Almost 100 catering equipment companies came together in Windsor this week for buying consortium ENSE’s autumn conference.
Dealers participated in 10-minute sessions with every supplier throughout Wednesday and Thursday as part of the group’s objective to drive sales activity among members.
Recently-joined distributors attending the event included 3663 Catering Equipment, BBCS, BI Catering, Catering Centre UK, Cater Wight, Essential Supplies, Inspire Commercial Kitchens, Fatboys and Upnorth.
Meanwhile, Gram, Sous Vide Tools, Roller Grill, Crem International and Marco Beverage Systems were some of the newer suppliers making their debut at the event.
Using a combination of dealer-led marketing initiatives and volume rebate incentives, ENSE seeks to encourage the purchasing of equipment from member suppliers in order to drive their market share.
The mood among those attending the event was positive, with manufacturers welcoming the opportunity to spend time with each of the 45 or so distributors present.
Julian Lambert, sales director at Maidaid Halcyon, said: “For me the whole thing has just been fantastic. To see that many dealers in two days would take me three months. The ENSE dealers are a very friendly bunch — they tend to be the midrange dealers, but there are also some very big players in there. The other thing is that they all do truly support the suppliers. I have actually got some dealers that I couldn’t get into before that will deal with us now purely because we are in ENSE, and we want to support those.”
Neil Richards, managing director of Metcalfe, was at the first ENSE conference two years ago when just a handful of companies were involved. He said the comparison to then was monumental.
“Everyone is really buying into this — the dealers have been very proactive and are buying from the suppliers, and the suppliers are being very proactive in trying to do more business with the dealers.
“I have had dealers sitting down saying, ‘sorry I don’t do more with you, how can we do more together?’ Well, that’s great. The two days have been busy, but there has been a real buzz to the event and everyone has enjoyed it. I know you only get 10 minutes with each dealer but it is a foot in the door.”
Distributors at the event were also feeling confident about their involvement, particularly as they increase their understanding of how to make the most out of being part of the group.
Ron Neville, managing director of CHR, said: “I have gained more out of this event than I did out of the other two I attended, perhaps because I can see the thing working and I’ve now got an understanding and appreciation of how it is unfolding. You are never 100% sure of anything when you first buy into it — and we brought into this very early — but it has delivered far beyond my expectations.”
Neville said that CHR is now dealing with 22 of the 40-plus suppliers within ENSE, compared to just 11 the year before.
“I will guarantee you that we will double it again next year because our heads are now into it,” he remarked. “I think the big lesson that we have learned here this week is that we have got to really get down to where our buying power is. We have spent over £3m this year on catering equipment and only £250,000 through ENSE, so the potential is massive.”
Distributors said that while it now makes sense to buy from ENSE brands in product categories where they don’t have preferred suppliers, it will be interesting to see if companies who major with particular manufacturers not in the group now start to shift allegiance.
Jim Stevens, managing director of Tailormade Catering Equipment Solutions, said his involvement with the group had opened his eyes up to new product lines and confirmed he intended to put much more business through ENSE suppliers moving forward.
“One of the main reasons I wanted to be in the group was for the support that we are going to get and the strength that you have got as a team. I see the group — as I think we all do — as a collective. The objective is for the suppliers to increase their sales and for us to increase our sales and give good service. After-sales is critical to what we do and once you start building these relationships you can achieve so much more.”
Stevens suggested the only thing he’d perhaps change is the obligation to meet with suppliers where there is absolutely no common ground.
“Maybe we have to tweak it a little bit because there are certain things I will never sell, ever, and there are certain things I need a bit more time with because I really like them. But from the suppliers’ point of view it would take them weeks to go and visit 50 dealers, so it is a good thing.”
ENSE’s managing director, Bob Adams, said he was happy with the progress that the organisation has made, but feels there is still room to accommodate a maximum of 60-65 dealers and the same amount of suppliers in the group.
He commented: “I think it is important that we don’t overpopulate any category of supplier because then we can’t drive their market share in the way we want to. We want our suppliers to have great market share growth and we want them to grow faster in our group than they are in the industry —we have suppliers this year that have more than doubled their business with ENSE partners. On average everybody is up by at least 50% to 60%.
“Our focus is on making the relationships between the dealers and the suppliers stronger than what they already are. We have already got a great base of quality dealers and quality suppliers, so if we are to grow further then it has to be more of the same.”
The theme of this week’s conference was ‘Accelerate’, with Adams revealing that it sums up how members should feel about the market.
“There are times in every business where you need to run at a steady pace and times when you have to step on the gas a little — this seems to be one of those times. The industry is growing, it is financially stronger than it has been for years and in many cases people are hitting record profits. It is not time to run at a steady pace anymore, it is time to hit the accelerator.”