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Customer satisfaction.

I remember when communications in our Food Equipment Manufacturing industry were as simple as "pass the meat, please!" Owners, managers and operations people had their hands on the same opportunities. Focus was on the product and on specific problems where solutions were within shouting distance of problem solvers. Meetings were infrequent and held right in front of the machine. Rolled up shirt sleeve meetings. Each machine was a prototype; records were memories; and market strategies were activity plans and dreams. The words, custom and innovative, were synonymous.

It was a chaotic time. It was a fun time. It was a profitable time.

As an industry, we've come a long way. Today we're neater and bigger and much more organized. Unfortunately, the primary focus is apt to be on Corporate structure and organizational smoothing rather than on the product itself. Innovation and synergy are board room terms, more often referring to "what we're gonna do" than to an actual machine or viable process.

The managing layers are oppressive rather than supportive. "Corporate commitment" refers to money allocated to a warranty fund instead of utilizing renewable, educatable human resources that know how to solve problems -- or more to the point -- turn problems into opportunities for more effective equipment.

So what do you do? Reorganize? Quit? Start small again? And just how do you do that?

Here's what we've done:

1. Form a marketing and manufacturing partnership with a small, energetic and entrepreneurial company, like Unitherm which is dedicated to a unique, proven product such as the Rapiflow Convection Oven.

2. Incorporate the organizational and service/support from us, the larger company, to back up the stretched resources of the smaller group. Teach each other the basics of our separate businesses.

3. Encourage the conflict of corporate cultures to improve responses to customers' needs. Make us, the bigger company, uncomfortable enough to change some poor corporate habits.

4. Mature sufficiently to utilize the same approach in other markets. In short, learn how to stretch and how to grow very close to our customer base, again. Listen to customers and satisfy their needs.

How's it working?

The sales are there.

The Oven is excellent and fills a real industrial need for a simple, versatile convection oven that has more benefits than any of its competitors on a wider range of food products. The price is right. And the same innovative people who developed it are working on a unique Belt Grill as well as other "custom" equipment.

As far as we're concerned, inter- and intra-company communications are more passionate than they've been in a long time. And a lot of people are uncomfortable. Some are growing to meet the new challenge. That's encouraging.

The other alternative is to watch Unitherm move into the market on its own -- more awkwardly without us of course -- and take it all, eventually. And then get big, too.

Another strategy that other equipment manufacturers are using is to get bigger by becoming a systems conglomerate: single source for complete food processing systems. That's a defensive strategy and vulnerable to attack at the weakest manufacturing "link" by an aggressive, smaller manufacturer who has a better product.

Like Proctor-Unitherm and the Rapidflow Oven.

Jim Hutchison Product Manager Proctor & Schwartz, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Frozen Food Digest, Inc.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:food equipment manufacturing industry
Author:Hutchison, Jim
Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:The times they are a-changin.' (customer service in the Public Refrigerated Warehousing industry)
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