(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a two-part series on KaTom Restaurant Supply. The first article covers new warehouse space and the continued growth at KaTom. This one talks about how KaTom is making innovation a competitive advantage. You can find it here.)
By Kailyn Lamb, Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA
Innovation is not a new concept to Charley Bible and his family business at KaTom Restaurant Supply. Bible, who is now Vice President of Business Development at KaTom, was a teenager when his mother Patricia launched the business’s then-unprecedented online sales website in 2001.
In the era of coronavirus, where customers turned online more and more for their shopping needs, Bible said the staff at KaTom “doubled down” on their website. Unlike a lot of businesses at that time, KaTom didn’t have to reinvent itself, he added.
“Online has been our biggest strength as a company for many years,” Bible said. “We were the pioneers in the online space in foodservice equipment.”
But that didn’t mean KaTom didn’t have to make some pivots during COVID. With constantly changing regulations, Bible said he launched a daily meeting with his sales team where they could discuss the pain points of their clients. This way, the team was able to stay on top of what clients needed in this unprecedented time. One of the biggest needs, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, was to-go containers and sanitation supplies.
Through connections in the liquor industry, Bible was able to forge a partnership with a distillery in Nashville that produced truckloads of hand sanitizer. That was then shipped to a local distillery that could put the sanitizer in one-gallon bottles. It became his pet project.
“We were actually one of the first companies in the county that was able to ship gallons of hand sanitizer by the truckload,” he said. “Nobody knew what was going on. They just needed to be clean and so we created a solution.”
While the core business of KaTom is still foodservice equipment, Bible said it is important to have the ability to pivot when things aren’t working in a business. Although not every idea is going to work, it is important to keep up with trends and innovate, Bible said.
“If you’re not constantly pivoting in your business in general, you’re going to fall behind,” he said. “In today’s fast-paced environment where customer expectations and competition and every variable are just changing so rapidly, you have to be able to continually pivot.”
In our last article, Bible mentioned KaTom was renting warehouse space for its design+build services. The business offers full service in that area, from blueprint to opening day, Bible said. It’s also an area of the business that’s growing rapidly. “One of our goals is to become the most cutting-edge design firm in the industry,” he added.
With the aid of virtual reality (VR) software, the business is not far off. Using Oculus goggles, customers can walk through their design to see how it will look upon completion. The benefit of this, Bible said, is it’s much easier to fix any issues that arise at that stage than it is once walls are physically built.
Bible said KaTom will continue looking into technology to see what other improvements can be made in their business. He also added that there’s potential to use non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to transfer warranty cards from the manufacturer of foodservice equipment to the buyer. The NFT could then be transferred to a new buyer should the equipment be sold. “If you look at these new technologies that are oftentimes first applied to entertainment, you can figure out where they can be applied to business,” Bible said.
The business model at KaTom has always been about a blend of people and technology.
“One of the things that makes us successful is we don’t operate like your typical distribution company,” he said. “We approach things more like a tech company with the mindset of how we can continuously deploy technology to elevate the customer experience without losing that personalized touch.”