The debate surrounding whether a commercial microwave should be more of a throwaway appliance or built to last (with maintenance) is not going away. So we asked some prominent sector suppliers to analyse the available options and how dealers can assist end users in making the repair or replace decision.
At Regale Microwave Ovens, incoming deputy MD Iain Phillips can see both sides of the argument: “There are so many reasons to repair equipment, from the financial benefits to the business, to the ecological impact of manufacturing and shipping new equipment all over the world,” he said.
“Even better of course is to protect your microwave in the first place. Protect your investment by avoiding the breakdown altogether. A Microsave cavity liner [which Regale manufactures] will protect the ceiling, floor and walls of an expensive microwave, dramatically reducing the amount of failures and cost of repairs.”
Phillips detailed the development of the firm’s cavity liner offering: “10 years ago Regale recognised just how much damage, and subsequently cost, was being inflicted upon foodservice businesses, because of microwave failure.
“The fact is that microwaves can be difficult to clean and if they are not cleaned correctly, they will destroy themselves.
“The Microsave cavity liner simply slides inside a professional microwave and totally protects the cavity. At the end of the day it is a simple task, taking a matter of seconds to remove the liner, and clean it with a pot wash or in a dishwasher.
“Brands such as Las Iguanas, Whitbread, Stonegate, Fullers, McMullans, to name but a few, have already recognised the financial benefits of investing in the Microsave cavity liner.”
However, for purchases, he emphasised that Regale delivers on the next working day for all orders received before 2pm. Phillips discussed: “I believe the trend towards next day delivery has made repair less attractive as a new oven with full warranty arriving the next day guarantees to resolve the issue. However, if the oven is not breaking in the first place, this point is moot.”
In terms of what dealers are demanding from the company, he evaluated: “Like everyone else, dealers are facing more demands to cut costs. However, any discerning buyer will always look at the life cost of any piece of capital equipment. Cheap and failing is no use to anybody.
“Buy a good quality microwave with a Microsave cavity liner and a site will have a piece of kitchen equipment that will provide hassle-free cooking for years.”
Over at RH Hall, which supplies brands including Sharp and Maestrowave, MD Ray Hall weighed up the main repair or replace considerations. “There are many factors that would lead to this decision – including the cost of any repairs required versus the cost of a new machine – and we would assess each on a case by case basis,” he revealed.
“Training and knowledge is key to ensure a dealer has the expertise to advise a customer on the most cost-effective way to get their microwave back up and running. Our vast experience with the microwave industry and a highly knowledgeable team means that we can offer maintenance training for approved service providers. Working with engineers means that we are able to create better technical knowledge of the Sharp range throughout the industry and offer better support to all users, reducing costly downtime with efficient and reliable after-sales service.”
On the subject of which would be the swiftest route to an operational microwave, he said: “Microwaves are generally available on next day delivery throughout the UK, so a replacement can be quickly and easily provided – plus, most machines operate on a ‘plug and play’ basis, so an end user can be back up and running very quickly. However, working with an approved service provider for a recognised brand will usually mean an engineer is quickly and easily able to attend site, identify the issue and obtain any spare parts required.”
Hall is also an advocate of the Microsave, commenting: “Whilst not new to the market, the Microsave cavity protection system is a simple and affordable solution to help extend the life of many best-selling microwaves on the market. By preventing food build up, it can help to avoid down-time and costly repairs.”
In terms of the latest appliance developments he analysed: “Unique inverter technology is now entering the commercial foodservice market and by consuming less energy than a traditional machine it is able to prolong the expected lifespan of the microwave. We can offer presentations and training to demonstrate all of the benefits of inverter cooking.”
Regarding the longevity of these appliances, Hall had this to say: “There are two different approaches to microwaves, and machines are available on the market to meet both requirements. There are many entry level machines available, at low price points, which meet simple reheating requirements and are often cheaper to replace than repair. However, it is always best to get the best possible product to ensure as much longevity as possible – so always consider the warranty and reputation of the product being purchased, rather than just the cheapest option available.
“For higher output/wattage machines, many users, particularly multi-sited chains, are looking at the life cost of foodservice equipment in general. These machines are often a higher investment and the warranty offered should back this up. Always look for a reputable and proven brand to provide exceptional value for money when spread over the expected product lifetime.”
Elsewhere, Valera takes a pragmatic approach to the best route to take with microwave supply or mending. According to marketing and sales manager, Kurran Gadhvi: “On cheaper 1,000W models sometimes repair costs more than replacing so it’s better to just replace. However, on the 1,800W models there aren’t too many things to go wrong, so any errors are generally caused by lack of cleaning by end users. There it would be better to have it repaired on site.
