Buyers need better resources to determine what equipment offers the best value – Equipment & Facilities

Buyers need better resources to determine what equipment offers the best value – Equipment & Facilities – Brief Article

Foster Frable, Jr.

Foodservice equipment is available in a wide range of price and quality. In some product categories, like refrigerators, the price for a single-door reach-in can range from less than $2,000 to more than $4,000. Some part of the range in price can be attributed to different finishes, a more robust and efficient refrigeration system, sound deadening and other details.

But in many cases the major difference between one brand or piece of equipment and another is the quality of the engineering and the support of the manufacturer. Those values are difficult to qualify on a spreadsheet or derive from specifications in a manufacturer’s brochure.

Some buyers are comfortable purchasing a product based only on the reputation of a particular brand name. That can be a valid indicator of what a buyer should expect from a brand or product. Unfortunately, over the past five to 10 years some well-known equipment brands have changed ownership, sometimes more than once. In more than a few cases, products that were manufactured five years ago reflect levels of quality that are quite different from products currently available with the same nameplate.

How does a foodservice buyer separate lesser products and brands from the majority of foodservice equipment manufacturers who strive to offer good value and build on their brand’s reputation for quality and service?

Based on reader comments, many of you share a desire for the same ranking and unbiased comparisons between different brands and models of foodservice equipment as those offered by consumer publications in other fields.

Various foodservice equipment publications may provide a buyer’s guide of features and overall comparisons between brands in specific categories, but they rarely offer meaningful ratings or evaluations to help buyers find the best brand or model in a given category. Nor do they warn the reader to stay away from under-performing equipment.

Oddly, we can easily find that information for almost any product we may want to purchase for businesses or homes — even niche products with limited markets and distribution. Look at the reviews that are published for cars, cameras, computer equipment, office implements and a wide variety of consumer and business services. Products are ranked by value, and the good and bad attributes are delineated clearly for buyers to consider.

It’s important to note that objective and accurate rankings aren’t just provided by subscriber-funded publications, like those published by Consumers Union and Zagat.

Computer, automobile and photography publications regularly lambaste their largest advertisers’ products, sometimes even going so far as to state that a specific product will provide little value to the customer. Yet the very same issue may contain a four-page color advertisement from that same manufacturer. Advertisers may not welcome negative comments or ratings, but most will agree that objective disclosure makes everyone strive to produce better and more reliable products.

Publishers in our industry may raise concerns that the cost of testing and evaluating products and services, as is done in other fields, is too high.

Some utility companies, chains and universities already are conducting equipment testing that could provide a wealth of information to users if it were objectively reported. But when the tests are reported, equipment often is ranked by brand A, B, C or D, leaving the reader to guess the manufacturer. That provides no value to the purchaser.

If industry publications can’t or won’t provide that information, why can’t industry associations collect input and ratings from their own members to publish in their newsletters and on their Web sites, just as Zagat readers rank restaurants? That would be useful and valuable information for operators when they are researching specialized equipment for their segment’s specific needs.

For example, why can’t hospital foodservice directors find objective ratings of retherm carts, trayline equipment or large ware-washing systems? Do some member associations refrain from compiling and publishing ratings of equipment and service because they are afraid of offending advertisers and “patrons” of their conferences and meetings?

Something is wrong when foodservice operators are forced to make uninformed decisions on expensive foodservice equipment but can find a wealth of information on almost any other business or consumer product or service either in print or on a Web site. Owners, operators, chefs and consultants need and want that information and cry for someone to provide it.

The next time you read product reviews and user feedback before purchasing a product or service, consider the value they bring to your purchasing decision. Then think how the same type of information could benefit your business if it were available for commercial foodservice equipment and services.

If you agree that being given such information is an important, but missing part of your decision process, contact the associations and publications you support and ask them to provide more objective information and user feedback on the products and services you purchase.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group