Coffee machines typically have a stand-alone supply channel for today’s cafes and restaurants, often circumventing distributors entirely. But should this or could this change? Catering Insight asked coffee machine manufacturers and suppliers to take an overview of the current situation.
At Italian-headquartered manufacturer La San Marco, general manager Roberto Nocera underlined that installation and maintenance of coffee machines are not usually the responsibility of coffee roasters. “These activities are instead characteristics of the distributor, which has the dedicated technical facilities within its organisational structure.
“Servicing companies not only undertake scheduled maintenance of the equipment and replace consumable components, they also teach end users the importance of proper care and cleaning of the equipment. The benefit of a holistic collaboration between the coffee roaster and the distributor is therefore evident.”
When asked how the relationship between coffee machine suppliers and distributors could be improved, he responded: “Communication is a matryoska inside which we find values that are closely related to one another, among them: training, updating, support, awareness of the reliability and of the reputation of the La San Marco brand.
“Our company is constantly engaged in activities of promotion and dissemination in order to spread the culture of coffee and of the espresso coffee machine. The new company website provides the international market and our dealers with an updated digital showcase of the company’s brand and it is also an expression of our desire to talk about and inform others of our work, our products, our patents and our history.”
Pointing to a general tendency towards increasingly customisable machines with an attractive design rather than purchasing on price, he revealed that in the last 3 years the firm has launched various products for sale through distributors: 105 Multiboiler Act, the CLASS (Controlled Lever Anti-Shock System), Luxury, Dual, Top 85, WE2, Plus Touch, coffee grinder-dosers with centesimal adjustment and smart coffee grinder-dosers.
La San Marco regularly organises technical courses and visits to its production plant in Gradisca d’Isonzo, where over 100 people are engaged in the design, manufacture and marketing of its machines.
Training was a point also taken up by Peter Atmore, head of global sales at British manufacturer, Fracino: “These key relationships between coffee machine suppliers and distributors could be further improved by suppliers providing on-site training to boost the product knowledge of distributors’ sales teams,” he agreed.
“With an ever-increasing number of coffee machines on the market enhancing distributors’ understanding and confidence is key to a smooth and effective sales process. A lack of product knowledge can result in distributors, many of whom guarantee their customers a new machine within 24 hours if there is something wrong with the one they purchased, returning machines to suppliers when they are in good working order.”
Atmore feels that as distributors have established relationships with designers and architects in the supply chain and usually allocate the kitchen fit out to the catering equipment suppliers, this often leaves end users to source the front of house appliances.
He advised: “A way to improve this would be for kitchen design houses – who are often dealing with high value contracts – to set up divisions in the business with specific knowledge. For example, a dedicated coffee equipment division could be responsible for training and developing product awareness.”
Regarding his own company’s engagement with distributors, he revealed: “Fracino has forged long-standing relationships with a valued network of distributors. Making time to meet them face-to-face and update them on our latest innovations goes a long way to help them stay on top of our evolving portfolio.
“Our marketing programme includes investment in promotional merchandise and producing regular newsletters and we’re producing a programme to provide our network with free equipment. The latest milestone in our multi-million Pound expansion programme includes an extension which features a bespoke Technical Training Centre of Excellence for distributors’ service engineers.”
Elsewhere, Carvetii Coffee Limited has just become an official supplier of VA Machinery (Victoria Arduino) in Cumbria and North Lancashire. Carvetii’s co-owner and founder Gareth Kemble said: “For the end user, the main benefit of sourcing coffee machines through a distributor is that you have one single point of contact and only have to manage one invoice.
“We like working with dealers providing we’re called in early enough, but the biggest stumbling block for us tends to be over the quality of the equipment. Some specialist coffee machine manufacturers only want coffee roasters to sell their equipment or are very selective about who can sell it.
“The biggest difference with getting us involved is, when we sell coffee machines, we don’t just supply them, we train people to use them over a long period of time and provide ongoing technical support. We would take it to that next level of working with people and provide additional time, effort and advice as part of the service.”
Kemble emphasised that front of house appliances such as coffee machines are completely different from back of house equipment. “Unless you’ve worked front of house in a busy hotel/restaurant/coffee shop, it’s impossible to appreciate some of the subtleties that need to be considered with the positioning of the coffee machine, milk fridge, water font and other equipment,” he said. “That’s where there’s an opportunity for us, as experts, to come in and advise and get the most effective, efficient all-round design.”
He further advised: “Distributors could work with us by involving us at the very start for our experience. This has previously worked well for us with certain distributors and we’ve had a successful working relationship. For the customer, this type of partnership working is the best result all round.”