“Dealers should get as many images/serial numbers s possible and full details when sending service requests to ensure the correct response is given.”
While Valera can deliver microwaves next day, it can also send engineers out in 24 hours of a call being logged, so the speed of both options is equal.
The firm offers the latest technology including stronger electronic touch pads to avoid dials being broken. Gadhvi further emphasised: “Our microwaves have a high quality stainless steel body and internal cavity to make it durable and easy to clean and wipe. Innovative technology for uniform heating performance can be achieved by twin magnetrons (top and bottom feed).”
He reported: “Dealers and end users who buy Valera microwaves want robust and long lasting appliances. If they want cheap and cheerful to replace rather than repair then they buy elsewhere.”
Wholesaler, Blue Badger, takes a green view on the debate. Operations director Alison Harvey explained: “With increasing focus on the environment and a push back on our perceived throw-away culture, Blue Badger will always suggest that our dealers consider a repair as the first option. Clearly this starts with the unit they purchase in the first place.
“As with all equipment we sell, we encourage our distributors towards high quality microwaves with longer warranty periods. Our most popular model is the Whirlpool Pro25IX which comes with a 3-year on-site warranty. If a Pro25 customer is then looking for an out of warranty repair they will already have had at least 3 years of use and the low cost of the machine means that economics generally dictate that a replacement of an out of warranty model is appropriate.
“Manufacturing technology is constantly improving which allowed us to increase the warranty of our Whirlpool Pro25IX to 3 years without hiking up the retail price.”
In weighing up whether repair or replacement would be the quickest process, she said: “Most microwaves are delivered on a next day service so although it is also possible to get an engineer out within the same timescale, if a first-time fix is not possible then it is likely to take much longer.
“If the dealer is also a service provider then a same day fix may well be possible and for larger, busier sites this can certainly be a premium worth paying.
“Because of the comparatively low cost price of microwaves, some dealers will also keep a model as a loan machine to allow for the onsite machine to be serviced without the customer experiencing downtime. Blue Badger also offers bulk pricing for our microwaves which is a popular option with dealers and gives them complete control over order timescales.”
On the question of durability, Harvey concluded: “I believe that given the choice, dealers will always prefer to supply their customers with more robust appliances that are going to perform better and have fewer after-sales issues.
“However, this is not always an easy sell to their customers who are often very price-focused. Blue Badger tries to find a middle ground: great value appliances with a strong warranty, as we find customers will pay slightly more for a longer warranty length.
“If they are comparing two machines, both with 1-year warranty, then the dealer has a much harder job to persuade them of the benefits of the more robust and usually more expensive model. It will also depend on the expected usage of a machine, if it is going to be heavily used in a busy kitchen then paying more for a heavier duty machine is more likely to be acceptable.”
Crossing the wave
Marren Microwave has recently crossed the threshold between distributing other well-known microwave marques to manufacturing its own brand.
Operations director Malcolm Skinner revealed some of the thought processes behind this development: “I think there is no hiding the fact that most manufacturers only think of the sales of the units per year and increase cost to repair to encourage sales later down the line. When we started to develop the Marren ISM-1800 this was something that was at the forefront of what we hoped to achieve, a competitive market cost from new as well as beating all other manufacturers in a cross-section of parts cost with no drop in quality.”
On microwave technology in general he analysed: “A commercial microwave in essence really has not changed dramatically in the last 20 years at least. The principal of the microwave stays the same whether you create it through inverters or not. What we have helped bring to market are ideas that don’t change the working ability of the microwave but prolong its life, like the customer not being able to use the microwave until the protective liner in the roof is fitted correctly, to stop any unwanted misuse, for example. This was designed by Marren and implemented by Panasonic on its current microwave.”
In terms of appliance longevity, Skinner emphasised: “Although most commercial microwaves come with 3 years warranty as standard, the parts that are not covered by the warranty alone sometimes can make a unit irreparable due to the cost of the parts. The true cost to repair once out of warranty is sometimes quite an eye-opener to a customer.”
Maintenance is something that the business knows well, as it is at the heart of its offerings. Skinner detailed: “Marren is a service company which wants to continue to service our ‘bread and butter’ equipment. I think dealers would prefer a sale rather than a repair – that’s understandable as business is business. But we should all be very aware that sustainability is at the forefront of everyone’s mind – surely the fewer machines that go to landfill will benefit everyone in the long term?”
His position is also supported by his assertion that while most dealers could deliver a machine next day, any microwave specialist could repair a machine same day.
Skinner concluded: “I don’t see the dealers being the ones driving the change in this sector. In my experience this is being driven by the customers, especially larger chains who are looking to be more sustainable in all areas, and the carbon offset of buying new compared to repairing is significant.”