I have been in this industry long enough to remember when Toastmaster and General Electric sold dishwashers, as well as a full line of cooking equipment.

In those days, service was critical to the sale and to maintaining a relationship that encouraged the next purchase by customers. In the '80s and '90s, there was an explosion of new concepts and store openings, and just being able to produce enough equipment to keep up with that growth was the prime focus of most manufacturers. By the late '90s, end-users were buying so much E&S that having truly great sales and service support did not seem as critical as before.

In today's business climate, however, service has once again become an activity of great interest to many of our industry partners. I suspect that reduced margins have prompted many dealers to look at providing services as the best way to add value for their customers. Perhaps the finding released at last April's FE&S State of the Industry Conference that over 60% of the equipment sales in the near future will be replacements has prompted increased interest in service, as well as CFESA's installation program. Responding to the demands of many chain operators, supplying local service and start-up support has also become a "must" for national dealers. We are also finding that manufacturers that provide gas hoses or filtration products now view our service technicians as their sales reps in the field. Given the dwindling number of DSRs, coupled with the fact that today's techs are far more educated and customer-oriented than their predecessors were 20 years ago, our personnel are increasingly being seen as well-equipped to take over the sales function.

Fortunately, the services we provide have maintained sufficient value in the minds of customers to avoid becoming a commodity.

Fortunately for our segment of the industry, the repair and maintenance services we provide have maintained sufficient value in the minds of customers to avoid becoming a commodity. Although our parts sales have been challenged by margin pressures, our total service packages remain in strong demand at the moment.

This has enabled the service community and CFESA to take on the "installation challenge" and develop a new program for manufacturers and dealers. We have also filled a lot of the training voids over the last few years, as CFESA has added refrigeration and regional educational seminars to its offerings, thus continuing to raise the bar for service performance.

Because of the threat posed by offshore equipment manufacturing, I want to challenge the salespeople in our industry to discover or rediscover service. We all know there is never a bottom to discounting and that most customers still only buy on price when all products on offer appear to be equal. Service and sales are not enemies, but I know that those of us on each side often view it that way when we have different agendas. We service agents are finding that brokers or third-party service vendors are getting between us and our customers.

Service and sales need to work together to understand the value we each create and to develop programs jointly that will offer our targeted customers the added value they need to maintain long-term relationships. A good way for us to begin is to market our installation program and convince end-users of its value.

Servicers are in front of customers more often than other channel partners and, as a result, generally have the greatest influence. That's why we should start using service for what it is ... a valuable tool in our sales tool box.