The UK catering equipment spares market is thriving, and with that comes close competition between the major parts suppliers. So how does each firm differentiate itself, and how are they all assisting dealers?
Cannock-based First Choice Group prides itself on looking for innovative ways to interact with its customers. According to MD, John Whitehouse: “At the end of the day, it is a personal touch that we aim to give and that’s why we have seven account managers in the field supporting our customers.”
Further bolstered by a 64-strong customer experience team, First Choice is looking to constantly develop, through steps such as signing OEM partnerships to obtain the data/drawings and technical information required. The company cites accurate stock holding as key, and it has heavily invested in its ERP system to expand and improve the business.
Whitehouse detailed: “Our company is customer-led and we have to have some key value promises that we live everyday: to have the UK’s largest stock of OEM genuine spares; to develop OEM partnerships for commitment to quality, safety and equipment performance; to invest in dedicated customer support and an experienced sales team using new technology and ongoing training provided by our OEM partners; and by constantly pushing the limits for online solutions that give us and our customers added value.”
Part of this investment has been in technology, with First Choice introducing facilities such as an automatic enquiry system, which is designed to send customers a quotation quickly. The company is able to achieve this through linking all the relevant information required through its central database.
“The introduction of our APP has been very well received, and it has enabled information on our drawings, pictures, parts in stock and manuals to be readily available for our customers,” reported Whitehouse. “We are currently in phase three and in August we release phase four, and we are very excited for our customers.”
A new website allows its customers to easily access vital information and place orders, raise a quote request, and even reorder frequently-ordered parts. Plus customers and partner suppliers can use ‘My First Choice Portal’ to see a real time snapshot on how the spares specialist is performing, and also how they are performing with First Choice.
With customer expectations increasing, First Choice now ensures its standard daily order cut-off time stretches to 5.30pm, with options to pick orders as late as 7.30pm for emergencies, due to the firm’s FedEx partnership. This allows an 8.30pm pickup from its warehouse for next day delivery. Weekday opening times are 8am – 5.30pm, and the firm even opens on a Saturday from 8am to 12.30pm.
Whitehouse underlined: “However our operations run from 7am-10pm in order to manage the incoming and outgoing work flow. In the future I definitely think we will be 24/7. We just need to align our technology, delivery services together with customer expectations.”
First Choice constantly monitors its performance, regularly asking for customer feedback through both one-to-one discussions and customer surveys. Whitehouse concluded: “We aim to give extraordinary customer service and strive every day to achieve it, by living our First Choice core values. These values are safety, integrity, innovation, passion and courage. We truly hope our customers feel and see our passion for excellence.”
At another of the big players, CCS – part of the GEV Group, it provides multiple channels for customers to order through. Marketing executive Tom Devlin commented: “We believe it is essential to cater for the needs and requirements of all customers.
“Our new and easy to use website allows parts to be ordered on the go or from a desktop. Supported by our sales and customer service teams expertise, we believe we have created an easy and efficient ordering process that ensures CCS customers find and receives the parts they require the first time, every time.”
This new website was launched this year, including what CCS feels are “features never seen before in the spares industry”. The firm’s customers now have access to over 700 brands and over 2m parts, of which over 80,000 are available to the UK for next day delivery, through one platform.
Users are now given the choice to choose between original parts from equipment and component manufacturers as well as suitable replacement parts (OEM, OCM and SR). These options are clearly marked in the webshop to allow an efficient ordering process.
The webshop also has many new features such as: fast search, advanced appliance search, refrigeration gasket search, save favourites, bulk order, and send quotes to customers.
Drilling down to parts suppliers in specific sectors, Caterparts is said to be the only UK-owned leading warewashing parts specialist in the industry. Able to stock and supply parts from all warewashing manufacturers, the firm ensures its webstore is completely open, with no login areas or passwords.
Caterparts national accounts manager Robin Coates explained: “Our webstore is open to all to freely identify parts and ancillary items; our website benefits the customer by showing ‘live’ stock information. Caterparts’ trade customers have an enhanced access area to the site and they can benefit from special terms. The webstore enables customers to order parts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, from wherever they are in the world.”
However, he underlined: “What we never want to lose sight of at Caterparts is that sometimes you need to talk to a human being and not just rely on a computer, so we ensure we have a sales desk manned by people who care and want to help any customer.”
This is also one of the reasons the Brackley-based company took the decision to invest in field sales staff rather than additional technology. “With the recent appointment of Chris Furnival in the position of sales manager, it provides our customers with an enhanced personal service which is something that Caterparts pride ourselves on,” said Coates.
“Systems are great but computers can sometimes say ‘no’. Our wealth of experience and flexibility, plus a good deal of human interaction, is why our customers keep coming back.”
Caterparts accepts telephone email and fax orders into the office up to 4.30pm, and dealers and engineers are able to get next-day delivery on emergency and urgent spare parts ordered via the website as late as 5pm. The spares specialist believes it was the first to introduce a 5pm cut-off back in 2013, where previously the industry standard had been mid-afternoon.
According to Coates: “We receive great feedback on the exemplary personal service we offer. With over 100 years’ joint experience, a knowledgeable sales agent is always available on the phone to assist with parts identification and all other enquiries, to provide what we deem as one of the best services within the industry.
“Caterparts also runs successful monthly offers on fast moving universal items to help our customers achieve the best possible prices, for which the reaction has always been very positive. Other fast moving items have ‘quantity break’ prices issued against them to help our customers achieve the best possible price all year round.”
Another specialist sector supplier for parts is Abbeychart, which has access to 28,000 parts, supporting 450 suppliers in six liquid dispense markets which are all available to order online or via a dedicated in-house telesales team.
MD Mark Taylor said of the firm’s offerings: “Sometimes the caller needs help with sourcing spares or identifying which parts are required and for these customers our sales engineers with their vast knowledge of beverage equipment from manufacturers around the globe, can provide expert guidance and support.
“We can also take a design concept and source components, from initial prototype to final production part, turning a client’s ideas into a reality.”
Abbeychart has recently refreshed its website, providing access to an improved search function, stock level indicators, enriched content areas and personalised pricing information. Taylor commented: “The revamped website speeds up purchasing and helps users make more informed choices about the products they are buying.
“The new ‘one click’ personalised pricing structures streamline the ordering process, especially when used in conjunction with the next day delivery service.
“Abbeychart is committed to improving the online experience for customers and this refresh is phase one of an ongoing programme of upgrades that we have planned across key platforms.”
For non-UK customers, Abbeychart has created dedicated US and EU platforms to showcase country-specific product lines and customer service information. Visitors can also sign up to receive regular news updates in order to hear about latest developments within the business.
It seems the only way is up for the Swindon-based company, as it has also recently relocated its warehousing facility to a 25,000ft2 purpose-built premises in Bolton to take advantage of an improved stock holding capacity and faster order dispatch times. Over 4,000 lines are held in stock for next day delivery and bespoke stocking options are also available. The daily ordering cut off time is 3.30pm for same day dispatch.
Taylor concluded: “We use customer satisfaction surveys to assess business performance and one area that regularly scores highly is technical support. Customers appreciate the knowledge we have within the business, both the expert advice on offer and the ability to track down hard-to-locate parts.”