CaterQuotes has seen its business take off to such an extent in the past five years that most people in the equipment industry will have heard of its software even if their role dictates that they don’t directly use it themselves.

The business building and reporting solution allows dealers to automatically generate quotations involving products listed by manufacturers, saving both parties huge amounts of time and the associated pounds that go with it.

While UK MD Stuart Campbell can be proud of the impression the business has made on the market in just five short years, he hasn’t forgotten what it was like trying to pitch the programme to a market that, at the time, was reluctant to deviate from the manual processes it was comfortable following.

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“In the early years we were selling a concept, so we were calling around manufacturers and dealers and saying, ‘we have got this fantastic idea, we’d like you to buy into it’. And at that stage, the conversation was, ‘how many manufacturers have you got on board? ‘Well, I’ve got one.’ ‘Well, come back when you have got 101.’ We’d then go to the dealers and it’d be, ‘how many manufacturers have you got on board?’…so it was a long, hard slog, but we had some good friends in the industry which helped us.”

Campbell’s association with CaterQuotes began when he moved back to the UK after a five-year spell in the US running his own catering equipment dealership. It was there that he came in contact with AutoQuotes, the de facto quoting and processing programme for foodservice suppliers and sales agents operating in the States.

With the help of AutoQuotes VP Dave Green, who temporarily relocated to the UK, Campbell set about introducing the product to the UK market. Initially it only had the US version to show to prospective customers, but after a mini-launch at Hotelympia 2008 manufacturers and distributors really started to understand how the tool could work for them. It was 2009, however, that Campbell cites as the tipping point. “That is when people were coming to us rather than us knocking on their doors,” he says.

CaterQuotes now has 1,200 individual users on its books, while close to 500 brands are registered on the system. In total, its online catalogue contains half a million products. “Our aim is to be an industry standard,” says Campbell. “If you were to look at anybody which does a kitchen project or a kitchen design, I would say that 90% of people in the industry use it.”

One of Campbell’s priorities from the very start was to ensure the programme was easily accessible and transparent, and that continues to be reflected in its subscription model.

“Our subscriptions work on a monthly basis and there is no long-term commitment. We only sign somebody in for the first six months, after that it is a rolling monthly contract and we guarantee the content. So if anybody finds any errors and they can be proved, we will always make up the difference. In four years we have only had one issue though.”

Birmingham-based CaterQuotes is looking to enrich its offering further this year by including more light equipment in the programme. When you consider that AutoQuotes in the US lists around 1.5 million light equipment items, it is clear that a huge opportunity exists. Campbell is the first to admit that this goal is likely to hold some familiar challenges, however.

“It is a bit more difficult but a lot of dealers do light equipment, so we have to look down that route,” he says. “Again, though, we are back to the chicken and egg situation of ‘how many light equipment dealers have you got? How many manufacturers?’ It is going to take us a while to penetrate that market. We do have some light equipment inside the programme already, but what we have got to do now is improve on what is already in there.”

As a software company, there is a natural appreciation of the importance of continuing to evolve its current offering. Recent developments include the addition of a CaterQuotes CAD package, which creates quotations directly from drawings, while efforts have been made to ensure dealers can link quotations from the programme to their own accounting systems.

One customer, Denby Catering Equipment, recently reported that it was able to post 19 completed orders in under five minutes, simply because it no longer had to key out quotations that later developed into orders.

“Those 19 sales orders would normally have taken two and a half days with answering the phone and doing all the work and retyping. We are starting to roll this out now and we are getting some good feedback,” says Campbell.

Given such a large proportion of the industry uses the programme, it is perhaps no surprise that CaterQuotes is giving added attention to making sure that users get the most out of the experience. With any piece of software, users often stick to the features they are most comfortable with, so driving awareness of its full functionality ranks high on CaterQuotes’ 2012 agenda.

This year it plans to launch regular 30-minute web training sessions that will cater to both basic and advanced users, and teach them how to exploit new features that have been added to the system. “What we want to try and do is get CaterQuotes to be a business enterprise tool — not just a standalone quotation system,” confides Campbell.

Given how warmly the UK equipment industry has come to embrace the programme, it might not turn out to be as big of an ask as it sounds.

Value of quotations generated through CaterQuotes in past four months

               2011       2012
Jan       £79m       £89m
Feb       £76m       £105m
Mar       £96m       £116m
Apr        £121m    £86m

NB: If there are a number of big tenders in a month, they could be replicated several times.

Tags : catering equipmentcommercial equipmentdealerskitchensManufacturersquotationssoftware
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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