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The Pitfalls of Unknown Manufacturers

Supply chain issues have made repairing old equipment and purchasing new units harder than ever. Understandably, some operators must now consider purchasing new equipment from manufacturers that are new to them and, in some cases, they may have never even heard of these companies before. Often this equipment is far cheaper than the known factories.

But buying what may be an “off-brand” can be risky, says John Schwindt, vice president of operations and general manager of Hawkins Commercial Appliance Service and a past president of the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association. Schwindt discusses service and repair issues around lesser-known equipment brands.

What are the service issues operators should consider when they’re thinking of purchasing equipment from an unknown manufacturer?

Customers are purchasing these very unknown pieces of equipment, off-brands that no one has ever heard of before, out of desperation. When they break down, a lot of the time there are two things they can’t do: They can’t find anyone to service it and if they do find someone to service it, they can’t find parts for it.

Why can’t they find anyone to repair these pieces?

With many of these manufacturers, there’s a general lack of support and their warranty coverage is inconsistent to nonexistent. That puts service providers in the middle of a fight that we have no way of winning. Probably 95% of the time someone will say, “Hey we just bought this piece, can you do the warranty work?” and we will tell them no. It’s not so much that we can’t, it’s the fact that we don’t have a relationship with these companies. We don’t know if they are going to pay. We don’t know how to find parts.

Plus, most service companies around the country are working at full capacity right now and are not able to help because we can’t take care of the stuff we are supposed to take care of. Everyone is shorthanded. If it’s not something we represent, we can’t help them.

If you do agree to take on one of these repairs, is that where parts problems come in?

Yes. We had a case where somebody bought a 20-quart mixer, but it was an off-brand. We went to source parts for it and there were only five parts offered for it, and we couldn’t even get those. Sometimes that type of situation works out. We can adapt another part into it. With warranty though, we’re reluctant to do that because we like to stay with OEM parts. If we can’t find an OEM part for it, we may put in a non-OEM replacement part. But we will not use a non-OEM part if it is a safety part [for example a high limit monitor].

So is buying one of these brands always a bad idea?

No, not always. Operators don’t call service companies to say this inexpensive piece of equipment is running great. Sometimes the equipment performs well and when it needs repair, everything goes smoothly. And some companies that were once thought of as off-brands now have parts availability and support. The important thing is for operators to learn what they can about the equipment and the factory.

Should operators rely on the manufacturer’s website for service information?

You can find information on their sites, but it’s not always reliable. One thing to be aware of is that a lot of these companies will go online, look for service companies in a market and then just automatically list those companies on their website. I get calls like that all the time and I have to tell the operator that I don’t have a contract with that manufacturer and I’ve never heard of them.

So how can operators learn about these lesser-known manufacturers?

There’s no perfect answer, but the best thing you can do is make that phone call to a service company. Build that relationship. CFESA member companies are constantly emailing back and forth, asking “Hey have you ever heard of this brand, has anyone ever worked with them?” Most of the CFESA companies are like a brotherhood, almost. We all communicate with each other, and we all share information and best practices. That is probably your best resource.