There’s definitely no shortage of passion at Cannock-based spares specialist, First Choice Group. “Sometimes we recruit people based on values rather than their experience,” revealed MD, John Whitehouse. “Because if you get the right energised people in the building it just transforms it. We need people to live, breathe and sleep First Choice and that’s what drives the business for us.”
But passion is just one of five mission values the company has, with the rest of the focuses comprising safety, integrity, innovation and courage. Every month, staff members are rewarded for being outstanding in one of the core values.
Another way the firm demonstrates this internally is through a new ‘Your First Choice’ app, which allows staff to anonymously submit business ideas for all team members to vote on, which brings insight from all divisions to the fore.
Demonstrating the integrity strand is First Choice’s key commitment to only supplying original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts. According to Whitehouse: “We are an OEM supporter because genuine parts save lives and stop appliances burning down. You can’t be sure about a part unless you buy an OEM. A non-genuine part could affect the efficiency, the compliance or the warranty of the equipment.”
Plus the firm strives to maintain its title as holding the UK’s largest stock of OEM spares. Commercial manager Steve McClaren detailed: “In the last 2.5 years we have gone from having £3.5m worth of inventory to £9m. It’s a major investment because we know if we have the stock, we’ll sell it. Our manufacturer partners want to be lean in inventory so they would only usually hold 2 weeks’ worth of stock, whereas we hold 4 months’ worth.”
While Whitehouse commented: “It’s increased dramatically since we got taken over by PT Holdings in 2017, because we have investors that believe in us.”
First Choice divides parts into nine classifications, from class eight to class zero, with eight reserved for parts selling more than 120 times a year and zero representing those rarely sold. Marketing and development manager Julian Fisher explained: “Our returns level is very low because we are experts at identifying the part. We are not just selling for the sake of it, we are also advising people. We have technical expertise and we will go that extra mile, overserving customers because we want the machines to last longer.”
This dedicated customer support is why more and more big name manufacturers such as Welbilt and Middleby UK are turning to First Choice for master distribution agreements (MDA) on parts. Whitehouse said: “Manufacturers aren’t specialising in spare parts and more and more are working towards MDAs with people like ourselves to manage the parts for them, because we do it better.”
McClaren added: “We make sure that as a company we are seamless to deal with. Our job is to ensure that our customers have everything required to use, maintain, clean and repair a piece of equipment. We are really the extension of the manufacturer in supplying spare parts, we plug any gaps in their offering.
“Going forward we can utilise the data collected using connected kitchen technology to work with manufacturers on predicted maintenance programmes, developing statistical analysis so we know when the service company has to go in and change a part before it fails.”
Innovative solutions is another key element of First Choice’s philosophy. For instance, the mobile device app the firm first launched in 2017 is constantly being updated. In fact, the company has employed two app developers for this purpose – one for Android devices and the other for Apple’s iOS operating system.
Fisher said: “We are giving customers all the tools to identify parts quicker and easier through our app.” This includes 360 degree spin images, as well as the ability to search by part, create wishlists, operate via voice recognition and live chat.
He continued: “A technician can be in front of a machine, scan a part’s serial number and then up pops information on that machine and its manuals. They can also check stock, identify the part and buy it. Our app has enormous application programming interface with a technician’s own systems so it reduces the admin.”
While Whitehouse signposted: “We’ve got a new webshop coming out, it’s got improved search facilities, better site navigation, new tools to manage part identification, new ways to order and easier account options as well.”
Hardware investments also add to the innovation mix, with 20 existing automated lean lift part pickers currently in the company’s warehouse, and four more on the way next year.
Whitehouse concluded: “It’s all part of our core values to do better, be better and to have a passion to drive the business and the industry forwards.”