Karen Conway, company secretary of family-owned GBT LTD, a catering equipment supplier based in Halifax, writes why striking a balance between web sales and traditional sales is an ongoing challenge.
It’s a very early breakfast on a Saturday morning and I’ve spent it reading the March issue of Catering Insight. Andrew Seymour’s article on page 2 entitled ‘Why the web is still leaving kitchen dealers in a tangle’ is a frank and unbiased representation of the situation in the industry, and will fuel further discussion going forward around sales channels.
But the piece has hit a nerve with me, resulting in pen being put to paper — or, at the very least, notes for what to include in an e-mail that will wing its way to the Editor.
So what was it about this article that made me feel so aggrieved?
Well, it made me reflect personally on how ‘GBT Ltd’, the business I run with my husband, had evolved since inception in January 2007, and how we now operate commercially at each side of the debate as traditional dealers and web sellers.
The landing page on our commercial catering equipment website says ‘office hours Mon to Fri 9am-5pm’. In an ideal world these would be our actual hours of work, but they far exceed this number. As a matter of fact they’ve increased significantly since our new website www.wesellcateringequipment.com was launched in September 2011.
GBT Ltd had been expanding since 2007 and, up until August 2010, we had premises which held stock and had cooking demonstration facilities. Dealers will know that this type of operation is costly and, over a period of time, a pattern started to develop.
Potential customers were more than happy to attend demonstrations by manufacturers such as Rational UK, however when we followed up with them we found they had shopped online and actually purchased a unit that was marginally cheaper than our quoted prices from said ‘box shifters’.
This happened all too often and was, quite literally, soul destroying. Difficult choices were made, we moved out of the showroom into offices within a business centre and we began to reflect on how we would operate in this changing market place. The money saved on overheads over a period of time was reinvested and utilised to build a quality e-commerce website.
For us it was very much a case of ‘if you can’t beat them join them’. Time is also costly and we invested an inordinate amount of time in developing a website that would reflect the core values at the root of our business, such as excellent service, professional expertise, value and quality products that offer reliability and longevity. We certainly feel it is money well spent!
Our website has been live for six months now and it is proving to be a costly affair. There are financial implications which, of course, are infinite so if you’re under the impression that sales are guaranteed by having a website then don’t be.
Very recently, manufacturers have started to dictate what can and cannot be advertised online, and now it seems they appreciate how their products are being devalued by numerous sites professing to offer the cheapest prices. This is something we’d highlighted prior to investing in a website and, at the time, our words fell on deaf ears.
The internet is definitely here to stay and it is an invaluable way in which to reach customers.
At the moment we have a site that has increasing traffic and we’re starting to use social media to increase our brand awareness — but that’s a whole new topic of discussion for another day!