Writing a spec that meets a foodservice operator's needs in terms of form, function and finance requires a collaborative effort from start to finish. And holding spec remains in the best interests of all parties involved, including design consultants, dealers and reps. Here we explore some best practices for writing and holding foodservice equipment specifications.

During the FCSI-The Americas Division's spring conference one of the bigger issues talked about during the sessions and in the hallways was the ongoing importance of holding spec and the challenges that come with it. With price and bidding wars continuing to shape the way all supply chain partners conduct business, value engineering (VE) has become even more commonplace than before. Whereas in the past VE was an absolute no-no, in today's industry, it's inevitable from time to time. Instead of avoiding the inevitable, consultants now have to be more proactive in their dealings with project team members to stay on top of VE issues before, when and after they may happen.

While holding spec may have been a hot topic among consultants attending the FCSI conference, it is a subject that impacts the entire supply chain. As such, FE&S caught up with a consultant, a dealer and a manufacturer's rep who all weighed in on the holding spec issue. Here are resulting some tips for holding spec and dealing with value engineering.

Maintain your dealer relationships. The motto "never burn bridges" couldn't be more important in today's business environment. With more companies merging and forming partnerships, it is important to keep your relationships strong. It's easy to lash out at industry members when times get tough and projects get rocky. But avoid the temptation and go the opposite direction, says Kristin Sedej of S20 Consultants.

Working closely with dealers and forging partnerships with ones that share your values only strengthens a specification and can ensure the user's goals are met. "It's always best to know the consultant because you know what they look for," says Ed Lindsey, equipment sales specialist for TriMark Marlinn. "If you' don't know them you're shooting in the dark."

Failing to establish a working relationship from the beginning of a job can lead to challenges among project team members. In addition, it is not uncommon for the dealer to get the project before a design consultant and have the power to recommend the right firm for the job. That's when designers want to have a good working relationship with dealers. Recently, Lindsey brought Sedej in for the design/consulting work when the dealership landed a major project, but was too busy to handle the design and needed a helping hand.

Many dealers appreciate consultants who hold spec because it means they won't contribute to prices being dragged down any further. "With customers able to look up prices on the Internet, we've gotten into a bit of a price war," Lindsey says. The ongoing challenge for dealers, he adds, is constantly reinforcing the value they bring to projects. When customers purchase foodservice equipment on the Internet, a truck might show up with the entire package, but who's going to be there to pull the equipment off the truck, install it and deal with warranties?

Says Sedej, "If I don't hold spec when bids go out, it can cause a domino effect that can cause the manufacturers to feel they need to drop their prices to match low bids." Doing so not only degrades the quality of the project, it also drops the price of the equipment being sold, which harms the dealer.

"I find it's so important to develop a rapport with dealers from the beginning and let them know that they can call me with questions," Sedej says. "If they feel something would be beneficial to the client I want to know that and have an open dialogue before the numbers are done and bids go out. I try to maintain transparency and respect in that I'll work with you if you work with me."

Collaborate more with manufacturers' reps. Many consultants also look to build strong, lasting relationships with manufacturer's reps. In a VE situation, they can have your back. "Consultants always seem to be dealing with value engineering and/or substitutions," says Michael Posternak, principal of Posternak Bauer Associates, Inc. in Eastchester, N.Y. "Sometimes value engineering is legitimate in that budgets have exceeded the initial goals and there is a need to reduce cost to the end user. But oftentimes a substitution happens when a low bidder is trying to put in a cheaper product than what has been specified in order to enhance their profit so you end up with a tug of war. Consultants often come back to us for help in supporting their specification and to justify why a particular substitution may not meet a quality specification, if that is the case."