It’s easy to comparison shop for practically anything today, from clothing to cars to kitchen equipment ranging from a can opener to a blast chiller. It’s also natural to apply this comparison shopping to the world of service agencies. Why spend an extra $10 an hour on labor if you don’t have to?

Operators should be careful about jumping from one agency to the next based on price alone, however. Having a long-term, trusting partnership with an agency can be a huge value to foodservice operators in the long run.

That’s the position held by Scott Hester, partner with Dallas-based Refrigerated Specialists Inc. (RSI) and Cooking Equipment Specialists (CES). “Working on my fleet of trucks, I have a General Motors dealership and I have an independent mechanic,” he says. “I’m very loyal to those guys because I can trust that they’re not going to cover up a mistake. I trust that they’re going to be fair with me in pricing and they’ll provide me with good counsel and advice with respect to what I should do with these vehicles. I try to foster the same thing with my customers because that’s where we can do the most for them.”

In the kitchen equipment service world, this sort of advice and counsel usually comes in the form of repair/replace guidance. RSI and CES play it straight with this guidance, Hester says. His long-term clients, those that know the company, get the most out of this information because they trust him.

If there’s no long-term relationship, though, an operator may have a harder time believing a particular repair is worth the cost. “If you just met the guy, it’s difficult to extend trust with respect to someone talking you into spending more money,” Hester says.

Partner Advantage

Repair/replace decisions are only the start of what true a service agency partner can offer. Such a company can actually help operators identify, and then avoid many issues in the purchase/install phase of a project.

This can start with limited advice on particular brands, Hester says. “I don’t want to be the guy telling a customer to buy a Ford or Chevrolet or a Toyota. However, I do want to tell my customer not to buy a Yugo, or a Hummer or something that’s not supported anymore in the market because you’re going to be left out in the cold.”

Many makers of off-brand imports, for instance, don’t have a robust network for supporting their products in the United States. When a unit breaks down and requires a replacement part, it can often take weeks to get that component shipped from overseas. A good service agency can provide its customers a heads-up about such factories.

Service agencies can also help operators understand potential equipment layout problems, particularly when adding or replacing an item. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for a combi oven to replace a standard oven in a kitchen. While that combi would obviously require a water line, a service agent, if consulted pre-purchase, could spot less obvious issues. “If you don’t have a floor drain right beneath it, you’re giving a steam bath to the equipment every time you dump hot water. It soaks the electronic equipment and you have a lot of service problems,” says Hester.

Other examples include improper placement of a heat lamp on a pass-through window could accidentally heat ingredients stored in cold wells on a sandwich table; AC vents can disrupt the air curtain that keeps reach-in refrigerated displays cold; and a refrigerator’s intake vents can be too close to hot equipment, hurting its ability to maintain safe temperatures. A service agent can spot and help address these issues, Hester says.

Service agents can also provide insight into the utility hookups and even utility supply requirements, such as gas and water line sizes, to ensure all equipment can operate properly (and simultaneously) once a job is complete.

“On the front end, we’re happy to do that with folks,” Hester says. “Normally it’s on the larger, more complex project rather than individual replacement pieces. We’ll meet with reps and dealers at projects and go over the blueprints they email us whenever questions arise.”

Operators can only really do this, though, if they have a service agency partner that they work with enough to really trust with their equipment insights.

“It’s very important for the owner of a piece of equipment to trust their service vendor to lead them in the right directions. That way they can make sound decisions to repair or replace, and to take care of the equipment so it doesn’t shorten its life cycle.”