Well, it has been another month with no shortage of activity in the cooling industry. That well-known Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” comes to mind.
The major issue is how the supply industry is coming to terms with the consequences of the fall of WR Refrigeration. Inevitably there will be a lot of soul-searching about what it says about the climate in which the cooling industry, particularly retail refrigeration operates. And anger, too, that the lessons of history don’t seem to have been learned.
You will see on p17 of RAC Magazine, December edition the somewhat exasperated view of a seasoned campaigner who has spoken out after seeing the same story of low margins and unrealistic customer expectations played out too many times. It is a personal view which may prove provocative, especially his conclusion as to where the blame lies (on both sides). We would welcome your responses.
But make no mistake, the fall of WR has left a trail of devastation in its wake. At the most fundamental level there are a lot of companies out there who have been left with sizeable unpaid bills, from national companies with six-figure invoices, down to much smaller outfits – and as an industry built on entrepreneurism, it is dominated by small businesses – who are now faced with prospects like remortgaging houses to cover the shortfall.
Some have carped that suppliers should have seen it coming and avoided doing business with WR, but that ignores the reality of this industry.
There can’t be too many companies who would turn down the chance of a decent order supplying a national retailer for a start. It is also an industry which is no stranger to high levels of bank debt – the City folk call it “gearing” to make it sound more palatable. But above all, it is an environment where much is done in good faith – and whatever you think of the management, they weren’t trading out of a cardboard box, or a PO Box.
At the same time, those former WR staff who have found work now have to come to terms with new employers, new T&Cs and sometimes very different ways of working. So it is no surprise there is currently a certain sense of unease among the engineering fraternity at the moment.
There is a strong sense that there are lessons that must be learned if the industry is to survive, let alone thrive into the future – more so than ever when we are faced with an era of inevitable change for refrigerants.
Our Retail Question Time (p12 RAC Magazine - December) confirms that supermarkets are continuing expansion of natural alternatives, and this inevitably will require extra attention from suppliers and no doubt extra costs for training, too.
And if the most severe of the F-Gas proposals are accepted, the accelerator may need to be pressed on R404A conversions from a wide range of customers outside of the supermarkets too. So surely it is time for everyone to focus on the fundamentals of good engineering practice and excellent customer service – and then to ensure they charge a realistic price for delivering it.