With a corporate history that pre-dates the Second World War and more than 8,000 kitchens in Europe said to be cooking with its products, FRIMA could be described as a pretty seasoned campaigner when it comes to the catering equipment market.
Yet by its own admission, the company’s UK business hasn’t always fulfilled its potential and that prompted the Rational-owned organisation to orchestrate a series of changes last year in order to alter its approach to the market.
It appointed the experienced Vic Brown as managing director of the business, issuing the former Rational chief with the challenge of reigniting FRIMA’s UK fortunes and driving sales of its technology among operators.
“I was basically asked to relaunch the company in the UK and so my first job was to look at the team,” explains Brown. “We now have a new team on board, all of whom are ex-Rational sales managers and have been trained by Rational. The task was to create a team of professionals who understand the market and understand the dealer aspect, as that is our only route to market,” he says.
Unlike manufacturers that have kit for dozens of different categories, FRIMA presides over what is arguably one of the narrowest product sets in the entire catering equipment market. Its flagship VarioCooking Center Multificiency is essentially comprised of just three individual models, starting with a list price of £12,000 and stretching all the way up to £24,000.
“We are totally focused on one product and that is what makes us a specialist,” says Brown, who insists the complexity of the technology offers an insight into why it can give it such a high level of attention.
Put simply, the VarioCooking Center is a piece of technology that combines boiling, frying and deep frying in a single unit that FRIMA claims is three times as fast as conventional models and uses 40% less energy.
The product also contains a level of “intelligent control” that the manufacturer insists is superior to anything else on the market. It can automatically detect the product-specific requirements, the size of the food and the load size and adjust the cooking time accordingly.
It is therefore not surprising that FRIMA’s ongoing priority is to get customers in front of the product to see it in action.
“The only way you are going to purchase it is by seeing it — it is not the sort of product you sell through a catalogue,” says Brown. “One requirement from FRIMA is that all sales staff are fully qualified chefs because they will be carrying out demonstrations. The main principle is that our customers are chefs, and you should have a chef talking to a chef. We have institutions in the fine dining sector which are using it, all the way up to kitchens in hospitals and schools. They like it for the speed, efficiency, ease of cleaning and also its safety aspect — you’re not carrying around pots and pans anymore.”
While FRIMA’s sales personnel look after the demonstration element, the dealer channel ultimately provides the glue that binds the whole sales process together. And building relationships with sales partners continues to occupy much of Brown’s time after he identified a need for more comprehensive channel training within days of taking on the role.
“This is new technology and so it is a very technical sell in that respect,” says Brown. “It requires an explanation of what the benefits actually are and the unique reasons it can work for that particular customer. We basically get the dealers together and we cook with them. It is important that they see it doing what we say it does so that they are able to talk about how and why it works.”
As well as putting a more coherent training programme in place, Brown is looking to expand FRIMA’s dealer network this year in an attempt to strengthen the brand’s position. It presently works with 20 dealers in the UK, but is keen to add a further 10 to 15 throughout the next 12 months.
“Our biggest priority is to get the dealer network up and running to a satisfactory level, which includes selecting new dealer partners and getting them fully trained,” he says. “That said, expanding the dealer network will be done within the limitations afforded to us. There is insufficient coverage and we want to change that to serve the marketplace properly, but we do not want to overcrowd it, so we will look very strategically at what we need to do.”
FRIMA suggests dealers with a history of selling prime cooking equipment and a reputation for possessing strong technical knowledge would most suit its product range.
The dealer’s role in the FRIMA network primarily involves providing quotations and drafts and educating customers to the point where they can then get them in front of FRIMA for a demonstration. Dealers would then supply and install the product once an order is placed.
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The quest to recruit new dealers comes at an interesting time in the market’s development given talk that other brands are planning to launch their own multifuntional systems.
Brown denies the threat of new competition has the potential to erode FRIMA’s value proposition.
“There are new products coming onto the market from companies like MKN but we welcome that because we want people talking about these products,” he insists. “The kitchen of the future is a combi oven and next to it a VarioCooking Center — that gives you a complete kitchen without the need for anything else. In France, for instance, that is all many restaurants have.”
If Brown can replicate a fraction of what FRIMA has achieved in the Gallic market then the company will be fulfilling its UK goals in no time.
FRIMA’s dream team
Name: Vic Brown
Role: Managing Director
Background: Tasked with growing FRIMA’s UK business and establishing a more comprehensive partner network after serving as managing director of Rational for seven years.
Name: Claire Mansfield
Role: Regional Sales Manager (East)
Background: Joined the company directly from Rational where she worked with Brown, Mansfield is responsible for looking after FRIMA’s interests in the east of the country.
Name: Mark Apperley
Role: Regional Sales Manager (North)
Background: Apperley joined FRIMA from heavy duty cooking equipment specialist Electrolux Professional, but previously spent three years at Rational.
Name: Mike Ashcroft
Role: Regional Sales Manager (West)
Background: In charge of FRIMA’s affairs in the west of England, Ashcroft joined the company from Hobart and previously spent two years working for Rational.
1938 FRIMA is founded in France
1976 Commences the marketing of the world’s first combisteamer in France
1985 Designs and presents the FRIMAX, the first multifunctional cooking device based on contact heat
1993 Acquired by Rational
1999 Premiere of the ThermoJet appliance, offering cooking, pan-frying and deep-frying with one single device electronically managed
2005 International market launch of the world’s first VarioCooking Center
2008 Becomes one of the first companies worldwide to gain ISO 9001:2008 certification
2011 International launch of the VarioCooking Center MULTIFICIENCY
2012 Claims that 8,000 kitchens in Europe now cook with FRIMA