IN DEPTH: How suppliers moved to digital education for distributors

Rational, behind the scenes Live online crop
Rational took its popular Live sessions online.

Catering equipment distributor training sessions are vital to keep both sales and servicing executives up to date on the latest product launches and updates, but the pandemic put a spanner in the works of all aspects of the industry this year.

However, training has come up trumps as a vital activity that even furloughed employees could participate in, though of course the vast majority of sessions had to go virtual.

As soon as the crisis began, major cooking equipment brand Rational began developing online resources to help educate its accredited Deal dealers, building on its existing material but expanding it into a more comprehensive programme.

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Rational UK technical sales director Graham Kille recalled: “In a just a few weeks we developed a full portfolio of online training resources. We created entertaining videos to highlight our products’ features and advances. We also developed interactive virtual events, for example by taking our popular Rational Live sessions online, with Rational’s expert chefs preparing a range of dishes with the iCombi and the iVario. These ‘live’ events allow Deal dealers and their customers to interact with our chefs as they demonstrate the cooking systems.”

He reported: “The positive feedback from Deal dealers for our portfolio of online training resources encouraged us to develop a wider range of online events for both dealers and end users, including sector-specific Live online sessions to help meet customer needs on an individual basis.”

Rational now has a full programme of digital training scheduled for 2021 to support its dealers, with Kille commenting: “The world has changed and so must our industry. Digital training is a key aspect of Rational’s plans for 2021.”

Hobart UK too jumped straight into digital training, with sales director, Tim Bender, commenting: “If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s the importance of innovative digital platforms like Zoom and Teams to both our personal and working lives. That’s why Hobart is leveraging them to reach and train busy dealers in a completely new way, through a series of new, 45-minute webinars.

“The new series takes our informal face-to-face training sessions and repackages them into an enhanced, bite-sized product, perfect for reaching and inspiring our busy sales partners.

“Each online session is underpinned by a framework that first examines a specific industry challenge or issue, introducing a number of innovations that can meet these head-on, before culminating in an interactive Q&A.”

Bender believes that this method of education is here to stay: “While we very much pride ourselves on the personal approach, and love nothing better than to have a delegation visit our innovation centre to get hands on with the equipment, we understand that this situation is going nowhere fast and so have to be adaptable and open to change.

“The communications technology is so good now, that you can quickly, efficiently and virtually beam yourself into dealer sales briefings, saving them having to travel to you or vice versa.”

At warewasher supplier Maidaid, it had to adapt its popular sales and engineering training days, which prior to the pandemic were held monthly at its head office in Brackley. Subsequently the firm has hosted online sales training sessions on specific machine ranges to further enhance its distributors’ knowledge on its full product portfolio.

According to sales director Rob Wager: “Our in-house technical team also used this opportunity to put together further training literature and when requested tailor training packs and carry out technical assistance digitally.

“Training requirements have changed over the last 8 months, with many digital requests coming through. Maidaid tried to accommodate everyone by producing several tailored shorter courses to enable us to keep up with demand. These were received well throughout the industry.”

Looking ahead, he evaluated: “There is definitely a place for digital training moving forward. Maidaid will always take the flexible approach, tailoring courses to our distributors’ needs whether that’s digitally, face-to-face at our head office in Brackley or visiting our distributors.

“As convenient as digital training may be, hands on experience is something that simply cannot be replaced. When normality returns we look forward to opening up our head office to engineers and distributors a like to continue our face-to-face training.”

Staying in the warewashing sector, Meiko UK has worked closely with distributors through trade association CEDA and buying consortium ENSE to deliver online training programmes covering the range of Meiko equipment. Distributor engineers and sales staff are able to register online, for example, for training in Meiko’s latest UPster range of undercounter machines to hood type pass through models.

Marketing manager Mark Roberts reported that training demand hasn’t increased “probably due to the high numbers of distributor employees on the furlough scheme”, but he is certain that demand will increase in the future.

He can very much see digital training as integral to that future too “primarily due to the costs and time saved by all parties, but also due to the fact that digital training can be accessed on site, at home or at work”.

Roberts concluded: “People learn at different speeds and while there is nothing better than one to one training onsite, this is now difficult to bring about while maintaining social distancing. Digital training makes a huge volume of information available at the touch of a button. It allows people to learn at their own speed and to look up information when the need arises. It is also especially useful for resolving technical queries either in group or individual sessions.”

