Just over 3 years ago, Bob Adams and Gary Licht travelled from the USA to the UK, joining up with Robin McKnight, in a mission to create a catering equipment buying consortium that would benefit both suppliers and dealers.
“There was something missing in the marketplace that we were able to fulfil,” said Adams, ENSE’s MD. “We’ve provided an avenue that previously didn’t exist in our format for both the distributor and the supplier to further their business and their profits.
“People in the group have embraced this business model and that’s what has fuelled our growth and influence.”
Adams believes that ENSE being an independent entity is a key differentiator for the group. “We work for both distributors and suppliers, and that has been appreciated from both sides, as they all gain, without fear the other party isn’t benefiting,” he explained.
Drawing on the founders’ experience in the US foodservice market informed the development of ENSE. Adams himself had been in the catering equipment supplier business for 27 years before he helped to create the buying group.
The consortium model in North America is mature, having been around for over 30 years, and with around 15 buying groups all fighting for a slice of the industry there, it is a very competitive landscape.
“We were able to take the best practices of all of the American groups and amalgamate them into one,” detailed Adams. “It’s always easier to create your ideal when you start from zero, so we did not need to implement changes to an existing structure. We know what a distribution model looks like and how to best service the channel.”
Adams and the rest of the ENSE management are focused on two key, overlapping objectives: to increase distributor profitability while growing suppliers’ market share. “You can’t do one side and not the other,” Adams commented. “It has to be a collaborative effort. It’s just a common sense business approach that we use.”
Business is progressing well for the group and is about the level Adams expected it to be. At the consortium’s recent conference he reported a hefty annual turnover increase of over 65%. “We have had several record months in a row this year, with 14 suppliers doing more business in August than the whole of 2014,” he detailed.
“Over 70% of our suppliers’ figures are up by over 50%, and that is incredible because the impact it has on suppliers and distributors is so positive. Everybody wins. We are providing a forum for good businesspeople to do business together.” [[page-break]]
New suppliers and dealers are joining all the time and the member numbers for both parties have increased this year. “Our organisation has over 110 companies involved now,” said Adams. “But we are not out to sign just anyone – we want to grow, but grow smartly and strategically.”
However, the consortium is looking at attracting more light equipment suppliers to the fold. When the group began, the vast majority of distributors were heavy equipment-focused, but in recent times light equipment dealers have signed up too. Therefore ENSE wants to balance the equation to cater to both types of distributors.
Another tenet of ENSE’s existence is to assist with education and training. “This is paramount for both the distributor and the supplier, as, if the dealer’s salesperson knows more than their competition does, it obviously helps them to sell,” said Adams.
“However, the training sessions we organise also assist suppliers, because throughout the years when they have run their own sessions, they may only have one or two distributors represented. But we can bring 30 salespeople to one location from many different distributors to undertake training.”
Therefore ENSE is looking to grown the amount of training days it hosts, although it already runs them on average once a quarter.
The group also wants to further relationship building by beginning to hold supplier strategy sessions with some of its members. Adams explained: “They will detail their marketing plans and what they require from us, and we will help them to solve any problems and advance their objectives.”
He feels that the two conferences ENSE organises each year also help to build and improve relationships between suppliers and distributors. The 10 minute ‘speed dating’ style sessions “allow them to sit down face-to-face and problem solve in a way that you can’t over e-mail, where misunderstandings can arise”, Adams said.
“It’s an opportunity that they don’t usually have for them to get away and talk. The meetings get them focused on how to grow their businesses collaboratively.”
More than 160 people attended the buying group’s most recent Autumn conference, and the advances show no signs of stopping. ENSE may have been the new kid on the block, but it is here to stay.