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Next Generation Parts Distribution

A new program from multi-line foodservice equipment manufacturer Unified Brands looks to streamline the process by which operators get their equipment repaired. Known as Unified Circle, this program calls for Unified Brands to consolidate its parts distribution through two companies: Heritage Parts and Parts Town. All of Unified Brands’ authorized service agents will now purchase parts through these two online parts depots.

“We looked at customer feedback and one of the biggest concerns about brand equity focused on service delivery,” said Santiago Ramirez, Unified Brands’ vice president of quality and continuous improvement. “We tried to do something different by leveraging all of the partners we have in our network.”

As part of their agreement with Unified Brands, the two distributors will provide marketing assistance to promote local parts and service capabilities and refer operators to authorized service agents in their area. “Our hope is to partner with the ASA directly, understand what they are trying to communicate and do in their marketplace and keep the focus on the authorized network,” said Bryan LiBrandi, senior vice president of e-commerce for Heritage.

Parts distributors have developed databases of operator customers that have bought directly from them and will use this information to help authorized service agents reach new customers. “It is the next step in how we should work together and what our mutual customers expect from us,” LiBrandi added.

In addition, Unified Brands’ authorized service agents will have access to the technicians and parts specialists at Heritage and Unified Brands, as well as the data and images these distributors have gathered over the years. “This helps us get things done faster. It takes a burden off our parts staff and all of these things help good service flow quicker,” said Scott Hester, chief operating officer of Refrigerated Specialists Inc., a Texas-based service agent.

The goal of the Unified Circle initiative is to streamline the way parts flow from the manufacturer through the depots and the authorized service agents and ultimately into the equipment at the operator level. “If you think about the overall market, it can take 7 to 10 days to get parts from the manufacturer to the service company,” said Steve Snower, president of Parts Town. “This condenses that lead time down to a day or two for a service company to get the parts they need. What’s unique about this partnership is the marketing support between the ASA and the parts distributor to grow their parts business. There’s a belief that this is a win for everyone involved.”

Several of Unified Brands’ authorized service agents that participated in a test run of the Unified Circle initiative share Snower’s sentiment that this new structure will be a win for everyone — even if it flies somewhat under the radar. “The customer won’t directly notice it, but we will have better first-time fixes and will be able to come back faster with the part,” said Tony Rapanotti, owner and president of AR Repairs Baker’s Kneads, a Michigan-based service agent. “It’s really streamlined things and the customer will benefit.”

This development marks another new chapter in the ever-evolving nature of parts distribution. For years, foodservice equipment manufacturers relied heavily on authorized service agents to stock parts for their territories. But the parts a service agent needs can vary by region due to the installed base of a particular type of equipment, the number and types of operators in an area and more. “All of the manufacturers tried to put us into a box and give us a standardized stock list,” Rapanotti said. “So I have always been frustrated because I felt we did a good job managing our parts inventory. At the end of the year I would have to do a lot of paperwork. But a lot of that has been taken away with this deal. We now have more latitude when it comes to parts.”

With the emergence of online parts depots, such as Heritage Parts, Parts Town and 3Wire, the street-level parts business became much more competitive and forced some factories and service agents to rethink their approach.

Some service agents, such as RSI, were already using depots such as Heritage and Parts Town as their parts suppliers. “Doing so helps lower the average days to finish a job. We used to use more special freight charges trying to offset the extra lead time of sourcing parts through the manufacturers,”
Hester pointed out. “The customer used to think they will see the technician with the part the next day but it rarely arrives in time. But [working with the parts depots] is helping us fix equipment quicker. So the customer feels we are doing a better job.”

Theoretically, service agents can now direct the time they would spend managing their parts inventories to servicing customers. “We represent hundreds of manufacturers and spend a lot of time putting out fires. We are more reactive. And we can’t do what the parts distributors do,” Rapanotti said. “They even help us identify trends that we might not notice. They have people analyzing data while our people are putting out fires. It’s like having a security blanket.”