The last time Catering Insight spoke to the Hoshizaki UK management team, plans were afoot to complete the internal integration of the Hoshizaki and Gram brands. A £50,000 makeover to the firm’s Swanley offices brought both teams together on one floor at the beginning of 2018, removing the physical and structural silos between the ice machine and refrigerator sister firms.
Since that time, the names at the top have also had a bit of a shake-up, with former UK director Steve Loughton retiring, Simon Frost moving up from director of UK sales and chain accounts into the chief role and Rosalind Scourfield being promoted to national sales manager.
Scourfield praised Loughton’s work, saying: “Steve laid the foundations and set the level for us to aspire to.”
Frost also acknowledged he learnt a lot from his predecessor, and has built upon the initiatives already in place by instituting a weekly sales team catch up in between the main monthly meetings to ensure actions don’t fall off anyone’s agenda. “We’ve managed to move everything along at a quicker pace, rather than reviewing everything every 4-5 weeks,” he said.
Scourfield agreed, saying: “There’s more continual communication than previously.” However, her own plate has been full, as she is currently covering the South West region as well as her national remit. An area sales manager is due to start in April though, which will free her up to visit more dealers.
According to Frost: “Dealer interaction with our senior management level will increase and that will help our relationships because dealers feel like we are caring for them.”
The manufacturer has been highly focusing on distributor relationships, launching a legally verified dealer policy last year with platinum and gold discount levels. Frost detailed: “It’s a moving document, but it certainly went some way to helping build relationships and they have progressively got better.”
While Scourfield underlined: “Thanks to the brand amalgamation our sales team now do a dual role – they speak about ice machines and cabinets in the same meeting, so dealers have just one knowledgeable person visiting and talking about both products.” Furthermore she revealed that there will be regular dealer promotions run throughout the coming year.
As Hoshizaki UK is a supplier to both the major national catering equipment buying consortia, Cedabond and ENSE, Frost feels that the merger has benefitted the dealer members of these groups. “The potential for them to earn more money through rebates has dramatically increased, as now we are one company supplying the equipment, rather than two separate lines of product.”
He can see advantages to being part of both groups, saying: “ENSE drives dealer behaviour, encouraging them to attend its conferences and buy from ENSE suppliers, whereas Cedabond actually transacts the money so it has more visibility of money movement and you are less likely to get slow payment.”
One element dealers have been clamouring for though is a more uniform refrigeration range which has a more suited look. “We have been pushing to have a wider range of refrigerator products which look the same and have the same overall dimensions, as one of our biggest challenges has been specification,” said Frost.
“Many Gram products currently have different profiles, which dealers, specifiers and consultants don’t want. So our Snowflake Generation II does suite, and the Gram Standard Plus is probably the footprint we will see more of over time. Our new double door EcoPlus plus will also help as it bears a profile resemblance to the single door model.”
Other new products in the pipeline include a beer dispenser, which generated interest when the manufacturer previewed it at the recent Professional Kitchen Show. Although it’s currently available in Japan, it still has to garner CE approval before it’s sold in the European market.
But with the brand’s ice machines being manufactured for Europe at its Telford base, and the Gram cabinets imported from Denmark, the company is concerned about the impact of Brexit. According to Frost: “We have massively increased our stocks by around 30% ahead of 29 March. That means we are holding a full 2 months’ worth of stock because we have no idea what’s going to happen and we can’t run the risk.” Stockpiling is occurring primarily for Gram products and components, but some Hoshizaki ice machine components are imported too, and so the Telford factory is also raising the amount of ice machine componentry it is holding, while European counterparts are likewise stockpiling the exported icemakers.
The threat of Brexit disruption is also having an impact on factory staffing, with several Polish workers leaving last summer. Hoshizaki has managed to replace them with technicians laid off from the nearby Land Rover factory, but that was not the only issue affecting the firm over the warmer months. The unprecedented heatwave left the business “slightly flat-footed”, according to Frost. “We ran out of ice machines at times because we couldn’t keep up with demand.”
Revealing that the company received many calls saying sites’ existing ice machines (from other manufacturers) could not cope with the heat, Frost said that although sales grew over the summer: “We probably lost £150,000 worth of orders. We had to cancel them because our factories here and in Europe had problems with staffing.
“Everyone has learned lessons from it, but who knew we would have the hottest summer on record? We didn’t really get back to normal until October/November.”
However, this revenue bump and stronger performance later in the year ensured that Hoshizaki UK improved its turnover from 2017 totals, after a flat start to 2018. The firm finished the year having sold £7.3m-worth of ice machines and £6.4m of refrigerators. This represents a swap in previous trends, which have tended towards 60% Gram refrigerator sales. Frost analysed: “This is partly because we’ve had some success with large key account customers, as well as the trend of people having ice in gin and vodka, and the continual growth of iced coffees.”
Looking ahead, there are “big plans” to improve the business’ service proposition. Currently the provision is a little fragmented, with Gram service based in Blackburn, Hoshizaki service managed from the Swanley office, along with Gram spares, and then Hoshizaki spares dispatched from the Telford factory.
Frost said: “The idea is to rationalise our whole approach to make it more efficient. We are looking at improving our spare parts distribution, as well as increasing the numbers of engineers we have.” Currently the company has five of its own engineers, as well as using a number of subcontractors, and this approach may switch to using fewer subcontractors and more of its own engineers. “It’s going to be a long project,” detailed Frost. “We have already presented to head office what we want to do, and it could involve getting spares into our Swanley base. The Telford factory pulls the curtain down at 2pm for spares distribution so this move could allow us to send spares out much later.”
Scourfield added: “We can give a better turnaround on time and even eventually offer maintenance contracts.”
Frost expanded on that, concluding: “I see servicing as a potential revenue stream; I think we need to look at it more holistically.”
One of the main drivers for Hoshizaki UK is converting its portfolio to greener hydrocarbon (HC) gas refrigerant, as part of the F-gas requirements. “Any product that is not currently available in HC is on the list for conversion by the end of this year,” revealed UK director, Simon Frost.
“There was a question as to whether ice machines had been put into the wrong class in terms of their requirement to meet the F-gas regulations. If that is the case, the changeover could extend until late 2020. That wouldn’t hinder us but it could take the pressure off some large machines where you cannot get the size of gas charge within it, such as flakers.”
He further detailed that Hoshizaki is consciously directing customers to buy green, as last year the price of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-refrigerated units increased by 3%, whereas the rise for the more environmentally-friendly HC units was 1.5%. This year Frost estimated HFC models will cost an average of 5% more, while HC will rise by 3%.
He concluded: “We have been fairly aggressive in terms of the promotion of sustainable products for many years, so this really just cements what we’re doing.”