Manufacturers raise the stakes as warranty battle heats up

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Catering equipment buyers will be all too aware that attention to after-sales service can be just as important as product functionality when choosing equipment. Warranty terms are an intrinsic part of this process, with brands seemingly placing greater emphasis on the level of cover they are now willing to offer.

Standard warranty terms of 12 months, once universal across the industry, are now being increased to two or three years, sometimes even more, as suppliers seek to demonstrate the confidence they have in their product.

One view is that given manufacturers are desperate to ensure their products do not fail under warranty — claims can be expensive after all, especially in terms of spare parts and labour costs — any brand comfortable enough to extend their standard cover period clearly has faith in the robustness of its kit.

So if that’s the case, does it mean that modern-day operators should begin to cast doubts over the quality of products that are only backed by a 12-month warranty? Clearly the answer that most suppliers give to this question will depend on the type of basic warranty they are prepared to offer themselves, but on the whole the subject does raise some interesting points for operators to consider when evaluating the support that lies in store if a product does fail unexpectedly.

However, be warned, the world of warranties can be a slightly muddied one. Tim Bender, UK sales director — warewashing at Hobart UK, claims there is a fair bit of misinformation around the subject. He suggests some manufacturers claim to offer a two- or three-year warranty free of charge when actually it isn’t strictly the case.

“What they are offering is a one-year warranty to which end-users can add to, should they wish to do so, but at a cost,” he suggests. “From a Hobart perspective, our take is that if you just add a warranty for a second or third year and have no provision for service and maintenance visits, then this makes little or no business sense — you’re literally waiting for a machine to fail.

“Good aftercare is all about ensuring the end-user has a maintenance structure in place, built into their warranty that negates costly downtime, elongates the life of a machine and can make for increased operational efficiency into the bargain. Simply relying on a warranty as your machine ticks into year-two and year-three is short-sighted and could have a negative outcome on operations.”

Simply relying on a warranty as your machine ticks into year-two and year-three is short-sighted”

David Watts, general manager of Samsung Professional Appliances, thinks the answer to the question of whether a one-year warranty and product reliability can be linked depends wholly on the probable failure rates of each individual product and other associated costs. “Some equipment is more prone to failure than other products, and manufacturers must cost this into their price. In our case we are fully aware of the average failure rate of our commercial microwaves and are perfectly happy to back a three-year warranty — or longer — without worrying about rising service costs,” he comments.

But Kenny Smith, sales director at Middleby UK, takes a slightly different stance, arguing that just because a product only comes with one-year warranty cover doesn’t mean it isn’t going to last: “Normally it is the less-established products that have the extended warranty to prove the quality of these units. Established products can have a one-year warranty as word of mouth and reputation will prove their quality.”

Commentators point out that the expected lifetime of a product may also vary depending on operational use. Some commercial blenders, for example, take into account the number of cycles, rather than the age of the blender. Warranties are therefore built around a minimum product lifetime, not a limit.

Spare parts

Standard warranty terms of 12 months are now being increased to two or three years as suppliers seek to demonstrate the confidence they have in their product.

Maidaid Halcyon typically offers warranty terms of between one and three years depending on the product in question. Sales director, Julian Lambert, is a firm believer that standard one-year terms on introductory-level equipment do not necessarily imply the product could be of inferior quality or reliability.

He cites an example of why this is the case: “A small turnover, tenanted public house may not have the operating capital to invest in anything but base level equipment, but with good operating procedures in place to ensure the equipment is maintained in good condition there will be no reason why equipment will not provide reliable service over a long period. With larger group customers they may well write off equipment over a three-year period and therefore be prepared to initially pay a slightly higher price for a full warranty covering that period.”

However, other market players are less diplomatic. They are adamant that questions should be asked of equipment that a manufacturer is only prepared to back with a 12-month warranty.

“It is up to individual manufacturers to set their own levels of warranty but it is a fair assumption that if they are only happy to give only one year then they do not believe in their equipment,” says Frima’s managing director Graham Kille, who adds that a warranty should always cover parts and labour, and should extend to seven days a week to account for the fact that busy kitchens cannot afford downtime.

It is reasonable to expect manufacturers offering longer warranty periods to cite it as an endorsement of the faith they have in their kit. But Chris Myhill, operations director at Maidaid, argues the structure of a warranty — namely what’s included in the terms — is usually far more important than its duration.

“I know of past examples where equipment has been purchased due to the offering of a three-year warranty but then the customer finds they are faced with invoices for engineers’ visits during this period due to the work undertaken or parts fitted not being covered by the warranty. Always understand the terms of the warranty and, if necessary, read the small print.”

It is up to individual manufacturers to set their own levels of warranty but it is a fair assumption that if they are only happy to give only one year then they do not believe in their equipment”

It’s a perspective that Steve Hobbs, MD of Grande Cuisine, firmly agrees with. “It’s all about the type of cover, rather than the length offered,” he counsels. “The customer’s needs and operations need to be the main things considered. Timings can be crucial — operating hours for initial call-out and limitations on ‘fix-time’ are also important.”

