Catering Insight has tested the temperature of UK catering equipment dealers in the wake of widespread disruptions to the supply chain.
With appliance lead times currently so long and logistics delays so common, it is proving to be difficult for distributors to plan and install commercial kitchens. A combination of Covid and Brexit fallout has squeezed equipment supply capabilities.
One distributor feeling frustrated at the moment is Blackpool-based Caterware, with MD Mark Drazen detailing: “Specifically the worst is bespoke fabrication and counters where equipment is built to order and lead times have gone from a customary 4/6 weeks to 10/12 weeks.
“On any scheme, this was always what we ‘set the lead time clock by’ and that the standard equipment was always available well before that (unless it was really specialist). However, as stocks of finished equipment run down in the UK, the delays are now stretching to everything else too.
“For instance, we would take it for granted that Rational ovens would be available within a week and we have just been advised that they are now on a 5/6 week lead time, and that is typical of many other standard items from most of our suppliers.”
However, he analysed: “However, all our competitors are in the same boat so it’s not necessarily leading to any loss of business. It’s just the customers are having to wait for replacement equipment or delay their expected opening date if it is a new project.
“It’s probably affecting them more than it is us, because they have got used to the practice of negotiating an 8-week rent-free period, knowing that they could refit within that period and thus would be open and taking money when that finished, but now they can’t.”
Elsewhere, south Wales-headquartered Shine Catering Systems is reporting a similar situation, with MD Julian Shine saying: “We are having to factor in additional weeks not just for the extended delivery projections but for the early marshalling of contracts, as we are being routinely let down on those extended delivery dates. As we are on monthly applications with our clients calling off earlier than we should is extending the gap between creditor days and debtor day by up to 1 month.”
However, as there is a long gestation period from contract award to the fit out in the distributor’s market sector, it is not finding it too much of a problem to specify equipment for projects at the moment. Though Shine added: “On the few occasions that we have been caught out, the stakeholders have been pragmatic and sensibly specified alternatives have been accepted by contractors, consultants and clients.”
While Cathy Wilcox, director of Ruislip-based WilcoxBurchmore, believes: “There is no doubt that one lot of challenging times is being replaced by another. Manufacturers deliveries are disruptive and prices are changing constantly.”
She underlined: “The main constituent to maintain business that is profitable is communication. We are open with clients from day one that we are in a difficult period and that prices can change right up until they place the order. Similarly we can’t guarantee delivery until they go ahead with the project.
“We are working with current suppliers – and even trying new ones; great opportunity for both suppliers and kitchen houses to try ‘someone different’ – and doing our best to ensure we can co-ordinate deliveries and engineers with the onsite demands.
“We do our best in ensuring lines of communication are actively open. Checking with suppliers that they’re still ok for the order date (not waiting until the week before for example) – they probably get fed up of me calling but I’m not leaving anything to chance – or change.”
Elsewhere, London dealer Chiller Box is finding that supply chain issues are even prohibitive to securing sales in a small number of cases. MD Marios Poumpouris revealed: “As it’s a very dynamic situation at the moment, with different suppliers having varying degrees of stock issues, we are having to design based on client needs and then doing a check at time of order based on stock availability at the required delivery dates.”
The company is also spreading its supply net wider, with Poumpouris detailing: “If at time of order we are unable to fulfil clients’ needs we look at alternative suppliers with similar products, who have availability in the timeframe. We’ve had to broaden our supplier base beyond our normal supply chain.
“This presents problems in terms of products often costing more than what a client has been quoted, more administrative time on our part, new credit accounts having to be opened, and often – if suppliers are completely new to us – goods having to be paid on a pro forma basis, which has a bearing on our cash flow.”
However, he was generally positive, concluding: “We’re finding the post-Covid era as generally one of being very busy with a whole lot of new challenges to navigate. As always though, we are enjoying the thrill of the high seas we find ourselves in!”
Up at Aberdeen-headquartered Grampian Catering Equipment, MD Graham Batty reported that the supply delays are having a massive effect on single item sales. “We have targets to hit for some suppliers but they cannot supply.
“It’s not only supply issues it’s also all the price increases. In 40 years I have never seen manufacturers and suppliers have three price increases in a year. It’s strange that we cannot get equipment from UK manufacturers but we can get from Czech Republic without any problems, plus we can get things very quickly.”
In terms of new installs, the dealer fortunately has just completed a number of projects and doesn’t have more to start for 5-6 weeks. Batty added: “We have explained the current situation to all our customers and they understand what is going on in the market place today.”
But for existing kitchens, he revealed: “We have been trying to keep customers’ equipment going until we can get replacements for them.”
On equipment supply issues, Caterware’s Drazen concluded: “As it is a constantly moving target at the moment, it is impossible to predict what will and won’t be available as and when the project is due to be installed. All we can do is specify what we would have done anyway and hope that it is available for when we need it.”
He advised: “The key is thinking and planning in advance and then getting the customers to commit with as much advance notice possible.
“Otherwise, we are just reliant on our connections, knowledge and experience to dodge each bullet as it comes and fortunately able to source a variety of products from a multitude of suppliers.”