Lockdown has presented many challenges for the catering industry – not least on the service and maintenance side. Keith Mackie, managing director of leading provider Hobart Service, reveals how it has managed operations during the shutdown period and what it has learned from adapting to new conditions that the sector is facing.
Hobart Service is helping its sister equipment division to launch a re-opening support package for end-users – what’s the company’s role in this and how will this benefit operators?
Hobart Service works hand in hand with our Equipment Sales division. We have taken the lead in supporting the industry restart in a number of ways. We have offered open access to our library of operational guides and created a suite of support restart documents (both warewash and cooking) for kitchens that have been closed for an unprecedented amount of time, to support managers and chefs.
We have been in dialogue with our customers throughout this time and, by maintaining nationwide coverage, can reassure all customers, both new and existing, that we can support them to get them open for service again.
How much capacity has Hobart Service been able to maintain throughout lockdown?
This specialist unit was a demonstration of our commitment to maintain UK coverage to all customers requiring our services throughout lockdown. It comprised a UK-wide taskforce of service engineers and sales professionals and enabled key services to have full access to commercial catering equipment, maintenance and spares.
We also increased on-site spares stockholding to in excess of £6m – an unprecedented move to enable a target 6-hour wait time for priority customers to minimise machine downtime and disruption.
With our reduced workforce we have maintained our service level agreements whist prioritising key critical services such as the NHS.
What main challenges have you faced in these unprecedented times and how have you overcome these?
Measuring how much capacity we need daily has been a challenge. We took the decision early on that Hobart would using the backing of our parent company, ITW, to maintain a presence in the UK market to support critical services. That said, we still needed to plan and flex accordingly. Looking back, I am happy with what we have achieved.
How has the coronavirus pandemic changed the way that Hobart Service works?
Hobart Service was already using tools such as Microsoft Teams, Sharepoint and Office 365 before the pandemic struck. This was a huge advantage and we achieved a remote set-up very quickly.
“Our restart initiatives include a large discount on all our cleaning chemicals.”
Many of our office staff are still working from home but communication via remote channels has allowed us to maintain our service levels and importantly, keep communication throughout our workforce active and engaged.
I suspect remote working with be even more embedded in our culture as we move forward. This will make us even more efficient and collaborative both internally and with customers.
What type of demand has the company seen in recent months – are there particular sectors or types of equipment that have been prominent?
Demand has been significantly down across our business but sectors that kept us busy were healthcare, defence establishments and the food supply chain customers. We ensured they got the service they needed when they needed it. Our relationships with customers have been strengthened as a result.
How has Hobart Service been helping healthcare sites at the frontline of the coronavirus fight?
Healthcare has been at the forefront of our effort from the very start. Our stance was simple – healthcare service calls come first.
How has the company been maintaining relationships with its dealer network, with many of them temporarily closed or staff being furloughed?
Hobart Service tends to be more end-user centric, so this period has not seen an increase in dealer contact. That said, we are always looking for strategic partners in the dealer community to work with further the Hobart brand.
Has Hobart Service been able to use the lockdown period to train its own staff, dealers or end users further?
The size and scale of Hobart Service has allowed us to initiate a training program for some of our furloughed engineers. This is being led by our technical operations manager, covering topics such as electrical safety and in-depth training on cleaning chemistry. We are focusing on topics specifically related to restart to give our technicians the most up to date information available to help get the industry reopened.
What advice would Hobart Service give to end-users as commercial kitchens start to reopen after this period of mothballing?
Be safe – We have released a suite of documents to help operators start up their equipment. Please make sure you are health and safety compliant (gas safe, pressure vessel tested etc.). If operators do need assistance, they can give us a call and we will do all we can both technically and commercially to help you get up and running.
“The size and scale of Hobart Service has allowed us to initiate a training program for some of our furloughed engineers
Clean your equipment – it’s more important than even to ensure your equipment is cleaned regularly using manufacturer approved chemicals at the correct dosage. Our restart initiatives include a large discount on all our cleaning chemicals to help operators shoulder the cost of this. If you need more advice or help just give us a call.
What main learnings have the company taken from this unprecedented period?
Flexibility, adaptability and agility are the new norm. Being able to shape and reshape a large service organisation, with all the complexity that entails, quickly and efficiently is the key to meeting current and future customer needs. Whilst it’s been tough, our ability to meet customer requirements in a far more fluid way will put us in good stead for the future.