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Wolf at the door: Hobart discusses dealer-led cooking brand

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Having been with Hobart for 38 years, Ian Garner would be well within his rights to have one eye on retirement. Instead, the industry veteran — who holds the distinction of serving as Hobart’s UK managing director for a longer period of time than anyone else — has a pretty big job on his hands to see through first.

Two years ago, Hobart carried out a centralisation programme that eventually culminated in the reorganisation of the UK into three units, namely warewashing, service and cooking — with Garner taking responsibility for the latter business, Hobart Cooking Solutions.

From a strategic perspective, the challenge Hobart Cooking Solutions faced was working out how best to go about taking the various different cooking brands it owns — including Bonnet, MBM and Elro — and emulating the sort of leadership achieved by its service and warewashing peers.

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For Garner, the task of pulling these disparate businesses together and making them successful is something that appealed enormously, not least because the sheer size of the cooking equipment market offers it a clear growth opportunity: “Although we’ve got great product, some of it is not as well recognised in the UK. Giving it an identity and making us recognised as a serious cooking business was the challenge.”

Working with Hobart Cooking Solutions’ European chief Steve Brown, Garner and his team realised early on in their journey that there was a need to distinguish each brand in the portfolio to reflect the fact that different businesses want different levels of cooking equipment. Fortunately, its main cooking brands co-exist with minimal overlap.

Elro serves the high volume, central food production market; Bonnet sits at the premium end for customers demanding the best that money can buy; and MBM caters to the mid-tier — those that want a reliable but affordable option.

The other goal was to develop a compelling combi oven range that could stand toe to toe with the market leaders, and Hobart is convinced it has done that with the latest generation of Bonnet systems it is offering to the market.

What Hobart’s review of the business also revealed was the need for a dealer-only cooking range. Cue the roll-out of Wolf — a brand that has been part of the Hobart product stable for some time, but which has now been completely re-engineered for the European market.

Produced in both a 700 and 900 series format, Hobart insists the range will tick all the boxes in terms of performance, durability and lifecycle costs. More significantly, it will only be available through distributors. It’s an approach that inevitably provokes comparisons with Hobart Independent, the warewashing division set up a decade ago to sell Ecomax and BarAid kit through dealers.

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The success that Hobart has enjoyed with that model — taking into account that in the past it employed a large direct sales force — is something that it can take heart from. Garner insists the principles that have won dealers’ trust on the warewashing side will be evident with Wolf.

“We will not take any orders for national accounts, government or anyone direct at all — it is an absolute pledge,” he promises. “The dealers that have got the range will have the exclusivity to sell it and do it in their own way; all we require before they are appointed is a commitment to full training and a partnership agreement that demonstrates they are going to do it properly and efficiently. We are going to work as a team.”

Hobart intends to offer Wolf through an initial network of around 15 dealers, keeping the sales channel manageable and protecting the margin opportunity for partners.

While authorised dealers won’t be restricted to particular geographic territories, Hobart believes that keeping the number modest will allow dealers to contest work nationally without engaging in a bun fight. More to the point, it is confident that this will give dealers their own identity and sense of security as they promote the line.

As a mid to high-tier product, Wolf would appear to fit comfortably between the Bonnet and MBM lines in Hobart’s cooking portfolio, offering a robust cooking solution for anybody operating a serious catering operation, be it a quality restaurant or a busy nursing home.

At the time of writing, around three quarters of Hobart’s targets had pledged their allegiance to Wolf following approaches made to them by the manufacturer this year.

“We want to select the best dealer partners with the highest level of competence. We don’t want to appoint everyone to sell our equipment because we are not going to go market stall on this; we want the right type of dealers in the right areas — enough to give good market coverage, deal with the training aspect properly and to work with the client base,” says Garner.

To his credit, Garner doesn’t tiptoe around the fact that the sort of dealers it could end up working with might have considered Hobart a competitor in the past. But he insists the cooking division’s sales model remains in a “transition period”, with far greater emphasis on the indirect channel than before.

While the Wolf range offers a way-in for dealers at this moment in time, there are aspirations to develop stronger, dedicated dealerships for the Bonnet and MBM ranges in the not-too-distant future.

To quantify his point, Garner says that the cooking division’s sales force is 14-strong, which on its own simply wouldn’t give it the penetration that it requires anyway, never mind cause damage to the dealer channel. He insists the sales team will take more and more business through the dealer network as new partnerships develop.

“We are not there to try and get business on a direct basis just for the sake of a few extra percent of margin, we are looking at the big picture,” says Garner, who adds that sales staff have been “incentivised” so that their targets do not distinguish between business going direct or indirect.

“The instruction will be to take the appointed dealers within their area and help them with support, lead generation and business development, because they are going to be far better off working in a partnership. They are going to get more volume by working that way than getting a few sales themselves.”

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Does he think dealers will buy into this, though? “If you look at it, from primarily being a direct sales force we have cut back, segmented, made these manoeuvres, and the commitment is already there through the warewash culture. This division is being put together to work with the dealer market and this is what we genuinely want to do.

“Now, it is up to the dealers to accept us in good faith but it would be ridiculous and very short-termist of me to make these statements now and not be true to my word. I have not existed for this length of time in this industry by not being committed to my word, saying it the way it is and making sure that it happens. And that is what is going to happen here — we will show true loyalty to the dealers that we work with.”

Features & benefits

The Wolf 700 and 900 heavy duty ranges of cooking equipment have been ergonomically designed to deliver the performance that modern kitchens demand, according to Paul Godfrey, Hobart UK’s food equipment manager.

“With the 900 line we use a 3mm thick top with a laser cut for seamless suiting,” he says. “It is bolted at the front and fixed at the back, so when it is designed by the supplier it is almost the equivalent of a bespoke suite because it will be laid out how the chef wants and bolted together. Should the needs of the kitchen change, they can switch it about because of its modularity. Most of the units are either 400mm or 800mm in width. The size of kitchens has typically reduced by about 40% today, so the idea is to get the equipment compact.”

Godfrey insists close attention has been paid to providing the kind of features that can really make a difference. The bratt pan, for instance, has a cast iron base for extra durability versus stainless steel, while indented measurement markings on the inside of the pan provide a visual guide to the volume of food or liquid content.

Its ovens have insulation built within the door itself, service areas are accessible for engineers, all the tops are pressed to facilitate cleaning, and raised burners reduce the likelihood of spillages causing blockages.

Key features include:

– A mixture of ranges, induction, fryers, griddles, chargrills, pasta cookers, bain maries, bratt pans and boiling kettles make up the Wolf line.

– Constructed from high quality 18/10 (AISI 304) stainless steel.

– Laser cut for a seamless finish (3mm for 900 series and 2mm for 700 series).

– Powerful burners with horizontal flame technology.

– 900 series open burners with water bath.

– Electronic ignition on open burners (optional).

Tags : brandscatering equipmentcookingcooking suitesdealersDistributorsHobartManufacturers
Andrew Seymour

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