An Eye for Design Can Make Distributors Vital to Customers

By Mason Greene
Chairman, FEDA
President, Hotel & Restaurant Supply

As large e-commerce retailers continue to edge their way into the foodservice equipment business, traditional distributors are thinking harder about how to differentiate. At a recent Modern Distribution Management forum in Denver, there was much conversation about how distributors should respond to Amazon Business with value-added services such as design.

Companies that can carry customers from concept to design and all the way through to the installation have a leg up on online-only retailers incapable of offering services alongside their products. I’ve witnessed the advantage firsthand at Hotel & Restaurant Supply. FEDA dealers and distributorships offer customers an array of design services that range from basic CAD to interior design. 

Customers lean on us for solutions, which is why distributors must stay in front of changing consumer trends so they can best advise their clients. Recently, I spoke with an operator who is preparing to open another restaurant. Interestingly, he is planning a smaller space than his previous location because, due to the popularity of on-demand food delivery, he can now serve a similar volume of customers in a more compact footprint. It’s an attractive trade-off; fewer seats equals a lower cost to serve.

Advancements in multifunctional equipment, such as combi ovens, movable machinery, and stackable items, have made the decision to go smaller possible, allowing for tighter, more efficient kitchens. Here, the equipment expertise FEDA dealers and distributors possess can be invaluable to operators. Even if they don’t have an in-house design team, they have an extensive understanding of the strengths and limitations of every model of foodservice equipment they sell. Most architects don’t really know our specific trade, so operators need the expertise of a dealer or distributor. It’s crucial to a successful project.

This knowledge gives us an opportunity to bring value to our clients—value that the big online general store can’t match. Amazon customer service isn’t going to help a new restaurateur or contractor figure out the voltage needed to power their oven range and warewashing system. Our leaders and sales reps, meanwhile, spend a good part of the year visiting manufacturers to acquaint themselves with the latest equipment and they participate in industry events such as The NAFEM Show and FEDA’s Annual Conference where they receive industry-specific training.

The more we can educate ourselves on newer, flexible equipment to fit our clients’ design needs the better prepared we will be to serve them—and to make our industry vital to their success.