Hobbs suggests operators should always assess the option of selecting a parts-only warranty. “This can allow you to have an extra discount off the initial purchase and also give you more control over labour costs if you have the engineering resources available or obtainable,” he advises.

If a shorter warranty period does not categorically imply a product is inferior, by the same reasoning an extended warranty period is no guarantee that the equipment will offer trouble-free service. All too often, argue some commentators, longer warranties are being used as a ‘sweetener’ and bear no reflection on the reliability or longevity of the kit.

Those who have gone down this route differ to agree. Refrigeration manufacturer Gram now offers a five-year parts and labour warranty across a wide selection of its portfolio, including its latest ‘Generation 5’ models. MD Glenn Roberts says the offer demonstrates the “confidence” Gram has in the reliability of its products, and guarantees peace of mind for operators that their investment will be looked after. He suggests the strength of a warranty is part of a list of things that operators must consider when buying any type of equipment.

“Before purchasing new equipment it is important that caterers and operators fully research the features and benefits of the products available to the foodservice market as well as checking warranties, after-sales service and energy efficient credentials. In many cases the initial outlay can seem costly and can cloud decision-making, as the short-term benefits of purchasing low-cost equipment can be seen to outweigh the benefits of looking at the entire lifecycle of a unit. However, the importance of considering the entire lifecycle of a piece of equipment should not be underestimated.”

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Good aftercare is all about ensuring the end-user has a maintenance structure in place.

Neil Washbourne, service development manager at Electrolux, says that many brands that would regard themselves as being at the ‘premium’ end of the market only offer a single-year warranty, however as time passes it is becoming increasingly more difficult for them to justify 12-month cover.

“In equipment terms, refrigeration has led the way with longer warranties as two years has been the norm for a good while now and five years is not unheard of. In terms of chain customers, many of those companies with standard 12-month warranties actually extend these to two- or three-year warranties as part of the contract. This often covers the actual period of that specific contract, which can typically be three years in length.”

It all boils down to purchasing equipment from a reputable brand with a long association for quality, consistent and reliable equipment, according to Jon Usher, head of UK sales and marketing at GDPA, owner of Burco and Lec.
“Length of cover is a key aspect of any warranty; however it is not the only thing that operators should consider before deciding on a purchase. It is important that the customer feels that should anything go wrong, they are able to contact the manufacturer for a solution and a fix that causes minimum disruption to their business.

Within its own business, he adds, the company has endeavoured to marry its warranty offering with award-winning customer care service and a national team of service engineers. “In the unlikely event of a problem we are able to provide a swift and knowledgeable response and, where possible, a first-time fix to get the business up and running in the shortest possible time,” he says.

So, back to original question, does a one-year warranty still cut it? It would appear there is no definitive answer. It’s very much a matter of expectation.

‘No such thing as a one-size-fits-all warranty’

As a supplier of multiple brands, Jestic Foodservice Equipment is used to dealing with manufacturers that offer varying warranty terms and conditions. This extends from the industry standard cover of 12 months parts and labour to the 10-year warranty now being offered on selected products by pizza oven manufacturer Wood Stone.

Jestic’s MD, Steve Loughton, suggests buyers should keep an open mind about the length of warranty terms proposed by manufacturers and relate the significance of it purely to their own needs.

“I don’t think it should be the case that operators dismiss the quality of equipment solely based upon the length of the standard warranty,” he comments. “For many, a standard 12-month warranty is more than enough for the expected use of their appliance, especially in establishments where equipment may not be used to its full duty potential all the time.

“Most caterers, quite rightly, purchase equipment based on the busiest peak in their expected demand. This peak is maybe something that happens only a handful of times in a calendar year; therefore they rarely use the appliance to its full potential. In this case, a standard warranty is more than adequate.

“On the other hand, operators who are always using their equipment to the max may require the assistance of extended warranties, planned preventative maintenance contracts and regular site visits from engineers in order to maintain the lengthy lifecycle of an appliance. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to a warranty package that is suitable for every business.”

Parry improves warranty package

Operators purchasing catering equipment made by British brand Parry will receive more bang for their buck from now on after it announced improved warranty terms from the beginning of June.

The company, which makes commercial ovens, hobs and grills, has doubled its standard warranty cover to 24 months on all Parry-branded equipment. Having invested heavily in improving its production capabilities following the adoption of lean manufacturing principles over the last three years, the company insists the two-year on-site parts and labour warranty will provide customers with “added security”.

It says the introduction of a philosophy of ‘Controlled Continuous Improvement’ has been embedded in all aspects of its business, allowing it to better support users of its products.

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Mark Banton says the extension of Parry’s standard warranty offer is part of its enhanced service strategy.

‘”Looking at the successful Parry business we have today, while drawing up plans to secure an even brighter future, we decided that the time was right to embrace a change in culture and all business operations from marketing through to despatch and after-sales service,” explains Parry director, Mark Banton.

“To achieve this we created a top-level business change plan that will make us class leaders in our sector. The extended warranty is a key part of that strategy and of our enhanced offering. Customers can rest assured that Parry offers the best all-round package.”

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