First Choice’s Cannock facility is one of Welbilt UK’s masterclass training sites.

Elsewhere, Welbilt further developed its online support service. For example, dealers can now opt for free, virtual training support sessions with a member of the Welbilt UK team, either via the phone, email or digitally via video call.

UK and Ireland sales director Steve Hemsil disclosed: “Whilst the volume of training hasn’t risen, we have noticed a dramatic change in the types of training queries received over the past few months, with many dealers now asking for refresher training on some of the key product features that can help an operator operate in a Covid-secure way.

“Unsurprising then that Convotherm’s automatic ConvoClean system has taken centre stage in recent Welbilt UK training sessions; after all, this innovative system ensures the safest, and very best hygienic standards are met with the operators combi oven – factors which are a top priority for operators at this time.”

Hemsil reassured: “There is no question that life after the pandemic will be different, hence why Welbilt will be offering further remote training and digital support services indefinitely. That being said, we will also continue to invest in delivering industry leading on-site training for customers that prefer face-to-face training. Plus, we will continue to add to our list of UK masterclass sites where dealers and customers can come to see Welbilt equipment in action.”

While over at Jestic Foodservice Solutions, culinary director Michael Eyre said: “The Covid-19 pandemic obviously had a massive impact on what training we could provide, however, by investing in new technology we have ensured that dealer training and education programs could continue. This includes a multi-point live camera system which has enabled our culinary team to offer live training and demonstrations to dealers via Zoom in all areas of the development kitchen.”

The supplier also created an interactive presentation highlighting the features and benefits of the brands in its portfolio which was used during a virtual conference with 60 ENSE members, so they could keep up to date with Jestic’s latest products and developments.

Jestic’s culinary team is offering live demonstrations via Zoom from the firm’s development kitchen.

However, Eyre emphasised: “In order to comply with social distancing there has been a shift towards delivering dealer training remotely rather than in person and we have adapted our offering to utilise video services like Zoom where possible. We continue to offer training events in our Covid-secure development kitchens with attendee numbers limited to keep everyone safe. Both of these initiatives have helped to ensure a consistent level of demand across the board and in some ways may mean we see a more diverse range of dealers than before.”

At Filta Group, it has been able to conduct its dealer one-to-ones online using Zoom or Google Hangouts. Commercial director Ed Palin explained: “This enables us to let dealers know of product updates and features, and we are able to show them the equipment on screen from our studio in the Rugby office. We have also listed all of our equipment on AutoQuotes and are working with the team there to ensure the designers have all the information they need.”

He reported that the firm has seen a huge uptick in distributor training demand following the recent launch of the GM Cyclone. “Most dealers have a basic understanding of drain dosing, grease traps and first generation grease recovery units so it’s great to tell them about our new product, which builds on the features of previous products but with innovation at its core,” he underlined.

Palin summed up: “Digital training is so useful and allows you to communicate without travel, making it much more efficient for all concerned. However, with equipment there is nothing quite like seeing the product and touching and operating the unit to see the quality and operational elements of it.”

For the First Choice Group, its state-of-the-art training facility in Cannock swiftly became Covid compliant. Aiming to maintain face-to-face educational provision, the company enhanced its health and safety measures, including fitting multiple hand sanitiser stations and issuing additional PPE, such as gloves and masks, to engineers.

It employed social distancing for all its courses, with one-way systems to prevent unnecessary mixing, and ran singular lessons for all practical course content. Plus it performed rigorous deep cleaning routines for all training centre areas, equipment and tools before and after each session.

Martin Dagnall, head of First Choice training, commented: “We’re always keen to regularly engage with our customers, manufacturer partners and key industry associations about what they want from a catering-specific training centre, especially in these changing and unprecedented times.”

First Choice also assisted its master distributor manufacturer partners in a shift to online training. Head of marketing, Julian Fisher, revealed: “Social media live streams and webinars are becoming even more prevalent.

“Our centre has never been more full of filming, with cameras and widescreen multi-screens for live or highlights training packages. We are liaising with our partners for added customer value as part of our ‘How to clean, maintain and prevent’ series we host on our FCTV YouTube channel.”

