First Choice social distancing crop
First Choice has established social distancing measures at its Cannock headquarters.

Spare parts suppliers have played a crucial role in keeping the catering equipment of frontline foodservice sites operational throughout the pandemic. But what measures have they in turn had to enact to maintain their own operations?

At Cannock-based First Choice Group, it made significant changes to ensure it remained operational while safeguarding its staff and customers.

MD John Whitehouse detailed: “We reacted quickly to government guidelines and immediately invested in additional technology to enable our teams to work from home. This allowed our customer experience centres to successfully and safely continue to support our customers and suppliers.

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“To protect our operational team at base, we introduced warehouse zoned areas, staff segmentation and a Safe Working Policy (Covid-19) following a risk assessment of the operation which aligned to government and WHO guidelines. This is helping to prevent and manage risk in the workplace for now and the future.”

Further measures included one way walkways, safety signage, multiple hand sanitiser stations, enhanced cleaning and sanitising of equipment.

In terms of incoming business, Whitehouse reported: “Initially, the onset of lockdown meant demand altered to an enhanced focus on the healthcare sector. Being part of a global group, demand also altered country to country, as the pandemic swept across the planet.”

In general, he analysed: “Over recent years, we have seen a focus from OEM and customer partners for health and safety equipment, PPE and PPM van stocks. With the outbreak in March, rather than just increasing our existing stock in these categories, our business development teams set about redesigning a specialist catering engineer PPE kit and further workwear categories for all customer sectors. Then by liaising with our supply chain, we were able to improve lead times and stock levels, whilst ensuring ISO quality levels were sustained for all products and processes.”

Whitehouse also detailed that First Choice’s multiple delivery methods and its 5.30pm cut off time for same day shipment were developed following feedback from customers and manufacturers.

Brackley-based Caterparts also continued to operate as normal throughout the entire lockdown period. National sales manager Robin Coates outlined: “Our warehouse is fully stocked and supported by a robust supply chain allowing us to meet the demands of our customers. Our office hours are unchanged, opening from 8:30am – 5.00pm Monday to Friday with our normal cut off times of 4:30pm for phone enquiries and 5.00pm for online next day delivery orders.

“We have adapted to follow government guidelines with the implementation of home working for our office sales and support staff, and whilst our warehouse staff are still hard at work on site we have ensured social distancing guidelines are adhered to. These changes have enabled us to continue the booking in and dispatch parts in our normal, efficient and timely manner, fulfilling our customer needs.”

While parts supply to the hospitality sector has been impacted, Caterparts is still reporting demand from hospitals, care homes and food retail, with orders exceeding expectations. Coates added: “The structure of the customer base has been largely unaffected, with a wide range of customers from dealers and specialist service firms.”

He further revealed: “Whilst Caterparts is viewed as a specialist warewashing parts supplier, we have seen a big increase in the demand for cooking equipment spare parts. We believe this is due to pubs and restaurant owners looking to spend their time whilst not trading to repair their equipment, ready for reopening.”

And on delivery, he remarked: “With strong and long-established relationships with each of our carriers, Caterparts has been able to ensure it fulfils every order placed on time.”

LF Spares’ Italian headquarters was affected by the pandemic 3-4 weeks before it reached the UK.

Over at LF Spare Parts, the company unfortunately had to furlough 70% of its UK team at the start of the coronavirus crisis. However, director Mark Brooks affirmed: “The remaining team members worked remotely and ensured continuity of supply to all our customers. From May we were able to bring people off furlough and open the office in line with government restrictions.”

With a headquarters in Italy, the pandemic’s impact hit the firm around 3-4 weeks before the UK, which Brooks detailed ensured that LF had robust plans in place from early on. “As part of the global Repa Group we were able to plan to utilise stocks in Germany and the UK, through [sister companies] GEV and CCS, in the event of any further restrictions in Italy. This flexibility was extremely useful when planning for all eventualities.”

Additionally he noted: “Total demand has been worse than the norm but as we work across the commercial and domestic markets, and in a large number of sectors within these, we have been able to achieve acceptable sales volumes. We have, over the last 5 years, made deliberate efforts to diversify our customer (and product) base and sales into specialist and niche sectors, and they have been very important during this period.”

Brooks added: “There has been a huge increase in online ordering and delivery that has put further strain on the delivery companies which we have had to be mindful of – however we have had very few issues in continuing to deliver next day to the customer base.”

At sister company Commercial Catering Spares (CCS), it also remained open throughout lockdown but with a much reduced workforce, working to government guidelines on social distancing.

MD Jonathan Booth reported: “Demand fell dramatically almost immediately to around 20% of our normal activity levels; June saw an increase in the demand to 30% and we hope this trend continues. We have operations in all main European countries and communicate regularly with each other. We can see Germany, Italy and Austria are now up to over 60% of the normal sales, France and Spain a little behind this, the UK unfortunately was last into this and is lagging behind the rest.”

In terms of most impacted parts types, he explained: “Cooking parts have been the most affected, however, coffee, vending, household and refrigeration have been affected to a lesser extent, in fact in some areas coffee and household have now increased. As the Repa Group we are now selling a range of PPE including, mouth and nose protection, FFP2 masks, face shields and disinfectants to aid and protect our customers at this very important time.”

And on logistics, Booth said: “Delivery companies are still working well; some items have been lost but on the whole, I would say they are coping well. We continue to work with delivery companies to ensure that our customers receive the best service possible.”

FES operates from a base in Rochdale.

A relative newcomer to the sector is Foodservice Equipment Spares (FES), which was founded in 2018 by ex-CCS office manager, Caren Harvey. The Rochdale-based company has worked throughout the crisis, but Harvey disclosed that turnover was cut to 10% of the previous April’s revenue, rising a little to 30% in May.

Harvey emphasised: “We’ve made it a priority to pay our bills on time, as the continued on-time payments from our customers has been the single most important factor in us remaining operational, allowing us to play our part in keeping the money circulating within the hospitality sector.” FES has also called on the government’s furlough scheme and secured extra business interruption funding from its bank.

However, online sales have increased through the lockdown period, possibly thanks to the firm’s new website. Harvey further reported: “A few of our customers are service companies in certain fast food chains and independent food outlets that have remained open or have opened up ‘take away’ services, and by adding some additional lines of spares and other accessories that we would not normally supply, we have been able to increase sales in this market.”

he concluded: “Customers have been very understanding about deliveries not always being next-day as promised, due to some suppliers not being open or running with reduced staff. I think this is another example of the industry pulling together and being understanding of other people’s and business’ issues.”

Tags : catering sparescaterpartsccsFirst Choicefoodservice equipment sparesGEVLF Spare Partspartsspare partsspares
Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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