Dexter-Russell’s CEO says Dealers’ Market Connectivity and Problem-Solving Skills have Never been Greater

Alan Peppel has been president and CEO of Dexter-Russell since 2001. Over the past two decades, Peppel has guided the 200-year-old company into the modern foodservice equipment market with an increased focus on usability and productivity.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve heard during the past year-and-a-half?
People receive, accept and deal with change like a pandemic at different speeds and comfort levels. They have their personal and family lens to filter and then absorb events. For the business, we must do what is proper, safe and right for the team and each person, and communicate in many different ways to have people understand all the changes, accept them and adapt to them.

What are some ways your business has pivoted during the pandemic and ensuing supply chain disruption?
As a U.S. manufacturer, we have been sheltered from the worst of the pandemic supply disruptions for overseas containers, but we too are vulnerable to disruptions and higher freight, material and packaging costs. We have had to add weeks to our supply timelines and add labor hours to manufacturing to meet the surge in demand. There seems to be a daily surprise about what is coming in behind schedule. The timely supply of repair parts to keep operations running has been a constant challenge. In general, it is not that we cannot get materials, but the lead times are longer and more expensive across the board. To meet the surge in demand, we would be hiring even more employees, but have found them difficult to recruit at every skill and professional level.

What is something you wish your organization had done differently or implemented more quickly during the pandemic? What did that experience teach you about managing future disruptions and downturns?
It has been difficult to forecast the ups and downs of the pandemic. It seemed the world stopped in April and May of 2020 and then zoomed back again. As an essential business, we were able to keep everybody working from the onset, which was fortunate as business recovered in the second half of 2020. Although we split up departments and implemented remote work, we could have done that sooner. We had difficulty encouraging proper health protocols outside the company, which then brought contact, not contagion, sporadically back into the company. Perhaps one pattern is the government’s apparent desire to “save” all companies and individuals from all bad outcomes. We’ll see if that can continue as an affordable choice.

Can you share a recent example of how your company worked with a distributor to successfully solve a problem for a foodservice operator?
We pride ourselves in helping our distributors develop end-market product solutions for their customers and provide them in as timely a manner as possible. Even during the pandemic, we supported product roll-outs for new menu items and processes. Frequently, this takes the form of customer testing before committing to the distributor and then us.

Can you tell us about one of your products that is responding especially well to the problems facing operators, such as the labor shortage or the migration to new business models?
Because they are designed and made for the professional user, our products enhance productivity, yield and efficiency. We do not eliminate people, but we try to make the worker more productive. We have been able to modify the length of a blade, or the shape of the serration to match what the customer is cutting, turning or serving. Recently, we have added RFID technology to products for tracking and traceability – a true game changer!

Although the industry has gone through a tough period, it energized new foodservice concepts and ways of reaching consumers. What excites you about the industry and working with dealers going forward?
I agree the dealer community is revitalized as never before – and not just to chase supply issues. If we accept that air and business travel and tourism and lodging have not recovered, we have more runway for our recovery. From carry-out formats to ghost kitchens, concepts are changing and dealers can be at the forefront of these opportunities. Hopefully, many of their customers have discovered they need the distributor as never before and the market connectivity of dealers and their ability to solve problems has never been greater. We like to be a part of those solutions!