I've been recently doing a lot of research in order to get the best overall commercial espresso machine..
Whilst I found very little literature in terms of reviews, I was very convinced. Slowly I learned about the scarcity of spare parts and that the company would only sell to distributor, which my region lacked.
I moved my efforts to the Strada EP, which then I learned had its issues, such as the difficulty of use and in maintaining consistency even when the pressure profiles were stored (very important) and so forth. I got discouraged when I learned about the complications that may even have a destructive nature to the startup. La Marzocco does have a distributor.
The Victoria Arduino Venus (http://www.victoriaarduino.com/index.php?option=com_content&vie...) is a beauty that resembles the Belle Epoque, a show piece for sure. Then I learned that there isn't a regional distributor for those either.
Firstly, how important is it to have a distributor? How difficult are these machines to service. What are the most important factors in looking for a machine? Verdicts according to experience?
This is a topic that's had considerable discussion here, recently and in the past. I'd recommend clicking the "Talk Coffee" tab above, then looking around in the "Equipment and Tech" section for discussions on this. Lots of good information there.
I think it's more critical to have a competent tech be comfortable with a machine than to have a distributor in the area. That said, if there isn't another distributor in the area, your tech might well be the distributor.
La Marzocco makes more than just the Strada - I would look at the rest of the lineup before writing them off.
Victoria Arduino is made by Nuova Simonelli, which has an extensive distributor network. Investigate that route if you are interested in these machines. I'm a big fan of Nuova Simonelli.
Hope that helps.
La Marzocco and Simonelli have impressive global representation as well as in the region.
I wonder what the learning curve for maintaining and repairing semi-automatic machines is.
I would second Brady and tell you not to write off La Marzocco. The Strada is a difficult machine to use, aimed to provide a level of control you may not need. A PID'ed Linea or a GB5/FB80 may provide all the functionality you need in an easier to use format. I've worked extensively on all three machines, and would argue that any La Marzocco machine would be a great asset to your shop.
Lacking a network of servicing companies is always an issue, in my book.
I'm sure any good tech could eventually figure out how to properly set up, maintain, and repair a broken Slayer... but each service will cost you double as the tech scratches their head and/or talks to tech support AND any unique parts will require a return trip.
My standard advice: do not buy a machine that isn't well supported by your local techs.
What a Slayer?...The fact that they're new means they don't have the same network of distributors and servicing companies but that doesn't seem to have been an issue.