Occasionally, the most challenging of situations can help two parties emerge stronger than before. Such is the case today with foodservice consultants and manufacturers’ reps as the two seem to be working closer together in light of the unique economic climate.
Indeed, the challenging business environment has forced most every member of the foodservice industry to re-think their organizational structure, value proposition and the way they interact with customers and channel partners alike. And, unfortunately, some organizations have had to downsize a little, too.
“As a result, we have to rely on each other more than we did before because some companies don’t have the resources to do the work they might have done themselves in the past,” says Bill Kelly, principal at Kelly-Mincks, a manufacturers’ rep firm in Woodinville, Wash.
Product education represents one opportunity for consultants and manufacturers reps to work more closely together. Despite the economic downturn, factories continue to introduce new and innovative products that are more sophisticated than their predecessors. Examples of these developments include combi-ovens with Bluetooth technology that syncs recipes and photos of food with cooking instructions; faster toaster ovens that can melt cheese on breakfast sandwiches and keep their middles soft, while simultaneously crisping the outer layers of the bread, and any bacon that might be tucked inside; and the countless energy efficient or green features on the market today.
To help keep abreast of these developments and better understand how these features can help meet their clients’ needs, consultants are turning to manufacturers’ reps. Seeing this opportunity, one manufacturers’ rep firm, Preferred Marketing Group, has launched a special consultants’ section on its website.
“We tried to give consultants one spot where they could go to get all the information they need, from getting all the spec sheets for the different brands we represent, to Cad drawings, and links to FCSI and other resources,” says PMG principal Jeff Couch. Dubbed “Consultant’s Corner, this section of the PMG site features a tab with drop-down categories for different foodservice operator segments to help consultants pinpoint the resources they need.
As the manufacturer landscape continues to change through mergers and acquisitions, consultants are turning to their reps as a conduit for information. Reps continue to prove helpful in providing updated information about specific product lines and detailed product specifications.
At the same time, as consultants continue to work on more build-out projects, and as projects become more customized, the nuances behind specifying continue to grow, and as that process becomes more complex. Again, manufacturers’ reps can offer guidance in completing this process.
The pursuit of LEED certification from the USGBC represents another opportunity for manufacturers’ reps and consultants to work more closely together. In Kelly’s case, his company has traditionally worked with the”hot side” of the foodservice equipment industry; however, he recently picked up a line of ice machines. Being in Seattle where so many new construction foodservice projects are seeking LEED certification, it was important to the consultants he worked with that Kelly knew his stuff when it came to how his line of ice machines fit into the energy-efficiency and water-saving requirements under the new LEED guidelines. Kelly spent hours researching this area just so he could work efficiently with the other team players on projects involving his products. “There’s so much changing right now that if you don’t stay tuned into it you can really miss the boat,” he says
At the same time, a growing number of consultants continue to earn LEED Accredited Professional status, meaning they qualify to assist or head up LEED projects. As a result, their level of knowledge and expertise when it comes to energy- and water-saving and other green/sustainable equipment features has grown exponentially in just the last year or two. Whereas now this knowledge may just be an added plus for many consultants, it could become a requirement in the future. As this need evolves, manufacturers’ reps can help consultants understand how available equipment can help meet restrictive guidelines.
Any dichotomies that existed in the past between manufacturers’ reps and consultants seem to be slowly melting away as the two parties find ways to work together more closely to fill their needs. From streamlining forms online, to supplying each other with green product information, it seems as if, in this case, a staggering economy has been paving the groundwork for a better supply chain relationship in the short and long-term.