Solving Each Other's Problems

Michael Keck
Chairman, FEDA
President, Concept Services

When restaurant dining rooms were closed down last year and equipment sales were down, many manufacturers spent 2020 refocusing on research and development. It was a wise investment because the industry can’t be caught looking in the rearview mirror during a crisis. As leaders, manufacturers are keeping their eyes on the road ahead to prepare for the turns and bumps.

The beginning of 2021 delivered one of those bumps in the form of global supply chain disruption. Just as restaurants were opening back up and ramping up projects, manufacturers found themselves dealing with shortages of raw materials, scarcity of computer chips and delays in shipping. As the problems became apparent, we distributors were left wondering how manufacturers would respond.

It hasn’t been smooth, but give the enormity of the situation our channel partners have absolutely come through the best they could. Over the past several months, I’ve recognized a more unselfish approach to doing business from manufacturers. Most are coming to distributors with a spirit of total cooperation and an intense desire to solve problems for end-users. They have been more open about their capabilities and honest about what they can deliver and when. Everyone is on the same page regarding the situation and they know that missing out on a sale today does not mean the relationship is lost forever.

As dealers, we should be conscious of our partners’ problems and help be part of their solutions. We can take every opportunity to place orders as soon as possible to mitigate lengthy lead times. Doing so may mean extra work, but it’s work worth doing. Dealers must get creative with customers to identify alternative solutions that can fill their needs. Earlier this year, I coached one customer to use the same model and size walk-in cooler for all their restaurant projects. The only variable would be whether the cooler’s hinge was on the left or right side. The manufacturer was able to quickly provide drawings for that standardized option, allowing me to place orders off permits without having to wait for further municipal approvals. As a result, we ordered the coolers four weeks earlier than normal, ensuring they would arrive on time.

That workaround would not have been possible without the involvement of the manufacturer. Equipment makers are thinking harder, offering better solutions and asking more questions to try to hold on to that sale. I’m still crossing my fingers and hoping the global supply chain sorts itself out, but until then I’m glad to have channel partners willing to take these extra steps to ensure every project is a success. They truly understand that every time we solve one another’s problems, we’re also solving our own.