Krupps has dedicated a room for video training at its Italian factory.

Meanwhile, at Italian warewasher manufacturer, Krupps, export MD Riccardo Scuotto believes the firm was one of the first to adopt webinars for its dealers’ sales and technical training, back in March. “The response and participation was very successful. Now we have adopted this procedure as a regular format all training. We have also dedicated a room for video training in order to give a live 360° visual access to our products, together with one of our engineers, directly from the factory,” he said.

Scuotto detailed that while many of Krupps’ distributors were busy managing operators’ demands between the two main lockdown periods, he expected increasing demand for training during the second shutdown. He appraised: “Digital training is a more efficient working process that reduces travelling time, cost and additional logistics that are part of the traditional training. Obviously, this can be done only if you have the appropriate technology and tools to maintain high educational standards. We at Krupps use Digimeet, a new live-streaming tool.”

Finally, at Electrolux Professional, it aimed to offer the best of both worlds with online and in-person training. Training and demonstration manager Stuart Flint recalled: “At the beginning of the first lockdown earlier in the year, Electrolux Professional set up a series of remote free training sessions, conducted via video conferencing software, for our network of foodservice partners and distributors. These covered a range of different topics, from warewashing, to modular cooking, through to sessions on the SkyLine combi oven range.”

Electrolux Professional has reopened its Center of Excellence in Luton for socially-distanced training.

“While the online training that we’ve offered has been popular, there are certain elements of in-person training which are difficult to replicate. To ensure all of our customers can access the training and education that best suits their needs, Electrolux Professional has reopened its Center of Excellence in Luton. Measures have been put in place to ensure training can be undertaken in line with government social distancing guidelines.”

Flint concluded: “Electrolux Professional is exploring how it can invest in digital education to ensure greater engagement for audiences, seeking to blend the boundaries between physical and digital. However, there are elements of training that are far more suited to in-person delivery, such as for usability and physically getting the most out of a product.”

Associated training

Catering equipment trade associations have done their utmost to facilitate training and keep the sector’s workforce gainfully occupied during lockdown periods in 2020. For instance, CEDA launched a webinar programme in March, quickly setting up a Zoom platform for its members to connect, support one another and discuss the challenges they were experiencing.

The association then reached out to its supplier partner members, who enthusiastically utilised the opportunity to present educational and virtual training webinars to the distributors. By the end of April, CEDA was running up to eight webinars a week, ranging from equipment sales and technical training sessions, including DW172 and fire suppression, as well as health and safety, HR, mental health and effective home working.

Director general Adam Mason detailed: “Industry experts Simon Stenning and Peter Martin gave insightful opinion and fact-based sessions on the hospitality and foodservice market; information members have since told us they were able to apply to their own businesses and help guide decision-making.”

By July, the association had delivered more than 70 webinars to in excess of 1,000 participants. Mason analysed: “Whilst we feel CEDA was already ahead of the game in some respects, with a comprehensive and well established and well utilised (some 500+ active users) e-learning platform already in place for members, we saw usage increase by 300% between April and July 2020.”

The FEA, too, immediately recognised the need to change its format to deliver the CFSP (Certified Food Service Professional) training programme, which many dealers use to access critical knowledge to enhance their professionalism.

FEA chair, Steve Hobbs, reported: “We developed the seminar section of the course so that students could access it virtually, with Doug Fryett delivering it from Louisiana straight to the delegates’ desktops. A lot of dealers encourage their staff to undertake CFSP training and we didn’t want this to be interrupted.”

The next course, which is running this month, will also be delivered virtually.

Hobbs explained: “There has been more need and demand for product training and insight since the pandemic began. This is due partly to increased competition as a result of the challenging market conditions, and partly to the changes brought about by the pandemic, which have underlined the need to fully understand the product.

“Many FEA members are delivering their own product-specific training online to try to ensure that, as far as possible, it’s ‘business as usual’. They have found virtual delivery has unexpected benefits – for example, they can reach all of the team members involved in making a decision and not just those who were previously able to attend events or demonstrations.”

Tags : CEDAeducationElectroluxFEAfiltaFirst ChoiceHobartjestickruppsmaidaidMeikoRationaltrainingtraining & educationwelbilt
Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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