Independent, often family-owned, businesses, served as the cornerstone of the foodservice equipment industry for decades. But not a day seems to go by without a national player buying a smaller company. And that includes the service agent community.

patrickduffyPatrick Duffy, President, Duffy’s-AISIs this the end for independent companies in the foodservice equipment industry? We don’t think so. Of course, to remain relevant independents will need to become more effective and efficient in serving customers. Successful service sector companies, for example, will need to streamline overhead, maximize the time technicians spend with operators and apply as many best practices as possible throughout their enterprise.

That was the goal when we, along with our business partners Paul Glowacki and Paul Toukatly, merged three service companies to form Duffy’s – AIS.

Trust serves as the basis for any good partnership. AIS and Duffy’s have been friendly competitors for decades, especially this generation of leadership. For years, we had an unwritten pact that we would not steal each other’s employees and we shared training classes. We even served together on the CFESA board together, often riding to board meetings together. Those steps served as the foundation of our mutual trust that helped our merger move forward.

We have been discussing the idea of working together for years and acquisition companies and the like regularly approach us to gauge our interest in selling our businesses. As a result, our conversations gained more steam last year.

By combining, we become a stronger independent company and enhance our ability to compete. We’ve basically cut our overhead in half while doubling our technical workforce. This will make our company twice as productive at half the cost of operating as three separate businesses. And working as one company should make things better for our frontline personnel. Given the volume and clustering of calls, our technicians should not have to drive 40 miles between customer visits. That not only makes them more productive, it makes the technicians happier because they spend more time fixing things – their true area of expertise.

waynestoutner1Wayne Stoutner, CEO, Duffy’s-AISOne of the things we found out early on was that the areas where AIS is strong were not the areas where Duffy’s was strong and vice versa. One was better on operations. The other was stronger on the technical side of the business. Our strengths complement each other very well and this should create some great efficiencies moving forward.

This not only applies to how we run our businesses but also to the scope of work we can handle. For example, AIS can service refrigeration equipment while Duffy’s does not. So we should see some growth in the refrigeration side of the business in the short-term and we should be able to grow at a rate greater than we have been able to individually in recent years.

While driving growth and efficiency is important, the company can’t lose the warm culture that’s often the hallmark of an independent and family-run business. Our employees are like family to us and we want to make sure they work in the type of business where we would like to work, too.

Our advice to the industry? Respect your competition because they could
become your business partner.