Understanding Our Customers

Michael Keck
Chairman, FEDA
President, Concept Services
michaelkeck@conceptserv.com

Over the past year, our customers (foodservice operators) have dealt with a reality that no one could have forecasted. Through no fault of their own, they were among the first businesses mandated to shut down when the pandemic struck and will likely be some of the last to get the green light to resume normal operations. In that time, many operators have had to drastically alter their business models just to survive and others still face uncertainty on how to accommodate the “new normal.”

Everyone has to work together in a time of crisis. It takes an unprecedented level of courage, communication, cooperation, and collaboration to move through the fog of upheaval and uncertainty. Our role as equipment dealers and distributors shifted to doing whatever was necessary to help our customers adjust and adapt to the ever-changing dynamics of operating a foodservice operation during a pandemic. The operators and the entire supply chain have spent an entire year reacting to the chaos to help them keep their doors open. However, as more states ease restrictions and things begin to resemble a more “normal” business environment, there will soon be a moment where we will shift from being reactive to proactive.

Once that happens, we may need to pivot our businesses again to support operators in this new phase. The keynote speech from National Restaurant Association President and CEO Tom Benè at the FEDA Learn 2021 educational conference will be one of our first opportunities to discover how operator needs are changing during the recovery from an industry-wide perspective. As someone who once led Sysco and PepsiCo, Benè has a background in distribution that lends itself to seeing the breadth and depth of the challenges facing the 500,000 foodservice establishments that are part of the National Restaurant Association. Every distributor and dealer will surely find something in Benè’s presentation that speaks to their customers’ experiences and pain points.

This information will be invaluable as we identify new ways to serve our customers. As demand starts to increase, operators will look to us for answers on how to set up ghost kitchens, repurpose equipment to increase production, and rethink the front-of-the-house for returning diners. What used to solve problems two years ago may not solve them today.

Developing new solutions will require strong collaboration between our businesses and our channel partners. Although the situation is improving, the supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19 remain. Costs are likely to rise and the backlog on equipment deliveries may only get longer as restaurants edge closer toward pre-pandemic capacity. Through its Partner Exchange discussions, Learn 2021 will offer an opportunity to nurture relationships with manufacturers, reps, service technicians, and consultants. The sessions will build off the operator needs touched on in Benè’s keynote while giving channel partners a forum to discuss how they can better align their businesses to deliver better solutions to operators. Having those conversations now will help mitigate some of those issues and allow dealers and distributors to set realistic expectations when working with operators.