When dealers belonging to ENSE met up in Windsor earlier this year for the UK buying group’s first ever conference, there were just 14 of them in the room. By the time last month’s autumn conference in the West Midlands came around that figure had almost trebled.
Lured by the prospect of securing more attractive margin terms, exclusive promotions and retrospective rebates, dealers have started to flock to an organisation that costs just £250 to join.
Sigma Catering Equipment signed up to ENSE membership six months ago and director, Chris Keith, said the conference had convinced him the company had definitely made the right decision.
“There is only one way this group is going and that is upwards,” he says. “In the very early days I think people were a bit sceptical and a bit afraid to take the plunge, so I applaud the guys that did get on board straight away. I think they saw something that possibly one or two others didn’t. But I have certainly bought into it now, there is no question about that. And within the next 12 months I certainly think there will be double the amount of distributors and a lot more suppliers involved.”
Newco Catering Equipment’s managing director, Michael Waters, also said the conference had enabled him to get a better understanding of what ENSE is about and how dealers can maximise their involvement.
He believes that the experience of ENSE’s founders in the US, where buying groups are part and parcel of the catering equipment market, means the group is in very good hands.
“It is not a new concept to them so they know what it can do and where it is heading,” he says. “I’m really glad we have got involved and if they stick to their word of vetting people [new dealers and suppliers] coming into the group it will be good. They give you a chance to vote on who comes in and who doesn’t. If you can recommend someone you want to deal with, they can put it to the vote.”
ENSE essentially operates as a management and marketing company. It doesn’t purchase on behalf of members in order to secure volume discounts, but rather works with suppliers to create programmes that make it favourable for dealers to do business with them.
Neil Richards, managing director of Metcalfe, one of the first manufacturers to commit to ENSE, said he was delighted at the effort being put into driving supplier and dealer engagement.
“They haven’t set up a buying group to let everyone just get on with it. They are very proactive in ensuring that everybody gets good value for money out of it. Everybody is here to build their business and make money, and it is really working,” he says.
There is no doubt that ENSE can be a disruptive force within the market by enticing dealers to buy more product from group suppliers, thus driving the loyalty and market share that suppliers want. One distributor said it could quite easily foresee his company putting £500,000 worth of business the way of the group if things continue as they are.
Clearly the quality and range of brands signed to the consortium is vital to its future success, as dealers need to be able to trust what they are buying.
Of course, that’s not to say all dealers will suddenly just switch all their business to ENSE suppliers overnight. The reality is that they will have perfectly good, long-standing relationships with other non-ENSE brands or they may serve markets or deliver projects where current ENSE suppliers don’t offer the solution they need.
As far as Sigma’s Keith is concerned, the best approach is just to get on with day-to-day business and try to specify and sell as much product that ENSE can offer, so long as it doesn’t lessen the service provided to the end-customer in any way.
“It is never going to be a case that you just sell ENSE suppliers’ equipment because you have still got to have a view on the individual client that you are dealing with and what they are asking for. Ultimately, you are not going to go down the route of using an ENSE product if it is not right for your client, just so that you get something on your bottom line.
"That is not what we are about. We are still about giving the client the best solution possible at the most competitive price, but there is certainly no compromise on the quality. That’s why new suppliers need to be the right calibre. Certainly, I think the acquisition of the likes of Meiko proves that ENSE are looking at the correct type of manufacturer.”
While ENSE will face more challenges as its scale increases, the mood at its autumn conference suggests that things are heading firmly in the right direction. ENSE founder, Bob Adams, says he observed a clear change in the mindset of dealers at the autumn conference versus the event it held earlier in the year.
“At the first meeting we held there were some dealers who were still unsure about how it could work. At the latest one they were saying, ‘tell me how I can do more.’ They now know it works.”
The next step, aside from growing member numbers, will be the addition of new components to enhance the group’s value. ENSE has just produced its first personalised marketing flyer for dealers to send out, while next year it plans to introduce a training programme.
“We are really excited about the training initiative,” says Adams. “It is going to be revolutionary to what the industry has had and everybody is on board with it. We are going to help the dealer sales people understand more of the suppliers’ products so they can sell more.”
That, after all, is why both dealer and supplier members are along for the ride.