Garry Smart, chairman of Cedabond & managing director of Cater Wight, reveals his expectations for the catering equipment industry over the next 12 months.
How would you assess the current state of the catering equipment market in the UK and what is your outlook for 2012?
The one-word answer is patchy. With our membership we have got quite a cross-section of the market really — companies that do schemes, companies that do small stuff, companies that do everything. Some of the guys that weren’t doing too well in 2010 picked up in 2011, especially if they were into scheme work. I think a few projects got delayed but came on song again. There is no great big shining light at the end of the tunnel, though, because a lot of it is influenced by what happens with the general economy.
What key factors do you expect to drive and shape the direction of the catering equipment market in 2012?
The biggest factor is the economy and the confidence in it. You get technical innovation all the time anyway and often with government policy it takes a long time to sort anything out, so it is all about confidence really.
What are the biggest challenges facing the catering equipment market in 2012?
If I look at my members in London they are generally doing okay. It is more the urban and country ones that have faced challenges because customers are repairing rather than replacing. Either they are acting cautiously or they can’t get hold of the money to replace. Even leasing has got tighter. One stumbling block for growth is that SMEs can’t get hold of any cash. A customer can ask the bank for £20,000 to refurbish and he could have been in business for 20 years but the answer will be ‘computer says no’! Or it will be ‘computer says yes but at 18%’!
What opportunities are there for foodservice consultants and equipment providers to offer additional value to their customers in 2012?
Let’s face it, you can buy on the internet but what you get from a distributor is someone that comes along and looks at your problem, gives you a solution and then carries out that solution if you want them too. They might not be as cheap as the internet but you don’t just get a package arriving at the front door. A proper distributor will put the equipment in place, take all the rubbish away, make sure it works and if it doesn’t then you have got someone to shout at. And it is the same with a consultant — you are getting someone with a lot of knowledge who actually specifies the right bit of kit for the job.
How do you see the traditional ‘channel’ structure of the catering equipment market developing in 2012 and are the roles of the main intermediaries likely to change in any way?
Traditional routes-to-market are already pretty solid. Like any industry, you have got those that sit back on their laurels while those who actually want to grow will get out and grow. Perhaps companies will change some of the ways they market. People are using email a lot more for invoicing, statements and even quoting. Technology is coming into it a lot more and while everybody knows what a barcode is, you have now got QR codes. I think that is going to have quite an impact because if somebody has got a QR reader they can use it to gain access to a lot more information.