Southern hospitality gets a cutting-edge in Nashville

New thinking, new technology and new products were the abiding themes at the excellent FCSI The Americas Biennial Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, reports Michael Jones

“Nashville,” said AJ Barker, chair of the FCSI The Americas Biennial Conference in his opening address, “is one of the hottest cities in America. And our community is about to catch fire also.”

With over 350 attendees at the conference, nearly half of whom were professional consultants, and with over 70 firms represented, the positive energy and enthusiasm for the FCSI TAD community’s future was apparent and infectious from Barker’s opening lines.

Pre-conference tours to local manufacturers FWE, Halton R&D Lab, Aladdin Temp-Rite (including presentations from fellow Ali Group brands Eloma and ACP) and Mieko USA offered FCSI members the change to see a plethora of new products and the opportunity to visit the facilities of some cutting-edge allied partners.

The speaker schedule throughout the conference, held at the Loews Vanderbilt hotel in Nashville between 14-16 April, was packed with insightful, entertaining and educational keynote addresses and breakout sessions. These were seamlessly married with relaxed, fun networking sessions in the evenings that exploited the very best venues, and of course the very best Southern cuisine, Music City had to offer, including a trip to the iconic Country Music Hall of Fame.

A high octane, and highly amusing, opening keynote on the subject of ‘The real truth about success’ from bestselling author and former stand-up comedian Garrison Wynn set the tone. Wynn addressed the subject of leadership, communication and change. Trust in business, said Wynn, “is built on two factors: compassion and competence. We only really value people who value us. It’s important to show people how much you value them. People who believe they have a good job will do a good job.”

Breakout sessions on day one included one entitled ‘Successful at any Size – the Business of Consulting’ where Kristin Sedej FCSI of S2O Consultants, Inc., Christine Guyott FCSI of Rippe Associates and Kathleen Seelye FFCSI (PP) of Ricca Design Studios discussed the required tools for success in their own respective businesses. The panel concluded people and culture are the most important factors to gain trust and therefore ensure success. “If we cannot trust each other how can we expect our client to trust us? The new FCSI is all about, sharing, support and trust,” said Guyott.

The need for consultants to be more sophisticated in terms of their marketing was also agreed as being essential for business growth in the session. “Architects buy with their eyes, so make sure your website and marketing materials are as visually appealing as they can be. You cannot always rely on word of mouth for business,” said Guyott.

A session moderated by Beth Lorenzini of Foodservice Equipment Reports entitled ‘The conversation before the installation’ featured David Hahn of Food Equipment Services Company (FESCO), Mike Berard FCSI of Commercial Kitchen Consulting, LLC, Jim Edwards of Gaylord Opryland, Joe Schumaker of SCG FoodSpace and Mark Leberte of Atech, Inc. The panel discussed how consultants and relevant stakeholders can identify issues that occur before a kitchen installation phase as well as the things they can do to mitigate against potential problems. “There are a myriad of problems,” said Hahn, “and most are the result of a lack of communication.”

FCSI chef-consultant member Schumaker agreed. “I became a consultant because I saw that gap to try and fix deficiencies where things aren’t on time or budget,” he said.

James Camacho FCSI presented an insightful session on ‘Market segmentation: your industry toolbox’ where he divulged that, in any sector of the industry, “no matter what you’re designing for, it’s always about menu, menu, menu; the programme/narrative of a project and observing, listening and asking questions,” of clients. “What do I do as a consultant?” asked Camacho. “I put puzzles together.”

The second day of the conference saw Richard Young of Food Service Technology Center discuss the importance of design in foodservice. “Equipment specs matter,” said Young. “Commissioning matters too – the best design is easily lost. But employees really matter.”

Charlie Souhrada of NAFEM ran a session on ‘Pending energy regulations and their impact on commercial refrigeration and the specification community’. “Foodservice is experiencing a regulatory transformation that will impact all stakeholders,” said Souhrada.

The closing address was delivered by marketing expert Jay Baer, president of Convince and Convert. “Being great at marketing is harder than ever. Why? Because customer attention is fragmented,” said Baer, who urged attendees to “stop trying to be amazing and start being useful,” to customers.

“Smart marketing is about help, not hype,” said Baer, who suggested companies need to “answer every customer question with content. Do not be afraid to tell your customers what they want to know. Relationships are created with information first and people second.”

A number of awards were given out at the conference, including achievement awards for Ed Norman FCSI and president of FCSI Worldwide Bill Taunton FCSI. The highly prestigious Bob Pacifico ‘Doing Well by Doing Good’ Award was presented to John Birchfield Jr FCSI and Bob Jacobs FCSI of Birchfield Jacobs Foodsystems, Inc. Bestowing the award, Ruby Puckett FFCSI praised the “extraordinary and inspirational” work the pair have done in raising well over $250,000 for charity through their golf fundraisers.

“Technology” said Barker, “continues to be the lifeblood of what we do,” and throughout the conference consultant members of FCSI TAD were asked to vote from the 10 nominees in the conference Innovation Showcase. The winner of the 2016 Product of the Year was AccuTemp Product, Inc.’s AccuSteam Griddle, while Amerex Corporation and Follett Corporation won honourable mentions for their COBRA and Horizon 1010/1410 Series Chewblet Ice Machines respectively.

A closing party at The Listening Room saw FCSI members entertained by country songwriters The Warren Brothers and Josh Kear. (Ten gallon) hats off to by FCSI The Americas executive director Wade Koehler CAE and colleagues Penny Price, Kimberley Kissel and Sydney Foster for putting on a helluva show.

Michael Jones


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