With coronavirus lockdown continuing for most of the country, it could be argued that now is actually the best time for catering equipment dealers to brush up on their product training. And with a number of remote educational options on the table, combi oven manufacturers are among those taking the lead for this endeavour.
Hobart UK is particularly keen that distributors should make the most of this time. Equipment division sales director Tim Bender emphasised: “In the current climate, it’s important that as an organisation we try to pivot and leverage both our strong relationship with CEDA as well as the raft of communication technologies available, to ensure that dealer training can continue.
“CEDA has been particularly innovative in its approach and shown great thought leadership through its webinar series. As a key partner, Hobart has already undertaken two product presentation and Q&A sessions on the platform. Both were very well patronised, with a varied audience including new dealers as well as furloughed distributor staff keen to ensure they remain up-to-speed. That, for us, was extremely heartening and testament to this industry.”
Following on from the success of the webinars, Hobart is now able to provide exclusive, dedicated online training to the CEDA membership, covering the complete Hobart warewash, cooking and food preparation portfolio of equipment, via the Microsoft Teams or Zoom videoconferencing platforms.
Bender detailed: “The sessions can be tailored to individual members, or for the entire team, and will focus on sales, design, estimating, specifying and delivery of kitchen projects. We’ll also be offering in-depth insights on core products such as combi ovens as well as the new Precipan Multi-Functional Cooker and our newest Two-Level Washer.”
He further reported: “The feedback has been extremely positive, so much so, that we feel this type of approach could be part of the way forward even when Covid-19 isn’t so much of an issue. The technology is so good, that you can quickly and efficiently beam yourself into dealer sales briefings, saving them having to travel to you or vice versa.
“Of course, 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. But in this new era, we must remain adaptable and open to change.”
Welbilt too is grasping the opportunity to bolster personal development. UK and Ireland sales director Steve Hemsil detailed: “In order to maintain our superior level of support during this time, Welbilt is offering dealers free culinary and equipment training/support. This can be arranged to be given over the phone, digitally, or via video call – whatever is most convenient for the dealer.
“In addition to this, we are also encouraging our dealers to make the most of the many resources available on our website. These include Merrychef Ready Recipes, with over 600 free-to-download recipes, the Convotherm video library of useful tips and guides and the Welbilt YouTube channel, which contains thousands of great training videos which can be played at a dealer’s convenience.”
Looking ahead, he analysed: “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.”
At Rational, it has gone fully digital for the launch of its iCombi cooking systems. According to Graham Kille, technical services director of Rational UK, remote training is playing a very important role in this: “This has involved the creation of a comprehensive online training programme for dealers. We also had to train and educate our Rational team beforehand. This involved a combination of e-learning, virtual interactive control panels and videos, with internal audits and daily remote briefing meetings.
“From there, regional sales managers ran remote presentations for dealers to pass on the new product information and details. There have also been bespoke training programmes aimed at consultants, planners, kitchen designers and service partners, each focusing on their key interests. For example, the focus for our service partners was on installation.”
Rational has also developed a large number of instructional videos and other materials covering not just operation but installation too. Online interactive versions of the new iCombi cooking system control panels were created.
Kille continued: “In normal times we would have carried out a launch event, of course. Launching a major development like the iCombi cooking systems in lockdown has called for some serious blue sky thinking. Over the launch period we are taking dealers and their customers on what we are calling an ‘innovation journey’, using a variety of remote methods and platforms, including webinars, e-marketing, our website, social media and, where possible, speaking to them via video meetings or the good old fashioned phone. So far the innovation journey has generated a lot of interest in the iCombi cooking systems.”
Rational is utilising Microsoft Teams for its online training sessions, believing it is a safe and trusted format for both individual and group presentations. Alongside this there is a series of videos on YouTube introducing the new units, and new information is constantly being added to the company’s website. It has also launched a new media toolbox on the Rational portal, where all new information can be accessed.
According to Kille: “This is the first time Rational has launched a new product globally, and it has been a very exciting journey so far. Our sales managers report that feedback from the dealers has been very positive and enthusiastic. Just as Rational is committed to constantly improving its products, being prepared to adapt to new methods of training is vital.
“We’ve also launched online CookLive webinars, which are hugely popular – the first few have been well over subscribed. These demonstrate our iCombi Pro and there are separate versions for dealers and end user customers. These have already been successful in generating sales opportunities.”
In terms of continuing this initiative, Kille revealed: “Even before the current situation Rational had embraced e-learning and online tutorials, and will be looking for more ways to use it in the future for both internal and external training. It’s important to be responsive to market trends, and to develop and embrace new and effective ways of communicating with customers. The current situation has taught us a lot about what the future could look like.”
