The company's commitment to good communication remains constant in both good times and bad. For example, during the recent economic downturn the management team clearly laid out the company's status to the employees, telling them it would be necessary to accept a wage freeze and tighten the dealer's belt a little until business improved, or layoffs might be necessary. The employees agreed with implementing the austerity measures but, more importantly, really respected management's candor during such a challenging time; this honesty earns it high marks from the employees. "Handling the employee base the way we did helped us remain a stable company, and that has benefitted both the customers and the suppliers," says Gerry O'Neil, a 13-year company veteran who serves as its warehouse manager.
And maintaining that high level of communication will be critical to the company's success moving forward. "As long as we stay focused and hire people that know their roles and what they need to do, we will stay successful," Woolcock says.
The combination of the company's evenhanded leadership and clear communication creates a certain stability that permeates the entire enterprise. "We don't have a lot of turnover, which has been a good thing for us," Vozzo says.
Despite its well-thought-out and well-executed plans, Singer Equipment Co. is not immune to some of the challenges other foodservice equipment and supplies companies must address. "While we have a well-tenured sales force, moving forward, the challenge for us — and for the industry — is finding out how to keep the pipeline filled with good people. It takes a lot of time and money to train people to fill those spots, as salespeople start to retire or move on," Vozzo says. "We are competing with other industries for salespeople, too. So your training and development become critical."
The Internet has been a disruptive force for traditional foodservice equipment and supplies dealers, too. For generations, the main role of foodservice equipment and supplies dealers like Singer Equipment Co. was to provide product information, pricing and availability to operators who needed products but had no idea where to get them or what they cost. "In those days, there was no way to get that information outside of calling a dealer," Singer says. "A good dealer was someone a customer could call to find out where to get something, what it would cost and how they could fit it into a system, whether that was a cookline or a tabletop. Today, the Internet has supplanted many of those roles. A customer can watch a video about a product and get a series of quotes, in some cases faster than if they called a dealer."
For dealers to stay relevant, they will need to find new ways to create value. "Otherwise, they will cease to exist because the market won't pay them just for having enough inventory to satisfy the local marketplace," Singer says. "So dealers, many dealers, are in the process of recreating the way they provide value in the marketplace."
This is where having a seasoned, well-trained sales force may help. "Ours is a well-established sales force, and they know how to sell the features and benefits of quality equipment and communicate the ROI to help our customers buy something because of the value it offers and not the stickerprice," Gallagher says. "We offer something they can't get from an Internet company. Hopefully, our people are asking the right questions to find out what the customer's needs really are."
Not content to rest on its recent success, Singer Equipment Co.'s management team is already exploring what comes next for the 95-year-old company. For example, in terms of the company's size, the geographic market it serves and its evolving chain presence, Singer says the company is getting close to achieving its goals. So collectively, management is looking at what lies ahead. In doing so, they are trying to understand how big the company should grow to be, both in terms of revenues and geography served. In addition, the management team is trying to develop an idea of what their customers will look like in the years to come and what services they will want Singer Equipment Co. to provide. Also part of this discussion is trying to understand what the foodservice equipment and supplies dealer and manufacturer communities will look like in the coming years.
"We still believe that the greater New York market is important for us to eventually be able to expand into the Washington, D.C., market. So it is important for us to build out our footprint in those areas," Singer says. "We want to be the dealer of choice in that marketplace, but we still have a long way to go. So that's a much longer-term goal for us."