When Catering Equipment Professional (CEP) changed its name from Alpeninox last February, the supplier found there was a major increase in sales enquiries, activities and orders.
“We hoped this would happen, as we had spent the whole of the previous year getting the input of our distributor network, and we also worked with our supply partners and external marketing consultants to ensure our ideas were right,” detailed MD, David Jones.
CEP is now entering its eighth year of operation and to September this year has already seen a 20% growth on the figures for the whole of 2014. “Our industry is in pretty good shape and we have concentrated on our own core values of customer service and high stock levels, as well as the availability of our equipment brands,” said Jones.
Last year the firm also created three key equipment brands: Dishwasher Professional, Cook Professional and Refrigeration Professional. “The changeover worked well and our web partners put in a lot of work to make sure the changes to the distributor/end user equipment portal were as seamless as possible,” Jones commented.
“This was a key factor in the name changes for the brands and company. We have geared up the company template for the business activity both today and in 5 years’ time, as we think the way in which this industry operates will change immeasurably in that period.”
More internal changes were enacted, as the firm’s sales support staff was reshuffled too. According to Jones: “This gave us the main ammunition to stick to and develop our core values, with key people looking after key tasks for our customers.”
CEP’s sales are based on its original group of distributors, which Jones describes as very loyal. “We haven’t had to work specifically hard to develop the group, as a lot of distributors come to us after being recommended,” he said.
“As the equipment brands get more recognised, this task is getting easier. We have also worked very hard with a distributor procurement group and that activity has trebled in sales size.” [[page-break]]
The supplier works closely with Electrolux Professional’s Pordenone factory in Italy in terms of the equipment it offers, and Jones believes Electrolux has been invaluable in the development of the CEP business, providing great support.
“We also have a very ‘grown up’ business relationship with the UK-based Electrolux Professional team and assistance and ideas flow both ways,” he added.
For the Dishwasher Professional brand, the new hood type machine sells in high numbers, as it is based on an Electrolux Red Dot Design Award winning model. “This is recognised by the distributor network as being a brilliant workhorse at a great price,” commented Jones.
Another popular dishwasher is an undercounter model, said to be developed to a high spec and answer any installation issues. Furthermore, entry level glasswashers to suit the online seller market are also available.
The Refrigeration Professional Portfolio has many products which CEP says feature highly on the Carbon Trust’s energy technology list. “We are therefore selling more and more hydrocarbon products, especially as the implementation of the Eco Directive date looms ever closer,” reported Jones.
The main sellers in this range are still the industry staples of single and double door fridges and freezers along with two and three door fridge counters.
But it is the Cook Professional lines which have seen the most sales increase on the 2014 figures. Jones commented: “The suited cooking equipment and ovens have become a base purchase for more and more of our distributors.
"We also can’t overlook that the industry is now starting to understand the size of the CEP operation with its support partner network and the fact that all distributors/customers now know the speed and availability of spare parts in the UK.” [[page-break]]
After much research in 2013/14, CEP created a dedicated support team for each of its equipment brands. “The technicians that truly understand that equipment group are the ones attending it, if needed,” said Jones.
“They will therefore stand much greater chance of having the spare part required on van stock and vastly improve the capability of ‘first time fix’.”
The supplier has consulted with distributors about extended warranty at the time of purchase, but reports that opinion seems to be split on the issue. However, it is looking to develop an offering next year.
Nevertheless, it already offers a specialist delivery and installation service for the equipment it sells. “This makes perfect sense for any distributor sales taking place outside their own core area of activity,” said Jones.
The firm has been active with product awareness presentations for UK distributors, both at its own UK demonstration kitchen and Electrolux’s innovation centre in Pordenone.
Jones reported: “These are continually requested by the distributors, along with the annual diary of technicians’ skills update courses. These with be further developed in 2015.”
CEP prides itself as having one of the largest UK-based stock holdings of virtually any brand. “This will only ever be increased as end users get ever more demanding of the distributors,” explained Jones.
“We are also very lucky that we have a partner which runs the stockholding and logistics for us and has access to massive development within its warehousing estate.” [[page-break]]
The supplier also recently moved to a purpose made office in a converted farm building in rural Cambridgeshire. “This facility has been further developed to suit our growing needs with a new telecommunications system and software for the sales network,” Jones said. “We also keep the demonstration kitchen up to date with new products at all times.”
Currently embarking on a business development programme using the government’s growth accelerator business coaching team, CEP is planning to employ an additional four people as part of this, all in either sales development or sales administration roles.
“We are in an area that does not have a particularly bad rate of unemployment but also has good people that are constantly looking for work,” Jones said of the current recruitment situation.
“But we may not hire from within the industry as we are looking for the right attitude that can provide first class customer service – the rest we can teach them.”
Looking ahead, Jones believes all the measures the company has taken will lead to a very bright future for CEP and its distributors.
He concluded: “We aim to double the size of the business in 3 years whilst maintaining our core values. It is a busy time for all, but everything is carried out with a smile on our faces.”