Few foodservice professionals would argue that the service agent component of the industry has changed considerably over the years.
I would guess that most foodservice companies encounter similar challenges on occasion. So in the spirit of sharing the lessons learned from our experiences, here's the Duffy's story.
Duffy's started as a service company in 1963. Frank Duffy was the technician and his wife Gloria did the office work. Being in the repair business in the sixties was much simpler than it is now. The equipment was simple, the customers were less demanding and the manufacturers were not as concerned with costs. In short, the business was hard work but it was fun. When I use the word fun, that's what I mean: not enjoyable, not rewarding, not fulfilling. We had a great time.
Around the mid-seventies we started doing contracted warranty work for manufacturers. The first contracts were great because they did not include start-ups, minimum orders, performance checks, four-hour response times or labor discounts. We sent in a bill and the manufacturers paid it — not with credit but actual cash money. The best thing was that because we kept the manufacturers' equipment up and running, we could buy parts at a good discount. We soon learned that the big money was in parts: buy low, sell high. We were living the American dream.
The problem was that anybody with a UPS number could make money on parts. At the time, there was not really any competition in the parts business. We had protected territories and anyone who wanted to buy OEM parts in our area had to buy them from us. Although it was good money, it was bad business. The marketplace never weeded out the weak. Bad service companies didn't fail because their parts business propped them up.
We should have seen that it had to end, but it surprised us. Looking back, making money that easy only invites specialized companies, in our case parts houses, into the market. When the parts houses first began to grow, we tried to stop them. We complained to manufacturers that they were killing service companies. We contacted our long-time customers to try to keep them, but they had to buy where they could get the best price. We were angry with the parts houses because they found a way to get parts to our customers at prices we couldn't match. We complained but the truth is that the marketplace worked as it should. Customers bought the same product we could provide for less money, it was that simple.
Duffy's had to decide what we were going to do. After looking over all of our options, we decided that it was best for us to go back to our roots: we would provide the best service possible for the fairest possible price. To do that we needed to be sure we were providing what our customers wanted and needed. We spent weeks and months talking to our customers, making them the source for our plan. We were open with them, sharing what we were trying to do. What we found was that not only were they full of good ideas but they wanted to help and for us to succeed. We did the same thing with our employees and found they knew what we needed to do.
I wish I could say it was easy or that it happened overnight. I wish I could say we had a carefully laid out plan that we followed and it came together like clockwork. I can't lay claim to any of those things. The truth is that we tried a lot of different ideas, some worked and some didn't. The key was to never stop trying different ways to improve.
We came through and have a company based on giving great service.