Electrolux Professional too has been adapting to the changing circumstances. Shortly after the lockdown came into effect the firm set up a series of free remote training sessions for its 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.
The manufacturer also created a maintenance guide for equipment, which outlines the key steps that operators should take to ensure their kitchen is in good condition for re-opening. This includes details on mothballing equipment, hygiene practices, and general tips on how kitchens that have closed as a result of the lockdown can put themselves in the strongest possible position for reopening when it is lifted.
Electrolux’s training sessions are conducted via video conferencing software, and can be delivered to a group of its interested partners and end users through a webinar format, or as bespoke one-to-one sessions. Alex Reed, sales manager – foodservice UK and Ireland summed up: “They cover a general overview of the equipment, as well as delving into some of the unique features and benefits that dealers may not be aware of.
“We also use our online training to run through the details of software updates, which are a regular feature of the SkyLine range and enable us to help customers keep their equipment up-to-date. We offer training on what these updates mean and how to implement them, which in turn allows end users to get the most out of their Electrolux Professional equipment and ensure they are prepared for re-opening when the lockdown is lifted.”
Reed reported that distributors have positively reacted to the steps the manufacturer has taken. “It’s incredibly important to maintain customer relationships at this difficult time, and we’ve listened to the feedback from our customers to gear our training towards shorter, snappier, and more targeted demonstrations.
“The inclusion of both product specialists and chefs has also been really well received, as this provides the full range of expertise and helps to relate technicalities to the types of questions dealers will be asked by front-line operators. This has been especially true of our beverage training, which has seen some really high uptake and engagement.
“Another really positive element has been the involvement of some of our European customers. This has stimulated more interaction in the training, and we’re finding that a broader range of questions are being asked, and therefore addressed, as a result. We’re finding that this shared experience is creating a sense of unity, providing a source of ‘togetherness’ at what is a challenging time for some of our customers.”
Looking ahead, Reed commented: “Despite this being a challenging time for the industry, we’ve seen some real positives come out of our online training. The fact we can offer dealers a succinct piece of training on a particular piece of equipment means we can continue to offer support, even as they find themselves extremely busy post-lockdown.
“We are developing new ways of delivering this content, looking to make the most out of our refurbished Center of Excellence for both practical demonstrations (once social distancing measures allow), and in our online offering. We will also be putting out videos on our social media channels soon which will aid end users looking to re-start their business.”
Over at Lincat, it started providing fellow Middleby Group company Hounö’s ovens under its own brand earlier this year. Paul Godfrey, sales and marketing director at Lincat, reported a fairly positive current picture: “It’s not just our partners requiring training. The health and care sectors, as well as other key sectors such as supermarkets, still need to serve patients, residents and customers, so we are still seeing a demand for Lincat combi ovens. Despite the obvious limitations, we are keen to ensure that our end users are fully supported in getting the best out of their new oven, so we have been busy training the operators too.
“We have found some of our partners are utilising the lockdown period to bring themselves and their teams up to speed on new products including the new Lincat combi ovens. We have been delivering a combination of remote one-to-one training and group training.”
Lincat development chefs have been cooking live in the combis over Zoom. “The only downside to this is the audience don’t get to taste the delicious food!” remarked Godfrey. “We also have presentations and videos we are able to share on screen with our audiences to educate them on specific areas such as the cost savings and efficiency a Lincat combi oven will deliver.”
He reported: “Other than being disgruntled about seeing the delicious food and not being able to taste it, we have received a really positive response to the training we have delivered. The partners we have spoken to are aware of the massive effect the pandemic is going to have on our industry and they are keen to embrace technology which offers proven cost savings and efficiencies for their customers.”
Going forward, Godfrey analysed: “Online training certainly has its place and we will be utilising it more once lockdown is lifted. We appreciate training, with the time it takes the partners’ sales teams out of the business, is a costly exercise and we are keen to support by offering more online training options moving forward.
“However, we still love to welcome our partners to Lincat and we do believe there is no better way to learn about any piece of cooking equipment than getting hands on and cooking with our partners.”
Hounö combis are also supplied to the market via Middleby UK. MD Kenny Smith detailed: “Before our sales team went on furlough, we were actively doing remote training with dealers on our combi ovens, not only showing them how to use them but advising on cleaning procedures etc.”
Middleby UK has been utilising video conferencing via Zoom or Facetime, although it is going to put the training on its YouTube channel so the session can be viewed anytime by dealers and end users.
Smith revealed: “The people who have partaken in the training have found it beneficial and liked the fact it didn’t consume a lot of time with travelling, and the information was at hand when required.
“We intend to carry out online training to dealers/customers who require this. We will also set up videos for people to watch and learn at their leisure; this will provide training and information quickly and efficiently.”