There seems to be an inherently macro view of today's consultant as one that has not changed parallel to the rest of the industry, or, in some cases, has resisted change. And many in the industry believe the growth of design dealers will spell the end of traditional foodservice consultants. Although some of these views jump to premature conclusions, I do tend to agree with certain aspects of these opinions.
The reality of today's business climate: there's no room for complacency and what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. This applies directly to foodservice consultants today. For us, change is inevitable as it acts as the underlying current that will usher in the next generation of foodservice consultants. But we are left to ask ourselves: What does this change look like? How does it affect the rest of the industry?
While change can be hard to describe, the following represents what I believe to be the critical issues affecting today's foodservice consultant. The purpose of this article is not to speak on behalf of all consultants but rather shed some light on those factors that will continue to impact our role in today's foodservice industry and beyond.
Value: I love the word and find the concept of it quite interesting since its true definition lies in the eye of the beholder. Many articles have been written in regards to value and we consultants often use the word loosely to identify a general list of our clients' needs. In our organization we used to say that we want to bring value to our clients, but our value may not necessarily be in line with the client's needs. As foodservice consultants our focus should be more intentional. One formula that seems to reap the most rewards is the ability to make it easy for others to do business with us. On the surface, this may seem like a simple concept yet it becomes pretty powerful when we consider the age-old sales notion that "people buy from people."
Most of our repeat customers (a.k.a. architects) emphasize this concept more than anything else. Visionary design is critical but if the architect and/or the end user find us difficult to work with it is unlikely they will ask us to be part of their team in the future. In most cases architects still run on skeleton crews, unlike the so-called good old days prior to the recession, and that means they now depend on the foodservice consultant to provide more information, more leadership and a higher degree of coordination. Quick turnaround times have become paramount and will become even more important moving forward.
And as our customers ask more of us, we must ask more from our partners, the manufacturers' reps and the manufacturers. This represents a critical issue for manufacturers with engineered products. Where we used to have a week to wait for a drawing, we now need data within a day or two. Having a manufacturer's rep serve as the communication conduit is no longer adequate. Having access to an inside factory representative is critical when meeting these quick turnarounds. Our industry does a great job of providing equipment and operational data online, what consultants need to write better specifications is more technical data vs. sales data.
For consultants to provide the architectural community with the value it desires, we must ask our industry partners to do what's asked of us: be thorough, follow up in a timely manner, and own the issue at hand.
The Design-Build Paradox
When it comes to project delivery systems, the design-build approach has had a tremendous effect on the foodservice consultant in the past few years, and this approach will eventually become the new normal. Granted the foodservice industry is no stranger to the design-build process, as our industry has always had some form of blending design and procurement. I will be the first one to admit that I love the concept of design-build because it usually means a shorter design and construction schedule and a project that costs significantly less than design-bid-build. Having said that, I will also take the bold step of adding that most design-build projects feature some tremendous challenges specific to their foodservice components.
Our experience with most design-build projects tells us the foodservice equipment section will always go out to bid, typically early in the project before completing the design. This leads to unrealistic equipment budgets and, of course, the dreaded value-engineering sessions, which ripple throughout the entire project.
The design-build process has led many to believe that the foodservice equipment dealer with design capabilities will bring an end to the traditional foodservice design consultant. I do not necessarily agree with this thought process and feel that, in a sense, design-build has brought the dealer and consultant closer than ever before. While many see this as a blurring of the lines between traditional supply chain roles, in reality the design-build process creates some clarity and distinction in the marketplace. Since a typical design-build team consists of a general contractor and architectural team, some clients have the expectation that same format applies to a project's foodservice component. As a result, this creates a scenario where the foodservice consultant and dealer work side by side on a project.
Due in large part to the design-build process, we as a firm have made the decision to truly focus on what we are good at, which is design, and are abandoning our minimal attempt at equipment procurement. This approach has opened the opportunity for our firm to begin collaborative relationships with equipment dealers regardless of the project delivery method. These types of partnerships, as untraditional as they may seem now, will continue to grow.
By no means do I proclaim that the foodservice equipment dealer with design capabilities will not thrive in the current and future marketplace; rather I strongly believe that there will be certain projects that make sense for the dealer's design consultant and others that only make sense for a traditional foodservice consultant to lead. In order to thrive in the future, traditional foodservice consultants will need to provide a greater distinction between their levels of service in order to remain relevant and define value on the customers' terms.