Zink Foodservice is expanding the menu witha growing list of services and equipment for clients.

It might not be the sexiest industry around, but commercial foodservice equipment is a booming business. Columbus' Zink Foodservice is one of the major manufacturers' reps in the Midwest, and it has been for the last 40 years.

“We are the sales force for 40 different manufacturers,” says Mike McGuire, who, along with brother-in-law Jim Zink is a managing partner for the company. “It really makes a lot of sense for people who are manufacturing products to divest the sales force to people who know the market best.”

“That's what we do,” says McGuire, who was hired by founder Skip Zink, his father-in-law, in 1988 when the company had just nine employees. “We know the market, we know the customers, (because) we've been here 40 years.”

Today, Zink Foodservice has 71 employees and helps manufacturers sell more than $200 million annually in foodservice equipment and smallwares to commercial kitchens. In 2001, McGuire and Jim Zink purchased the company from Skip Zink.

When the company was founded in 1977, the emergence of multi-unit chain restaurants was drastically changing the foodservice industry, Jim Zink says. “(My father) saw an opportunity to create a manufacturers' rep agency that would market a portfolio of products in the Midwest.”

Skip Zink's venture paid off. The Manufacturers' Agents Association for the Foodservice Industry, a 66-year-old trade organization, projects

5 percent year-over-year growth in the Midwest, which is one of the industry's leading markets.

Headquartered in Columbus and with nine regional offices from Milwaukee to Pittsburgh, Zink Foodservice sits in the heart of it all.

“Columbus is a mini-epicenter for food service equipment and supplies. You've got some major equipment and supply dealers in town who serve national accounts across the globe,” Jim Zink says.

The Wasserstrom Company, a Columbus-based global restaurant supplier, is a Zink client. Zink also works directly with other locally headquartered companies such as Wendy's and Bob Evans to procure brand-specific equipment.

“When it comes to multi-unit restaurants, Columbus over the years has proven to be one of the best in the world to test concepts and has distribution channels that support (the industry),” Zink adds.

Since purchasing the company, Zink and McGuire have expanded their lines of business. Today, the company represents manufacturers of glassware, dinnerware and flatware—front-of-the-house items, in restaurant lingo—in addition to the heavy kitchen equipment manufacturers it started with.

The Wasserstrom Company has been a Zink client “from Day One,” says Brad Wasserstrom, president of the 115-year-old supplier of kitchen equipment and smallware.

“We know that when we buy Zink-represented products, whether equipment or supplies, they will stand behind it.They are an organization that does the little things well and they keep their word,” Wasserstrom says.

“Zink helps us to train our people, get item quotes, on-time delivery, final setup and helps with any after-sales issues that may arise,” he adds. Zink provides training for companies such as Wasserstrom on everything from equipment inventory management to how to use commercial equipment.

Consolidation represents a major challenge for equipment reps in the foodservice industry.

To remain competitive, Zink and McGuire became founding members in 2016 of a group called Paradigm. It's an alliance of five companies that represent manufacturers across the country.

“We are a significant-sized company in our business, but we only cover 8½ states in the Midwest. Connecting, and having alliance partners that go from Pennsylvania to the Pacific Ocean (is) the natural evolution of being a bigger company without having to actually purchase,” McGuire says.

“Our market's maturing,” Zink says. “It's a much more national scope today than it was a decade ago. We think the future state of our market is going to require more intense collaboration.”

Zink and McGuire also would like to see their industry gain a higher profile, particularly among a younger generation of business-minded Midwesterners.

“There a lot of shiny, sexy industries out there. But ours has been a fairly steady, old-fashioned business model,” McGuire says. “We've got great brands, a lot of exciting new products, a lot of technology in our business that people don't realize. I think millennials would like to be part of that.”

Kitty McConnell French is a freelance writer.