “We’re fortunate to work with leading dealers which have a strong online presence and have the product knowledge and service to support this,” said Paul Crowley, marketing manager.

He believes that his firm’s warewashers are not suitable for online sales without proper support. “Once you move above the undercounter products, it becomes increasingly difficult to specify a machine and subsequently purchase online. There are so many other considerations like throughput, tabling, workflows etc; that without site surveys and advice, customers purchasing online could end up with a very big headache!

“Of course we also recognise that ‘showrooming’ is likely to become an issue in the future and this is where online-only dealers could steal a march.”

Winterhalter supports all its dealers equally, regardless of the channel. However it does offer site surveys and distributor training for those companies that request it, as well as having specific strategies to address online sales in a wider context.

“Dealers need to offer a 360° service. A dealer which is only shifting boxes has to be exceedingly confident in their offering and ordering system to ensure customer satisfaction,” concluded Crowley.

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