Dealers are being increasingly called upon to manage the maintenance of microwaves they have supplied to end users, as perceptions move towards the attitude that these appliances are worth repairing rather than just scrapping. But how can distributors help operators in the repair or replace decision?
One major microwave supplier is RH Hall, which provides the Sharp and Maestrowave brands to the UK market. MD Ray Hall believes: “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 by efficient and reliable after sales service.”
Hall feels there are two different approaches to the microwave market: “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.”
He further advised: “There are still a number of machines offering a standard 1 year warranty – however, look for enhancements such as extended cover on the magnetron – which is the heart of any commercial microwave. Heavy duty models should have at least a 3 year warranty as standard, which can often be extended to 5 years on core components when utilising items such as the Microsave Cavity Protection System.”
The supplier of the Microsave is Regale Microwave Ovens. MD Patrick Bray believes that dealer support should start right from when an end user has to make an initial purchasing decision. “Distributors should make sure that what operators are buying is suitable for their needs. Just buying on price is a mistake and all protections that are needed should be considered to keep the microwave serviceable and clean, such as a microwave cavity liner that protects the parts which are not covered by the manufacturer.”
Bray estimated that a well looked after microwave should last at least 3 years, with quality models managing 5 years. He believes that around that point the replacement decision should be considered.
Regarding warranties, he analysed: “Most manufacturers do give from 1-3 year warranties on their product, but some inferior brands tend to shy away from the 3 year, particularly on units lower than 1,100W output.
“3 years is definitely a strain on the manufacturers, particularly in the third year, as it does depend entirely on the way the microwave has been treated during its life. It would not surprise me that the warranty would not hold for a 4 year period, and perhaps as year three is when a good 80% of ill-treated microwaves cost the most, the manufacturers may start considering in these days of rising repair costs that a 2 year could be the standard in the future.”
Elsewhere, Valera marketing and sales manager Kurran Gadhvi advised distributors: “The best way for a dealer to ascertain a repair/replace scenario is for them to call our service team for a quick checklist of questions that will enable the them or the end user to do the necessary checks. Depending on the cost of service against a cost of a new unit the dealer and the end user can then make a decision.”
Gadhvi feels that Valera’s own microwaves are built to last. “We do not go down the very cheap and ‘buy to throw away after a year’ route. And we stand by our microwaves by giving a 3 years parts and labour warranty.”
Detailing that the supplier was one of the first in the market to give this length warranty, initially applied to the Sanyo Microwaves brand the firm sells, he revealed: “We now continue this ethos for our Valera microwaves with the same warranty.
“Our service team have built up a network of trained service companies UK-wide to deal with microwave service calls within 24 hours.”
Manufacturer Panasonic made waves last year with its all metal door microwave launch, featuring inverter technology. UK sales and marketing manager Iain Phillips analysed: “Panasonic has never been shy of the fact that its range of professional microwaves are among the priciest available, but its spares are amongst the most inexpensive on the market.”
As to how distributor can assist operators with purchasing decisions, he urged: “Dealers need to be in a position to inform operators of all the options available and not necessarily be brand biased. The cost of repairs can vary widely from one brand of microwave to another and it will also not follow that more expensive microwaves will have the most expensive spare parts. The final decision to repair or replace should include consideration for any warranty period offered and the dependency of the operation on the reliability of the microwave.”
On the subject of warranties he cautioned: “Some brands will quote a 3 year warranty, but the small print will reveal that is for the magnetron only, where the rest of the oven is only covered for 12 months. All Panasonic professional microwaves are sold with a 3 year warranty.”
In terms of appliance longevity he believes this is brand dependent: “A cheap microwave can easily be viewed as a throwaway item – it is cheap for a reason; it will have a substandard build quality and be constructed from low cost components. There will also have been less spent in the research and development and design process so it may not perform as expected.
“If, on the other hand, a quality brand is purchased, ideally the best an end user can afford, and keep it clean and in good condition, they should get many years of service from it.”
On the wholesale side of the sector, Pentland Wholesale’s group technical and compliance manager Andy Threlfall said of the repair or replace decision: “Dealers can assist in advising the end user on the best course of action by taking a holistic approach, understanding the end user’s exact requirements. Dealers should take into account the amount of use the machine is experiencing, and what items they are heating in it and the expectations they expect from the cooking process.
“Microwaves are now available to accommodate many cooking needs, and often they are over specified for what they are being used for. The dealer should assess the end user’s requirements, calculate the economics of an expensive repair, evaluating the overall condition and age against the costs of a new microwave/lower specification oven with a full manufacturer’s warranty.”
Threlfall acknowledged: “Competition is forcing manufacturers to consider extending warranties, however it must be noted that the magnetrons which create the microwave energy have a limited lifespan. In a heavy use environment could have exceeded this rated tube hours within 3 years of use.”
At competitor Blue Badger, senior account manager Tom Phillips underlined: “It is important for the dealer to have a good understanding of the likely costs involved in a microwave’s repair and weigh this up against the age of the equipment and the current price point of a replacement. Understanding the importance of the appliance to the business is also critical – a replacement is usually the quickest way to get up and running.”
As to whether microwaves are still a throwaway appliance, he believes this depends on the brand and the quality. “Professional microwaves can be purchased for around the same cost as a service call out, but larger kitchens that rely heavily on microwave cooking clearly invest much more than this in their equipment.”
He reported: “We find that enquiries on repairing out of warranties are very rare. As with all commercial catering products, including items like microwaves on a PPM would certainly extend the life of the equipment but customers can be reluctant to add lower value products to these plans
“There is a current thinking that in the current uncertain climate, a reluctance to invest in capital equipment means people once again looking more favourably on repairs.”
However, he noted: “As technology improves, so does the product lifespan, and warranties have increased to reflect this. The length of warranty is also an effective way to demonstrate the brand’s confidence in a product. Whirlpool for example increased the length of warranty on the PRO25IX from 1 to 3 years as a demonstration of its faith in the reliability of the product.”
The wholesale arm of catering equipment giant Nisbets, Uropa Brands, provides both its own Buffalo brand microwaves to dealers, as well as the Menumaster brand it took over the responsibility for when it bought out supplier, Bradshaw, in 2016.
The group’s buyer, John Macmillan, advised that costs other than purchase should be taken into account when dealers are advising operators on microwave specification. “There may be costs for disposal, installation, service packages and re-programming or training. Although the customer may feel their microwave is out-dated, it’s crucial they are aware that the quality of the product does not decrease after some time – a repaired product will give the same results as a brand new one.”
He acknowledged: “Commercial microwaves have historically been viewed negatively by the industry, and more work needs to be done to educate customers on the versatility and potential of a commercial microwave, whether for cooking or regenerating. But we also need to ensure customers are buying the right microwave that is powerful enough for their requirements.
“If customers are buying commercial heavy-duty microwaves instead of domestic or low powered models, and it is maintained properly, then there should be no need to consider it a throwaway product.”
Macmillan reported: “Customers are asking for longer warranties in general for commercial cooking equipment, however we haven’t seen this filter through to microwaves yet. Although a shorter warranty can suggest that the equipment may need replacing quickly, that is not always the case.”