Glenn Clark Jr. has been in the foodservice industry for nearly 30 years (42 years if you count the time spent working in the field with his father when he was young). He gained sole ownership of Clark Service Group in January.
Clark Jr. continues to expand the service business originally founded by his uncle and father (circa 1971) by leading with their founding principle: If you treat the customer right, they will return. Clark Service Group's portfolio of customers includes restaurant chains, fine-dining establishments, hospitals and more. The operation includes more than 50 technicians and offices in Lancaster, Pa., Baltimore and Sarasota, Fla.
FE&S: How has the role of the service agent changed?
GC: In the past, service agencies were the parts suppliers, but now with so many large distributors, that has changed. Anyone can go on the internet and order the parts they need, so simply supplying parts is not as lucrative for service agents as it once was. As a result, our customers are keeping less inventory on hand.
Kitchens have also gotten a lot smaller, so there is less equipment. Now, the equipment that's in the kitchen is that much more critical — if just one piece breaks down it can destroy the whole function of the kitchen. We work with a lot of chains — from Qdoba to Longhorn and others — which might only have one grill. So, the reaction time of the service company is critical to their operation.
FE&S: How have you streamlined processes to respond quicker?
GC: We have been more focused on trying to set up our technicians in different regions of the country. We distribute all our parts from our home office in Lancaster, but our service techs work out of their houses, so we drop-ship parts to them from our warehouse or vendor. This allows our technicians to respond to our customers' needs in the field faster because they are not spending a majority of their time commuting to and from an office.
FE&S: What changes have you made on the warehouse side in response to the less-inventory trend?
GC: We focus on having only the most critical parts in our warehouse. We also manage our inventory based on what types of customers our techs are servicing in their immediate area. Not every truck will have the same inventory. The service tech working with regional chains in metropolitan Philadelphia will require different inventory, than say, Harrisburg, Pa.
FE&S: With half your business coming from chains, you've obviously adapted to their needs. What are they looking for from their service agents?
GC: Most of our chain customers have parameters. They want us to respond to their service call in a half hour and arrive on-site within four hours, depending on how critical the situation is. We've been able to respond faster by setting up a call center to only handle incoming calls and collect customer information. Then, those call center employees pass the information they've collected to our dispatchers that each handle a group of technicians in their prospective regions.
FE&S: How else have you leveraged technology?
GC: All of our 80 service vans and box trucks are now equipped with GPS technology so we're able to map routes and keep tabs on our technicians' locations. Along with 50 service techs on the road, we have approximately 8 technicians performing proactive maintenance full time, all with tablets for entering service orders, and 18 doing installations. We've been growing in each of these areas.
Working with chain restaurants, a lot of our latest challenges have been dealing with third-party service software. The third-party software systems have become so prevalent in the industry that I have dedicated a member of our team to primarily manage those systems. The chains like to use this software to track service calls, so it creates a little more work for the service agent as far as in-house administration, but it does help the chains track what's happening on a regional basis.
One thing we have noticed as a result is that more chains are looking to work with a few different regional service companies throughout the country rather than with just one national player. In the past, the chains may have wanted to work with just one national company because they thought they would get a quicker response and avoid juggling 35 companies across the states, but what they found is that their service request would get caught in the larger bureaucracy and they couldn't get service fast enough.
FE&S: How has the increase in technology in equipment impacted your business?
GC: There is a lot more technology in the equipment, but I think sometimes it's moving faster than some end users can handle. Putting combi ovens in a school cafeteria can be challenging for their personnel who might not understand how to use the equipment. It's definitely more challenging for older service technicians, but younger technicians are more familiar with smartphones and touchscreens so they understand the technology.
FE&S: How do you draw that younger generation to our industry?
GC: Just two weeks ago, we had our first Instant Interview event where we conducted interviews on the spot at our three office locations. We had 25 people at all of our locations show up and we are now in the process of hiring five people from that event. That was very successful. It's a constant struggle, but if we can find people who have mechanical aptitude and the right attitude, we can train them to be a service technician.