It’s been nearly 50 years since FRAM launched a successful ad campaign for its oil filters based on the simple premise, “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” The idea is as universal now as it was then.
“I use a car analogy a lot when I talk about planned maintenance programs,” says Gary Schermann, President, General Parts, Indianapolis. “Why would you buy a Ferrari—or any car—and not change the oil? The fact is, a lot of foodservice equipment, like a combi oven, costs as much as a car.”
You readily accept that regularly scheduled maintenance is part and parcel of car ownership. Cars cost a lot of money, and you want your investment to last as long as possible. Planned maintenance is the same idea applied to foodservice equipment. Contracting with a service company to implement a planned maintenance program for your equipment is like taking your car into the dealer or shop for scheduled maintenance—changing the oil and filters, rotating the tires, checking the belts, wiper blades and lights, cleaning and inspecting the PCV valve, etc.
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A lot of operators think that preventive maintenance cleaning and checking equipment on a daily or weekly basis—is the same thing as planned maintenance, but it’s not. Preventive maintenance is what you sometimes do when you fill up at the gas station—check the oil level, check the tire pressure, clean the windshield—as opposed to taking your car to the shop for service.
And some operators think of planned maintenance as an extended warranty, but it’s not. Again, to use the car analogy, if you service your car regularly according to the maintenance schedule, you probably don’t need an extended warranty.
So, why don’t more operators have planned maintenance programs for their kitchen equipment?
“The first objection most operators, especially single-unit restaurant owners, raise is cost,” Schermann says, “especially when equipment is relatively new and operating properly. They don’t see the value in a PM program; it’s not reflected back to them by service agents, or they don’t understand the benefits.”
Operators who track their service costs know the value of a planned maintenance program, but too many operators don’t have the data or haven’t yet assembled it in a way that makes tracking ROI on planned maintenance or service easy. Many service companies will track both costs of planned maintenance and repairs, and can provide operators with ROI on programs usually within two years of initiating a contract.
“And if we’ve serviced a customer before signing them up for a PM program,” Schermann says, “we can do a direct cost comparison. We track data with a bar code on every piece of equipment we service, whether it’s done as part of a PM program or not,” Schermann says, “and give customers a checklist of what was done, why, and what was recommended. We also have a 90-day warranty on our PM service, so if anything goes wrong that we didn’t catch on a PM call, it’s on us.”
Even for those who haven’t tracked their own data, planned maintenance instinctively makes sense. “For those who are having trouble making the leap,” says Schermann, “consider PM contracts on equipment that requires expert service—things you wouldn’t try to service or repair yourself. Start with equipment like your HVAC, kitchen exhaust, and refrigeration systems. We show customers before and after photos of things like dirty refrigerator coils and air filters that we clean or replace.
“Then consider maintenance on equipment that takes employees away from their regular job if they do it—items such as combi ovens, steamers, etc., that require de-liming, or equipment that you can’t live/operate without such as ice machines. Pick your most critical pieces of equipment—a conveyor oven if you’re Pizza Hut, or fryers if you’re McDonald’s, for example.
“I like to say ‘make the main thing the main thing,’” he goes on. “If you’re an operator your main thing is making great food. Focus on that and bring in professionals to do the things you’re not good at like maintaining and repairing equipment.”
Numbers may drive your decision, but make sure you have all of them. Service agents often negotiate preferred rates in PM programs, so the long-term cost is less per service call. Some, Schermann says, will negotiate a flat rate for PM calls with no additional breakout for labor even if additional service or repairs on equipment are needed.
“Our goal is to become partners with operators at keeping their equipment running properly,” Schermann says. “We want repeat business, and operators will only give us that if they trust us to do a good job at a fair price. We’d rather make a little over the long run than a lot of money once.”
With planned maintenance, what you pay now for peace of mind and equipment that will function and perform properly for its expected lifecycle is far less than you’ll pay later.