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But most service agencies can do far more for their customers, including helping them when the time comes to buy new equipment. Their deep understanding of equipment — not just how much a piece costs, but how much it costs to operate and maintain — puts them in a position to offer expert advice.
According to Christopher Heina, director of business development for Cobblestone Ovens, an Elk Grove, Ill.-based service agency that focuses on heavy-duty high-end equipment for bakeries and bakery cafes, the most often asked question in this area is an obvious one: Is the piece of equipment worth the cost of repair? But service agents, he said, can help with more than basic repair or replace questions. They can also be consulted in cases where an operator plans an expansion or looks to add menu offerings that don't fit in its existing equipment package.
"Our technicians have worked on a broad range of equipment from different manufacturers being used for different sorts of applications," said Heina, who serves on the board of directors of the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association. "From a service and repair stand point we know what are the reliable, low total cost of ownership pieces of equipment in the particular categories they are evaluating. We can also tell them what pieces of equipment to avoid."
One particular area where service agents can help is evaluating manufacturers' competing energy efficiency claims. Many equipment makers tout that their products use, for example, 25 percent less energy than their competitors' offerings. It can be unclear how they arrive at these figures, Heina said. What is clear, though, is how many BTUs a piece of equipment requires per hour — a fact that manufacturers must state — and how much an operation pays per BTU. "We can then estimate the amount of time the equipment is going to be used on a given day," he said. "Based on that I can show, pretty closely, what you're monthly gas spend [on that piece of equipment] is going to be."
Heina stressed though, that operators must remain vigilant if they want to maintain the energy efficiency of a new piece of equipment, or any piece of equipment, for that matter. Something as easy to address as a dirty burner can easily drive up energy use on hot-line equipment "You need to follow the manufacture's guidelines on daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly maintenance to make sure that it's operating as it should, at its peak efficiency."
In addition to the issue of energy efficiency, a service agent can help make the purchasing process go much more smoothly for all involved. If an agent has an established relationship with the operation, it can provide dealers and manufacturers representatives with essential information such as where gas lines and electrical outlets are located and the size of the gas lines, eliminating a lot of leg work for all involved.
What's more, since service agents often end up in kitchens during working hours, they can provide insight into whether or how a piece of equipment will fit into an operation, said Heina. Having seen so much of what doesn't work, a technician can often tell if a new piece of equipment will disrupt the kitchen's workflow, or if its proposed location will make it difficult to access for repair or maintenance.
Service agencies can visit dozens upon dozens of kitchens every single week. The knowledge they build up through this work can be immensely valuable to operators planning to invest in a new piece of equipment. Most agencies, looking to form true partnerships with their customers, will be more than willing to help.