If I was reminded of one thing at The NAFEM Show it's that there is no substitute for service and communication among trading partners.

Budget conscious operators continue to deal with mounting financial pressures in the form of rising labor and food costs, which could potentially impact equipment and supplies purchases. Even in a best case scenario, operators are holding on to their equipment longer than before, as our studies show they continue to repair rather than replace.

And the continued introduction of high-tech foodservice equipment items only serves to amplify the need for better and well planned service. These more complex pieces of equipment need proper installation, including the necessary clearances to ensure the circuit boards that serve as the brains for specific pieces of equipment remain functional.

This only serves to heighten the importance of the role of the service agent in today's foodservice industry. But service agents can't go it alone. Rather, they need to be able to function in an open and collaborative manner with the factories, dealers, reps and others that help specify, sell and purchase foodservice equipment to meet operators' needs in a timely and efficient manner. Any territorial disputes about who owns the customer, who owns the liability for a service call and the like only holds the industry back and keeps the operators from receiving the optimal service they require. More to the point, the lack of a cohesive effort among the various channels can leave operators with a less than desirable impression of a specific product or brand.

Operators' service expectations are pretty specific. They want value for what they purchase. Period. And they don't differentiate between individual roles. They see the individual members of the supply chain all as one. As such, it's important to continue to develop better and more cohesive working relationships among the various parts of the supply chain.

Unfortunately, the foodservice industry is nowhere near its optimal level of performance in this all-important area. That came through loud and clear during a very candid panel discussion that took place during the CFESA Spring Conference held on the eve of The NAFEM Show. The comments made by the individuals representing the service agent, factory, rep and dealer segments showed tremendous opportunity to improve the communication and collaboration among these all important parts of the foodservice equipment industry. Further, it became evident that working more collaboratively among the segments was not a high priority among these segments but all agreed that needs to change. And developing these relationships to allow for more collaboration is a responsibility that all segments share equally.

Foodservice operators remain in the business of providing a high-quality dining experience for their customers. And the way they do this, including the way they engage their customers, continues to become more dynamic and complex. As a result, it's only natural that operators will need and demand more complex and dynamic solutions from their supply chain partners. The only way to enhance service levels in such a way is by breaking down the traditional artificial barriers that separate the segments to allow service agents, dealers, reps and factories work together with a singular purpose: to help the operators best serve their customers.