Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Choosing the right equipment for your food business.

The Right Tools For the Job
Interview with Ed Delandri, Food Equipment Technical Advisor at Interline Brands
By Kathryn Gordon and Jessie Riley

Kathryn:   Ed, I’ve known you since 2005 but can you tell our readers exactly what you do?

Ed:  I help sell commercial kitchen plumbing and food service equipment.   I am in the corporate office of an equipment wholesaler.  Our sales force sells to the end user, the restaurant or bakery.  I am the technical advisor for both our sales people, and the end customers.   In other words, the salesman will start to talk to a customer – but if the customer doesn’t know what they want or need – I get involved, and source it and get it for them.  I’m on phone, email, video or teleconferencing all day and occasionally I travel. 

Ed works for J.A. Sexauer, a division of Interline Grands (

Jessie:  Do chefs and owners typically agree on what they need?

Ed:  No, it doesn’t usually mesh!  What would be ideal for the chef may not be affordable to the owner, so I need to help both of them figure out how to do something else.   We work with vendors around the world so there are infinite options regarding what can be arranged for any customer and given the variables, every situation is unique.

Kathryn:  Why do customers generally come to you about custom design vs. stock, already available equipment?

Ed:  We’re the 4th largest wholesaler in the world, so people know our name.  I take pride in helping people find the right fit. We will not sell a new chef or baker something we do not think they need, won’t help them, or will cost them too much in the end and create risk.  We have a good reputation, and people know we can customize equipment.  The customers drive the demand, not our salespeople and actually, even our competitors use us sometimes to sell to third parties.

Kathryn:  How do you start the process of determining exactly what a customer who is designing a new retail (brick & mortar) location needs?

Ed:  Videos and photos can go a long way.   It helps to have an integrated team of the architect, engineer, electricians and plumbers. 

Jessie:  For custom designs, do customers have to pre-pay?

Ed:  Not if it’s a repeat client who provides us good business like purchases of $500K per year.  Bottom line:  we want happy customers.   If it’s an all-new customer, some sort of a deposit will be negotiated based on what the vendor for that type of equipment requires.

Jessie:  But what happens if the customer specifications are wrong?

Ed:  Someone has to sign off on the contract before the work is started.  It could be the end-customer, or the architect.   Custom items are non-returnable but if the vendor is wrong, they will take the responsibility to fix the situation.  Occasionally an architect or engineer has to take the responsibility if they were the one to provide the incorrect specifications regarding space, etc. on behalf of the client.

For big ticket items it’s key for you to be involved hands-on in making your own decision.  If you know your own business, don’t let anyone push stuff on you, standard or custom, or you’ll wind up with the wrong equipment.

Kathryn:  What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen in terms of wrong equipment selection?

Ed:  A lot of novice people screw up ordering ice machines.  They don’t provide enough specifications on how they want it to work, and there are a lot of options.  

I’ve also seen a lot of errors around fryers. Experienced chefs know they are purchased in pounds per hour.   New businesses don’t always know how to project how many covers they will have, let alone peak frying volume and we need to know that and how many items on their entire menu will be fried to be able to help recommend a specific fryer that will actually work for the customers’ needs.

Sometimes, refrigeration is ordered because a restaurant chef loves the equipment design, but nothing was measured correctly and when they arrive, the reach-ins don’t fit under the counter.

Kathryn:  How can customers best help an equipment purveyor understand what they need, especially since you can order from wholesale equipment purveyors all over the world?

Ed:  The more specifications on how they want everything to work, the better.  Allowing time for custom work is also important.  Customers have to be articulate and videos and photographs help immensely.  I can also go out and visit a difficult situation if necessary but remember you may be forced to select domestic vs. international given the shipping costs (like for a heavy espresso machine, or an AGA-type stove).

Jessie:  What do you do with equipment that’s returned, or cannot be sold?

Ed:  Periodically, our locations will host sidewalk sales! 

Kathryn:  Do you think that custom versus stock is the way to go, especially since you’re in that side of the business?

Ed:  Actually, no I don’t.  Blending custom and stock is usually the best thing but owners should never jump in with huge dollar investments without prior understanding of their business.  We take pride in what we do, and we want the businesses to come back to us so we will not sell them equipment that’s wrong for them no matter how much more we could make.  I am also a chef, and I will try my best to help steer them in the right direction.  You have to remember, the artistic side of fancy custom equipment appeals psychologically but does not ever translate to commercial quality.

Jessie:  So where should people start?

Ed:   There can be a benefit of a seamless, integrated team recommendation – but that’s often impossible.  So don’t just use “too many cooks” to make key decisions.  You can start directly with calls to manufacturers to determine some of your initial possibilities, and you can do that yourself.  Look at websites, communicate with equipment engineers and start making your own decisions. If you’re stuck, use a knowledgeable middleman and trust us to help guide you.  It costs too much money to take the risk of wrong equipment selection, especially if you’re new to this part of the business.

Kathryn:  Thanks Ed!  

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