I recently gave an interview to Cooler Plus, part of the FoodBev Media team, on a hot topic, literally! Just wanted to share.

1) WaterCoolersDirect has been active in the cooler industry for 13 years. What have been the biggest changes you have seen in the industry in that time?

When we started the cooler business we set ourselves apart from other companies by offering our products on a sale basis, rather than cumbersome rental agreements, which was novel back then, and financially refreshing. Of course today this is the norm but we like to think we were at the forefront of making the cooler a commodity item. We also led the digital world with water equipment sales and online transactions. We were one of the first companies to invest heavily in pay per click advertising to drive web sales, and this remains true today for all our business lines.

As with all technologies, equipment has become more advanced and smaller and with technical miniaturization and market maturity, product prices have dropped.

We grew our business based on selling cold drinking water hydration to the water industry and around 2007 we added hot; an obvious move to provide customers with a complete hydration offering. In recent years we have made good traction in the facilities management sector with strategic partnerships again supplying hydration solutions for their end customers.

Service and regular maintenance works, backed by customer service has delivered recurring revenue and a constant growth area for us, supporting our trade customers. We have a fleet of vans on the road nationally, directly employing 20 field based service engineers and a further network of 20 engineers through our service partners. Our free phone technical help desk and ‘ask the expert’ service, are both key strengths and regularly referenced in our TrustPilot review scheme.

Customers are so much more savvy nowadays and we operate in an instant world. The break out room concept is also a growing trend. Modern office culture sees executives cycling into work, taking a shower, working late and over the weekends, and then wanting hot and cold hydration and instant porridge and snacks.

It’s a just in time workplace where no one wants to wait and workforce hydration and wellbeing is key. We have grown our business model to meet a more sophisticated customer taste.

2) Your business has four distinct offerings: WaterCoolersDirect, where you offer a full range of every type of water dispenser; instant hot water dispensers from WaterBoilersDirect and KettleTap, which we'll look at it in more detail in a moment; and AirandWaterDirect, which offers air purifiers from Winix. How do these separate areas of the business complement each other and how did this combination evolve?

Coolers, boilers and instant hot taps provide cold and hot drinking water for the office to the boardroom to the warehouse across many sectors including catering & vending, property development, refurb and fit-outs.

The one stop shop approach to health and wellbeing providing products to hydrate the workforce. A family to family partnership with Winix built over the last 10 years, has led us to also take on their air purifier range, under the wellbeing banner. This is a growth area for us and is extremely popular in the US and Asia. Much is written in the national press with regard to air pollution inside and out, and we will see a growing focus on clean air and the health benefits in offices for staff reducing the affect of pollen and dust and the rise in asthma and such. We sell a fair few online to homeowners too for these very health reasons.

3) We will admit to having neglected to talk very much about water boilers – and the KettleTap as you brand this category – focusing more on traditional bottled and mains-fed coolers and coffee machines. In terms of volume, where do boilers and taps fit in your business when compared to water dispensers?

Water coolers remains slightly ahead of hot equipment sales on a 60 / 40 split by units. In terms of revenue it is actually now 50/50 which is interesting. Associated with water boilers and taps is a recurring service and maintenance revenue stream.

We currently have over 8000 customer care contracts where we add real value and are targeting 20,000 by 2019 which is achievable on our current run rate.

4) When did water boilers begin to become an option within the ‘water cooler’ industry, and do you see potential for more traditional cooler companies to offer them if their benefits are better understood?

The need to offer the added value is true for the traditional water cooler companies as it is for us. And more and more of our WCDTrade.com customers are selling both cold and now hot to their user base. This trend will only increase. With tighter margins on coolers now as a mature market, businesses can make more revenue, read higher margins, on hot products and importantly the recurring servicing and scale management cleans that are essential for boilers and taps.

5) What sorts of businesses are best served with water boilers rather than coolers with a hot water option?

Whether it’s for an office of 10 or 100 you don’t have the time or hidden cost to reboil and refill the kettle and wait while making the tea round. This is part of the just in time world we live in.

Old ‘cook and cold’ coolers are really dinosaurs now. You don’t put a scale filter on a hot water cooler so that means the water it dispenses is of poor quality and horrid taste; its not filtered.

Instant boiling water at 98 degrees makes the perfect cup of tea, and this is only really achieved through a boiler or KettleTap, as we call them replacing the traditional kettle. The majority of coolers do serve hot water but most do this at 85 degrees which is okay for herbal teas and hot chocolate but certainly not hot enough for making tea or coffee. Most would find hot drinks from coolers not hot enough!

