Catering Insight caught up with Pro Foodservice Reps’ MD, Andy Piggin, after the announcement of the rep group’s establishment made a splash in the industry.
What was your inspiration to set up PFR?
I have always had the personal ambition of running my own business – I had always planned on achieving this by the age of 30. So when my son arrived in August 2014 and I found myself at 33, I knew I had to follow through my ambition or accept that for now at least it wasn’t going to be realised.
Having discussed the market and our careers at length with close friend and industry colleague Ross Gibson, it became clear that we shared many of the same ideas and aspirations. From that moment on, the genie was out of the bottle and we began throwing business ideas around.
It wasn’t long before we began to analyse the marketplace and the supply channels within it. Our conclusion was that the market is over supplied and underrepresented. We also recognised that following recession, many companies had lost or changed focus on their route to market. Some manufacturers were going direct, and some dealers began importing their own brands to help margins, whilst those who exclusively sell through dealers and have the right product at the right price with good back up remain successful.
What lessons have you drawn from the US-style model?
Industry friends who operate similar rep groups in North America and Australia have been a great help in the set up process; they have each given their own nugget of advice which remains at the foundations of their operation.
Key principles we have at PFR are that we will not represent any directly competitive products and that we will only increase the number of manufacturers we represent when we are able to increase the number of reps at PFR. Put simply, we do not intend to dilute our focus on each and every partner we represent, we appreciate and respect the support and faith they have placed in PFR and we aim to repay them and form long term partnerships.
Why do you think the sales model will work in the UK? Why hasn’t it been done before?
To say it hasn’t been done before is true in our capital equipment sector, but it has been successfully operated in other areas such as light equipment. We believe the time is right for the UK to adapt this model due to cost pressures in the supply chain, from manufacturer through to end user. The average cost for a UK regional sales rep is £30,000 with an average on-target earnings of £38,000, and for a national account manager it’s £45,000 plus bonus and associated employment costs.
Whilst the global manufacturers who dominate their sector can absorb such costs, companies at the other end of the spectrum cannot, or simply may not be able to find the right calibre of employee. Therefore PFR is able to offer companies a professional, experienced, respected and results-driven sales team at the fraction of the cost compared to direct employees. [[page-break]]
Will PFR be doing anything different from the US template?
Yes, we haven’t simply taken the US model and opened up in the UK.
As we know only too well, this isn’t the US, and this route to market will take some time to be fully understood and accepted. For example we have tailored our representation terms to suit the needs of the manufacturer. For some, we are the sole field sales representatives, for others we operate in a geographical region alongside their direct employees operating in other regions.
In fact for one manufacturer we are targeted at end-user specification which will in turn be handled by their existing dealer network. So it’s fair to say PFR can be flexible to the needs of the manufacturer, whereas a traditional US rep group will operate in a geographical territory and that’s it.
PFR aims to add value by also assisting with the marketing of our manufacturer partners and also offer help and advice to end-user chain operators regarding equipment specification and menu development.
How will you ensure you deliver on your sales service promises?
PFR works very closely with our manufacturers and monitors results via mutually agreed KPIs. Both parties understand there are no guarantees of sales but we all believe in the core business principles of PFR and the manufacturers we represent.
The products we represent are innovative, good quality, fairly priced and have good back-up support in their respective product categories. They can add real value to end-user operators – it is our job at PFR to educate the dealers about these products.
Do you think you’ll be more effective than in-house sales departments?
PFR does not promise, nor claims to be more effective than a directly employed or ‘in-house’ sales representative. What PFR does offer however, is a more cost effective option for manufacturers requiring full market coverage.
PFR is in regular contact with all aspects of the industry, including design consultants, dealers, buying groups, group buyers, development chefs, OEMs and service providers. PFR represents a complementary cross section of products which appeal in different ways to different customers, therefore PFR is able to meet with clients that a ‘one product’ manufacturer for example may not be able to engage with easily or quickly.
Everyone in our industry is short on time, so if a dealer, consultant or buyer can cover a lot of ground in one meeting with someone representing the factory directly, it is a huge benefit for them. PFR representatives are all factory-trained and armed with the relevant information dealers require. [[page-break]]
How does PFR differ from the traditional agent model?
Traditional sales agents, of which there have been many, have limitations on their ability to deliver due to the fact they are one person, in the main. However, most agents have been successful.
Whereas PFR is a limited company consisting of multiple sales professionals with different skill sets. We are able to offer added value services such as marketing, exhibition staffing, training, conference representation, meeting space in the Midlands and industry insight on a large scale, versus one individual, to name but a few of our services.
We believe that a traditional sales agent arrives in such a role through circumstance, maybe redundancy or change of career direction.
When we founded PFR, Ross and I were both in successful roles with Gamble Foodservice Solutions, which itself is a successful and respected company.
So we didn’t go into this through necessity, it was the belief that we could add value to the industry and shape the future of how manufacturers connect with their customers.
What has the response been since the news about PFR broke?
Since opening our doors on 2 February, supported by our press release in Catering Insight, the industry response has been a little overwhelming. The article sparked a wave of manufacturer interest. In the first 48 hours we had approaches from 18 manufacturers! Since then, we’ve had interest from the US, Spain and Italy.
PFR remains committed to our business plan and supporting our current partners. Our growth will be controlled and measured.
The dealer market has been more of a mixed reaction. Some distributors ‘got it’ instantly and welcomed a meeting and the opportunity for PFR to support their sales teams, whereas others required more reassurance that we are not selling direct nor adding cost in the supply chain – we are merely an extension to the manufacturers’ sales force.
How do you expect the rep model to develop?
We have our own expectations of where the rep model will go in the future and our partner manufacturers are aware of our short, medium and long-term plans. PFR plans to recruit only CFSP sales representatives at the top of their game in order to create the best sales team in the industry.
Do you expect other competitor companies to enter the market?
We fully expect other rep groups to enter the catering equipment market; it’s only a matter of time. The challenge for PFR, new rep groups and manufacturers remains the same: recruiting successful reps!