Malcolm Jolley talks to Silver Chef Canada CEO Robert Phelps.
Dozens of press releases that come into my inbox each working day, most are fleetingly scanned and then, um, filed away. But a recent one abut a company called Silver Chef recently caught my eye. I hadn’t heard of Silver Chef before and the announcement in the release, about an online approval system the company had just launched, wasn’t particularly arresting. What interested me about the press release was the business Silver Chef seemed to be in: lending money specifically to restaurant operators to acquire equipment. I decided to find out more, and shortly I was on the phone to Silver Chef Canada’s HQ in Vancouver to talk to its president, the Aussie transplant Robert Phelps. Here is a transcript of our conversation.
This interview has been edited for length, clarity and style.
Good Food Revolution: What is Silver Chef exactly?
Robert Phelps: We are purpose driven global hospitality industry financier. We’re in three countries: Canada, New Zealand and Australia, where we were founded 32 years ago. We’ve been in New Zealand for ten years and in Canada for five. These are all countries that love food and wine and have vibrant hospitality perspectives. We’re really dedicated to the hospitality sector, financing equipment for restaurants, cafés, bars, micro-breweries, delis and the franchise sector as well. From a unique offerings perspective, it’s all about making sure hospitality operator have the right equipment and have access to working capital to set-up or grow. It’s about supporting the art and passion of the industry. People have a dream and our purpose is to help people achieve their dreams.
Good Food Revolution: How do you do that?
Robert Phelps: We’re unique in the marketplace in what we refer to as our Rent-Buy-Try solution. You rent out for the first 12 months, and then you have some options including financing over three years, purchasing, or returning the equipment. Or upgrading. One scenario that we often see is a café that builds up their business, gets the demand going and they need to move up from a two pot to a three pot coffee machine. So we can give them the opportunity to upgrade, based on their success and growth.
Good Food Revolution: Presumably you do this in a way that a manager at a bank might not quite understand. Is that the key to your model? It seems like you’ve created a suite of services specifically focused on restaurateurs.
Robert Phelps: Absolutely. We’ve taken 30 plus years of experience, focused exclusively on the hospitality sector, to evolve our model. We’ve seen it work in Australia, but we’re still new in Canada and we’re looking at how we can create awareness. Like in Australia, the Canadian financial services sector, we feel, is under serviced in terms of available services, education, access to capital. What we’re doing with the Silver Chef online approval system is not only creating awareness of our services but also providing speed and efficiency for hospitality operators so they can quickly gain approval, access the funds and gain obtain the equipment they need for their business to be successful.
Good Food Revolution: Can you give me an example of how that works?
Robert Phelps: We are always talking to operators to find to what their challenges are. Today we hear a lot about the war for talent. Attracting talent and retaining qualified staff and part of that is showing their dedication to their art and passion by having the right equipment, through our dealer network, so they can work effectively. We dealt with an operator recently who had two big fridges in the back of their restaurant. One was constantly having repairs but still wasn’t working properly. At the end of the night they would have to spend an extra hour moving stock from one fridge to another. This added to labour costs and meant more work for the staff. We provided funding for a new fridge, which reduced costs, provided a better environment for the staff, and improved the longevity of the stock.
Good Food Revolution: Is your business high risk? The failure rate for restaurants is notorious. Isn’t that why your clients don’t go the bank?
Robert Phelps: We’ve been in the industry for more than 30 years and we hold a very different view than the financial services industry and we fill that gap. Part of building sustainability in the hospitality sector is providing capital so business can grow, that they have the right equipment to ensure they are sustainable. Or, in some cases provide capital so businesses can experiment with their offerings.
Good Food Revolution: How easy or difficult is it for a prospective renter to get equipment from you?
Robert Phelps: Funding approval can be as quick as 20 seconds. It takes, I’d say on average, three to five minutes. After more than thirty years in the industry, we know how important speed is to be able to manage your time, so it’s a key element of what we provide. We take the pain away of waiting for weeks for approval.
Good Food Revolution: What about when you get the financing? I was on your website and it looks like the payments are designed to be made weekly. Is that to help your clients with cash flow?
Robert Phelps: Yes, the weekly payments are designed to assist with our clients’ cash flow management, which is usually done on a daily or weekly basis. But it also helps on our side. With the weekly rentals we can quickly see if a business is having difficulty and we can activate our customer service team to make contact with that operator and see if we can help them out.
Find out more about Silver Chef Canada at silverchef.ca.