Not everyone wants to buy kitchen equipment from the Bowery
For more than 50 years, a four-block-long section of lower Manhattan known as the Bowery has been famous for its rows of new and used restaurant equipment dealers.
Buying equipment “on the Bowery” became synonymous with low prices, limited service and cash-and-carry sales. While the Bowery and places like it represent a significant market for some products, many manufacturers believe the low price/low service model is the only one preferred by most customers.
There is a huge difference in user expectation and after-market support when comparing a $600 promotional fryer with a $6,000 fryer battery with built-in filter and computer controls. Yet the service and support policies of many manufacturers treat both products the same and there is no accountability for what happens to the equipment after it is invoiced to the dealer. Many manufacturers aren’t even aware who really uses their equipment or how well the equipment is servicing their needs.
When researching new equipment, I often ask for a reference list of customers who have been using the equipment for an extended time. It’s not unusual to call five of the people on the list and find out the following: Two hate the equipment; one has already returned the item; and two were moderately pleased. They also seem surprised to be considered a reference and note they have never had any contact with the manufacturer.
The gap between manufacturers and end-users even pervades chain purchasing. I recently observed field modifications made to new high-tech warmers sold to a top QSR chain. The modification addressed draft cooling the product, a factor in most of that chain’s older units. When I asked the product manager and a vice president of that company why the change was added, they told me they weren’t even aware of the modification.
Why does that happen? When low price prevails, then selling price becomes the sole mission of many manufacturers. Customer support and service after the sale, other than outlined in the warranty, become the responsibility of the local manufacturer’s representative and the dealer. With cutthroat competition cutting commissions and margins, there is nothing left to provide any level of customer service other than delivery.
Some manufacturers may state publicly that they don’t compromise on quality, but the end-users of the equipment know better. Price competition prevails over better workmanship, product integrity and customer support. This problem has plagued the foodservice equipment industry for more than 25 years, and there is little on the horizon that promises to improve the situation. What can be done?
* Manufacturers need to offer upgrade options that include superior product quality, fit and finish, durability, and after-sale service and support that reach far beyond extended warranties or service contracts.
* Manufacturers should stop offering stripped-down base models that lack the basic components required for the simplest of functions. Selling a mixer without a beater or a dishwasher and pot washer without a single rack wins no friends.
* Manufacturers need to understand that a low price may have a very different meaning to the purchaser vs. the end-user of the equipment. A construction manager or contractor may only want the lowest first cost; but the chef and operator may have a totally different perspective on price, particularly when the equipment fails to provide the required function and reliability. End-users’ perception of low cost is the operating lifecycle-cost and positive impact that the piece of equipment has on the bottom line.
Manufacturers should offer the end-user the option to purchase add-on accessories, functions, and service that may have been excluded in the base purchase. Designing modular equipment to accommodate easily upgradable features and funclions is a win-win for the manufacturer and end user. The user can upgrade or modify a no-frills base-model to the one with the features they need without starting over, and the vendor has a profitable add-on sale.
* Manufacturers need to understand that warranty service reports can provide a false indication of the reliability of their equipment. Frustrated operators often arrange to repair a unit themselves just to keep it operational and finally abandon it after repeated failures. When touring operations, I often find at least one late-model espresso maker, counter-top steamer or induction range sitting in a storeroom. After repeated failed service attempts, the owner finally loses confidence and gives up. Manufacturers should learn from auto makers like Honda and Toyota, which passionately research and track user satisfaction with their equipment.
If foodservice operated the way most manufacturers build and sell equipment, our menus would have nothing but variations of pasta and rice, served in a white foam take out box. Today’s customers demand far more choice, variety and service and are willing to pay for it. Why aren’t we demanding the same choices from equipment manufacturers? We all need to communicate that a low purchase price is but one choice in the menu of our equipment needs. Sometimes we want to shop at the Bowery, and other times we want to shop uptown.
Equipment manufacturers need to provide us with the options to make those choices. Only then does everybody win and profit.