Looking around the Smeg UK headquarters in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, it’s clear that the manufacturer is setting its stall out for the future. While the firm moved to the facility a couple of years ago, it is only now that the final puzzle piece of a showroom and test kitchen has slotted into place.
Commercial channel director Phil Coulstock explained: “We have been without a showroom for 18 months or so now, as for a long period of time we were involved with our London store project and the Harrods concession on the domestic side. We had deadlines with those, whereas we own our own building, so they took precedent.”
Adding that the Brexit vote had also impacted the budget for the project, Coulstock said: “It was a balance between doing it right for the brand but with a sensible budget in mind, which I think we’ve achieved.” The resulting facility showcases Smeg’s warewashers, ovens and its massive domestic portfolio, as well as housing a demonstration kitchen and an engineering testing area where it will be hosting both dealer sales and engineering training days.
In the high-tech building overall, the first floor serves as office space and features living plant walls as part of the manufacturer’s green agenda, while the second floor currently stands empty. “That’s an area for expansion for us, whether that be additional sales or administration. It gives us flexibility,” commented Coulstock.
The domestic area of the showroom had its big launch last August, but the commercial team held on until now as it was waiting for the new Topline series of warewashers to be ready. According to Coulstock: “Topline brings the benefits of tailored wash cycles, which both gives distributors a point of sale and end users a bit of education as to the right cycle to use for the right basket.”
The next step in the line’s development will be a hood type machine with a steam heat recovery system, which is designed to reduce the amount of steam coming from the dishwater at the end of the rinsing cycle, using it to heat the incoming water. This should also save energy and improve working conditions for operators. The HTY520DH model is scheduled to be commercially available in the next couple of months.
Subsequently, Smeg will be concentrating on equipping first its warewashers then its ovens with wifi connections. “We are running this in tandem with our domestic division,” said Coulstock. “We are helped by this partnership because the size of this business means there is a high level of investment in terms of hardware and software from a third party.
“Once that has been tailored to a range of Smeg products, it’s easy to transfer the app and user interface from domestic to commercial in terms of outlay cost. So we are able to get features on our machines that some of our competitors would have to spend millions on, whereas our domestic side can afford that level of research and development.”
He added: “The selling point for wifi for distributors is we can support that product from a service point of view. If a machine hasn’t been set up correctly we can instantly look at the machine’s data via wifi and see what is incorrect. This eradicates a chargeable service call to either the end user or distributor and tainting the opinion of a brand new product with an engineer call out bill.”
Furthermore, the company is making sure it is engaging with dealers by introducing a warranty registration page both in the manuals supplied with each machine, and online. “Although distributors might see it as paperwork, they will thank us in the long run because we are coaching them that commercial products don’t just work out of the box, they need setting up and tailoring for the users. Engineers will have to sign it to say they’ve set a machine up, but this is coinciding with us offering a lot more engineer and dealer training,” revealed Coulstock.
To that end, Smeg is looking to recruit a technical service manager who will be responsible for training and supporting both parts only and full warranty distributors, as well as the wider network of engineering firms Smeg partners with, such as Crystaltech. The new engineering training area at Smeg UK’s headquarters will be crucial to this endeavour.
The latest recruit will take the UK commercial division’s team to six. Coulstock recalled: “When I joined 4 years ago, it was just me and a part time sales administrator, so we have gone from one and a half to six in 4 years. But we also have access to the 100+ people on the domestic side – everybody chips in at some point to help us.”
Going forward, he detailed the focus is for the company to go back to its roots, with the two key product areas being warewashers and its Alfa convection ovens. “The level of investment from our Italian factory is significant. Over the last 12 months it has invested in both research and development and production line automation.”
He revealed that Smeg’s commercial cooking equipment will be moving away from standard bake-off ovens and looking more towards full gastronorm ovens, with a view to branching into the combi steamer market in the years ahead. “The bake-off industry in the UK is not as big as it is in continental Europe, so this will take us more into the restaurant kitchen market,” said Coulstock. “It’s going to be a long journey for us to become a combi oven manufacturer. We don’t see ourselves as being at loggerheads with the competitors in this market on day one; it will be a journey of progression from light duty use units up to 10, 20 or 40 grid combis.”
Its Alfa ovens have been supplied to the UK market by RH Hall for around 15 years already, and Coulstock doesn’t see that changing. “It is a key partner and if anything we will be looking for bigger and better opportunities to break into other accounts like we have with Pret A Manger.”
While Smeg UK works with around 120 distributors, around 60-80 of them are the most active. In terms of dealer strategy, Coulstock advised: “We will be trying to extract the most amount of business from the dealers that we’ve got. We will make sure we support them so that they understand every product that we sell and every feature and benefit each machine has and ways for them to upsell.
“We know some of our distributors like to deal with multiple brands because it helps them with credit limits and cashflow, but we are trying to work with them and it may be to both of our benefits if we can get their credit limits raised to obtain more business from them.”
Looking ahead, he predicted: “It will be about growing, building our customer network and turnover, and taking some market share off our competitors. We have aggressive target plans for ovens and dishwashers, and the factory is looking to move production levels up on both. I’m proud of the way this business has developed and the UK is now the top subsidiary outside Italy.
“Whereas some of our competitors have had to value engineer their products to compete in the current marketplace, we are forever making the product better and looking to improve it. We are going in the opposite direction.”