Many of our users do not use coolers for hot drinks at all. It’s all about quality and taste and fit for purpose, and discerning needs of the drinker, rather than the business type. Coolers are synonymous with cold and chilled drinks not hot.

6) What are the key benefits of having a water boiler?

Boilers, and hot taps, are heralded as the secret component in making the perfect cup of tea and coffee. With the temperature set at boiling point for the perfect brew, a water boiler makes fast and easy work of the tea round!

No waiting for the kettle to boil, wasting or refilling water so a saving on the mains water bill for a start. Just heat what you use for boiling hot water for all office drinking needs, continuously. And it’s so fast which is why productivity is optimised.

We offer the widest range of water boilers in different styles and capacities, delivering boiling water for hot drinks, instant snacks and porridge pots. By ditching the kettle companies can save time, energy and money delivering instant boiling water.

7) How environmentally-friendly are water boilers?

Water boilers, and hot taps for that matter, contribute in a number of ways to an eco friendly culture.

Water is maintained at a good temperature and heated up to temp on demand, so it isn’t continuously heating up an amount of water from scratch, from cold. We all fill and refill, boil and reboil the kettle many times a day but with a water boiler it reduces this excess water and energy wastage.

Boilers are impressive in dispensing clear, filtered (in some modesl) water without ensuing substantial road miles and plastic consumption associated with the bottled water industry.

The running costs are also compelling. Based on say 15 people in an office each drinking a large mug four times in the working day, when comparing running a kettle (and the refill and reboil going on) to meet the needs of 15 in a tea round each time, a boiler or tap will save around £12 a day in running costs which is a few thousand pounds a year, just on 15 people. Imagine the saving across larger organisations. (Source: Heatrae Sadia).

8) KettleTap is another option, why should a business go down that route, rather than install a water boiler?

One tap does it all! Hot and cold, boiling and chilled, and even sparkling in some models. Water every way you need it from te one product.

Not only do hot taps look good in the kitchen or boardroom there multu function to dispensing hot and cold water makes it one tap for all.

We market this category as KettleTaps – it does what the name on the tin says. Many of our FM clients are switching over from the traditional and dangerous kettle in the workplace, on the basis of safety, style and ease. Once you have used a KettleTap for your cuppa you get frustrated waiting for a kettle, and never look back!

KettleTaps are also preferred where wall space is at a premium due to cupboards.

In areas of high footfall a boiler does the large volumes efficiently. It is a question of aesthetics though and wall mounted and counter top boilers are more for the back room. Customer facing, reception and front of house areas need a more aesthetic solution and this is where the KettleTap meets the need; it’s a more inspirational product.

There is not an architect or specifier across the land who isn’t specc'ing a hot tap in a new build or refurb project for instant cold and hot hydration.

9) WCD has diversified over the years and recently launched LetsJobIt. Why did you decide to commericalise an in-house developed logistics tool? 

Originally developed for our in-house use within the WCD Group to help with service scheduling and maintenance job planning, LetsJobIt started out as an internal business system. Having given it a good road test here at WCD and also working with some highly respected early adopter customers we are now bring it to market; and the outlook is indeed very promising. We soon realised the wider commercial benefit and uniqueness of this powerful software suite and that no other systems on the market in the area of logistics planning compared in functionality, performance and application. It’s more than just a route planner, it gets field personnel to their customers faster, scheduling all the jobs intuitively. It’s a business management toolset that keeps field teams in sync and the office running smoothly. All data and comms are traceable and shared between all relevant parties.  

10) With over 13 years in the industry, from your point of view, what do you think the next biggest challenges will be?

The water cooler industry needs to wake up and rise to the more sophisticated demands of the customer – and do it well. With a freshness and dedication to customer service.

Online continues to be key and require an evolving strategy and investment, a moving feast. Customers want to buy when they want to buy; and we have to meet their enquiries and interests at all hours.

Meeting volumes and ensuring product development is at the forefront, with smart technology and connectivity. In an instant demanding world, customer service will be a point of difference. It's no longer a case where one or two ‘boxes’ suit all. Customers want products to make the drink they want. In the UK we are a nation of tea drinkers and also specialty teas and herbal infusions. For this we need pure, pristine water to make quality drinks.

Note: CoolerPlus is being relaunched as Refreshment from next month. We look forward to seeing the new look magazine from the FoodBev stable.