Executive personnel changes are part and parcel of life in the catering equipment industry, but when Simon Merrick took over as director of Hobart Cooking Solutions earlier this year he had some particularly big boots to fill.
His transfer from Manitowoc Foodservice to Hobart came about as a result of the retirement of Ian Garner, a Hobart stalwart who had been with the equipment manufacturer’s UK division for the best part of 40 years. The magnitude of filling such a key position in Hobart’s operation certainly isn’t lost on Merrick.
“I felt a little bit like David Moyes…but hopefully I won’t end up like him!” he jokes, before praising the achievements of his predecessor. “Ian had done a fantastic job and the business was in very good health. He had already kicked off trying to work closer with channel partners and dealers, while retaining the strength that Hobart has in the public sector and maintaining some good national account business. The focus now is on continuing that work.”
With brands such as Bonnet, MBM, Elro and Wolf featuring prominently within the Hobart cooking equipment family, the company can offer dealers a solution to suit the budgets and requirements of all types of customers.
A big feature of its remit this year is to accelerate its engagement with distributors and Merrick knows success on that front hinges on ensuring his dealer sales team have the right tools, pricing and multi-brand solutions at their disposal.
One of Garner’s last tasks before he left was to begin putting together an exclusive network of partners licensed to sell Wolf, the Hobart brand that is only available through the distributor channel in the UK.
After some movement in terms of the companies selected to form that network — “we set them some fairly strong targets and some of them felt that they wouldn’t be able to achieve those,” says Merrick — Hobart has now reached the 15-dealer mark it targeted.
“I think the commitment to the Wolf product with regards to just going through distributors shows the way that the business is headed,” he adds.
Even so, there is still a lot of work to do. Hobart’s direct-selling heritage has sometimes been a barrier to channel relations and competitors naturally continue to use it as a way of discrediting any dealer-friendly message. Having spent 11 years at Manitowoc, most latterly as sales director for northern Europe, there was probably a time when Merrick could have been counted in that camp, but having swapped horses he insists the strategy is crystal clear.
“We fully realise the value of the distributors and really want to engage with the ones that are prepared to work with us and we are starting to see that happening quite quickly, which is encouraging,” he says.
“We have had lots of dealers down to see us, we have been working closer on some major projects — whether it be consultant-driven projects or projects that dealers have designed themselves — and certainly with the Bonnet brand we are working more closely with partners and pushing that hard.”
He is adamant that the willingness of distributors to deal with Hobart Cooking Solutions is a sign of the trust that the business has built up, citing examples of recent major schemes that have involved partnering with some of the most prominent kitchen design houses in the industry.
He comments: “We don’t have enough people on the road to direct sell anymore. There used to be 60 people knocking on doors, okay that included warewash too, but we don’t have that amount of people now.
“So even if I wanted to go direct to the independent market or the hotel market — which I don’t — I don’t have the resource to do it. And I think it is a very old-fashioned way of selling.
“I don’t want to stop my guys speaking to end-users because I think it is very important that end-users are aware of the quality of our products, but every single opportunity we have that can go through the dealer market we will put through the dealer market. And we are doing that on a regular basis.”
First structural change imminent
As director of Hobart Cooking Solutions, Simon Merrick oversees a sales team of 24 people, 17 of which are out on the road in commercial roles.
While his arrival hasn’t sparked the significant structural overhaul that some new management tenures bring, he is planning a slight reorganisation this summer to ensure the group is sufficiently resourced to manage national account business.
“Going to a more dealer-led policy means that we can afford to have slightly fewer people out on the road,” he explains. “So during the middle of this year I will be moving two people from regional roles into national account roles.”
Merrick stresses, however, that just because it is strengthening its national accounts team doesn’t signify that it is doing more business direct.
“It will be direct specification — so they will be trying to get our product specified directly,” he comments. “The truth of it is that the majority of national account business goes through a dealer anyway and we recognise the added value that dealers can offer.”