Peer Exchange Sessions Encourage Seeking Common Solutions with Partners

The newly formatted Peer Exchange Sessions at the FEDA Annual Conference will feature 10-minute expert presentations followed by time for group discussions between distributors, manufacturers, and service reps to go over the various topics.

By Ethan Gibble
Contributing Writer

The FEDA Conference is right around the corner and, with familiar faces as well as exciting new activities, it is poised to deliver one of the industry’s most spirited networking and educational opportunities of 2019. Whether a first-time attendee or an annual participant, members will want to check out the new peer exchange breakout sessions for a more interactive alternative to the roundtable discussions of years past. Specifically designed to better engage FEDA members, these two sessions not only feature a 10-minute expert presentation, but also provide an opportunity for dealers, manufacturers, and service reps to discuss shared challenges revolving around the topics at hand. Participants walk away with insight into the obstacles facing their peers, as well as solutions that may be helpful in their own day-to-day.

The Importance of Startups

The first session focuses on startups, warranty work, and performance checks and services. It will be moderated by Andrew O’Quinn, vice president of Thompson & Little, who believes that some of a dealer’s most important responsibilities begin after equipment is delivered to the end user.

“In the past, a lot of factories covered startups as part of a service to the purchase order. Now we’re finding a lot of factories are stepping away from startups,” says O’Quinn. As a result, the dealer assumes more responsibility. “Anybody can take the equipment off of a truck. You have to make sure it’s installed correctly; that it’s performing as expected and there are no glitches from the factory. So when the kitchen opens up on day one, it will be to the customer’s satisfaction.”

Ensuring a smooth startup helps to maintain the positive relationship that’s been established between the dealer and purchaser, setting the stage for a mutually beneficial long-term partnership. Having a certified CFESA tech perform the installation to ensure that everything is set up correctly upfront, can prevent costly repairs and service calls, making life that much easier for everyone involved.

Challenges and Opportunities Presented by Warranty Work

Still, warranty calls are inevitable and there are going to be times that a tech can’t perform same-day service on an issue that was called in late in the afternoon. “Most warranty policies state that anything over 50 miles of travel one-way is at the customer’s expense,” says CFESA President John Schwindt. Those are just a few of the realities an end user doesn’t want to hear when they’ve got a fryer down and a weekend special on wings fast approaching.

The remedy is clearly communicating and setting realistic expectations to keep frustration at a minimum. “We’re both partners. Our goal is to service the end user and make sure that they’re happy,” says O’Quinn. “So how can we learn how service agencies operate, and what can we do to help better facilitate their work? And on the flip side, how can service agencies learn the dealer pain points to help us get to the finish line with our customer?”

Serving the Same Customer

After a CFESA conference in March of last year, Michael Keck, president of Concept Services, met with Schwindt and several CFESA board members to discuss the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to both dealers and service companies. “It didn’t take long for us to come to the same conclusion. We all serve the same customer,” said Keck. “It is important we discuss and implement solutions to better serve our common goals and our shared customers.”

Keck will bring that understanding to his role as the moderator of the second peer exchange session, which will cover tech recruitment and training, priority dispatching for large customers and chains, and creating opening parts kits for select customers.

Dealers and service agencies each have their challenges but the key, according to Keck, is that everyone wants to identify opportunities for improvement and that both sides have great ideas. “It’s time we put some actions behind the words,” said Keck. But to really gain momentum, dealers need to fully appreciate how the service side operates. “Service agencies want the dealer community to know how things really work at their organizations, not how dealers want them to work. They want them to know how they have to deal with dispatching techs, overtime, parts, warranty work, startups, tech recruitment, and training.”

The Potential of Priority Dispatching

According to Schwindt, most companies dispatch in a similar way, but prioritizing isn’t a clear-cut system. “Contract customers, warranty, big chains that call for service every day, ‘true’ emergencies where customers can’t produce product, health and safety issues—all of these play into dispatching.”

This somewhat fluid approach to dispatching creates an opportunity, from Keck’s perspective. “Service companies are open to discussing priority dispatching for large customers and chains. They confirmed, as a group, that with some cooperation this could potentially be a nationwide program.” As is so often the case, it all comes down to maintaining an open line of communication. Service companies may not know whether a customer is a one-and-done concept, a new chain, or a large chain moving into a new area. Knowing a bit about the customer can help head off problems before they ever arise.

The Problem with Parts

Parts availability is another big challenge for dealers and service agencies. Techs, of course, can’t carry every part known to man on their truck, so not every service call ends with a resolution. And because most manufacturers won’t pay for air freight, expediting non-inventory parts is an expense that can add up quickly. “Dealers, service agencies, and manufacturers can explore creating store opening parts kits for select customers,” says Keck. “This could be an add-on sale for the dealers and ensure parts are available for replacement in the market.”

Challenging the Norm

There will be plenty of ground to cover in these peer exchange sessions, so O’Quinn has a word of advice for attendees: “Everybody come with an open mind and an understanding that we’re partners looking for solutions,” he said. “How can we think outside the box to save each other time and money, and deliver a great product to the end user?”

“The service segment is a key component to the dealer’s success,” adds Keck. “In the past, we found ways to work around service issues. I want dealers to challenge the norm. We, as dealers, are missing a strategic opportunity if we don’t communicate and collaborate with our local service agencies. They have a lot to offer dealers, and dealers have a lot to offer service agencies. With a more collaborative attitude toward the service industry, we can find new and more strategic ways to serve our customers.”