There has been a lot of discussion over the last year and a half or so as to who, in fact, are the customers of foodservice E&S manufacturers. As a member of NAFEM's CAT (Customer Advisory Taskforce), a committee which is made up of some of the nation's top operators, I can confirm that this topic has gone around the table more than a few times. I am of the opinion that end-users, we operators, are the ultimate "customers" for our manufacturers. In fact, we are the target market for not only equipment manufacturers, but also dealers, distributors and reps. All of these channel members have the common goal of providing equipment that works well and stays functional in a restaurant. Ours is the "land of operations," where E&S is put to the test, where 18-year-olds are running equipment that educated, experienced engineers have spent years putting together.

I feel that operators and manufacturers are the bookends of our business; you can't have one without the other. It all starts with manufacturers and ends with operators, and everything that happens in between is a handoff process to move equipment from a factory to a restaurant or foodservice. However, the more difficulties, individuals and confusion there is in between equipment being made and coming into use in an operation, the wider the gap becomes between manufacturers and operators. And, since like many operators my focus continues to be on cost control and managing capital spending, I am always looking for the most effective method to bring equipment to my locations. That's why I urge those who are in the business of bringing equipment to market to decide how they want to position themselves and what they want me to know about what they can bring to the table.

I am always looking for the most effective method to bring equipment to my locations.

I believe that relationships between manufacturers and operators are truly partnerships because, if I have a problem with a piece of equipment two years down the road, whether it's in the area of performance, service, application or training, I am going to call the manufacturer of that item. I act this way because the factory's name is on the equipment, so that's who I rely on to help me solve issues. What I like about dealing with manufacturers is that I get to go right to the source and no one knows their products' capabilities better than they do.

As a result, I also expect manufacturers to be knowledgeable about my business and able to provide valuable input as to how they can contribute to its success. What I don't like — what, in fact, I find borderline offensive — is when factories want to be everything to everybody and try to fit a piece of equipment into my operation just because they have something new to sell.

Now, there are some people in the distribution channel that provide a tangible value either to me or to the manufacturer and thereby earn a valid place in the process. For example, I have been fortunate enough to align myself with very good manufacturers' reps. They are a seamless extension of their factories, they're able to make decisions on behalf of their manufacturers and, to their credit, the factories usually support their decisions. There have been more than a few occasions when I have been at the park in the middle of the night trying to finish an installation or get a piece of equipment up and running and, right there with me every step of the way, has been my rep or manufacturer. That is the kind of commitment and dedication that I look for in my equipment suppliers and the type I can get only by having a close relationship with the manufacturers.

You will find this a common sentiment among operators: When channel members provide a value-added service to either a manufacturer or operator, they will have a long-standing place in this industry. Of course, that's just my opinion.