A Gamble worth taking for catering equipment wholesaler

The name ‘Gamble’ carries plenty of resonance in catering equipment circles as a result of a heritage that dates back to the 40s. Imperial Catering Equipment recently brought it back by rebranding to Gamble Foodservice Solutions. Catering Insight paid a visit to its Loughborough headquarters to find out why.

As far as corporate rebranding exercises go, Imperial Catering Equipment’s switch to Gamble Foodservice Solutions — which came into force at the start of this month — is steeped in history and poignancy.

Imperial was formed back in 1996 as part of the Gamble Group, a company with a rich tradition in the catering equipment field dating back more than 65 years. For many in the industry, the Gamble name is synonymous with the distribution and wholesale of commercial catering equipment.

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“As soon as we knew we wanted a generic company name, we also knew that we didn’t want to lose our heritage and our track record in the industry and become a ‘start-up’ company overnight,” explains the company’s sales director Andy Piggin.

“There are many people in the industry who know the Gamble brand or have worked with or worked for the Gambles over the years and we felt it was a sensible idea to bring back the Gamble brand. The ‘Foodservice Solutions’ part of the name is representative of the value that we are bringing to our customers over and above wholesaling catering equipment.”

But let’s take a step back for a second. The name change is merely the culmination of a year-long behind-the-scenes effort to restructure the company, identify what distributors want from it and understand how it is perceived in the market.

When the Gamble Group originally set up Imperial Catering Equipment 15 years ago it was because that business was only selling products from the North American manufacturer of the same name at the time. It made practical and commercial sense to reflect that in the clearest way possible.

The company remains Imperial’s sole UK agent today, but over the last decade the face of the business has changed as additional cooking equipment brands have been brought on board. It currently has seven brands on its books, with the most recent two — Ovention and MKN combi ovens — signed up during the last 12 months.

Piggin says the company had simply outgrown its existing moniker and recognised that it needed to address that to prevent the other brands that it represents from being held back.

“It was very confusing to our customers when we’d go in to sell MKN, Ovention or Hatco and were seen as Imperial. Back in 1996 it was one brand in its own right and the company was formed to protect the brand. In the modern day it doesn’t really fit with what we do. So we said we need a generic company name reflective of the current offer and those moving forward.”

Piggin insist the name change has received “no negative feedback” from its manufacturer partners — even Imperial, which he says understood why it needed to take the decision.

Managing director and owner, Richard Gamble — a true veteran of the catering equipment market who is a former CEDA chairman and winner of the Industry Personality of the Year award — says the rebranding takes into account the firm’s position as a much more rounded supplier these days.

“Much of what we are doing day-to-day is working on people’s menus and solutions rather than just selling boxes and product codes,” he explains. “We have got a test kitchen here, a showroom and development area. So it made sense for us to bring back the name. And with a heritage dating back to 1947 and our involvement in the wholesale and supply of equipment, it gives us a real foothold in the market place.”

The rebranding has also given the company a fresh opportunity to promote the values that it holds dearest to its heart; values that include quality, availability and reliability.

It stocks more than £1m worth of product at its headquarters in Loughborough, all of which is available on a next-day basis on orders before 4pm. In fact, the company has recently increased the number of stocked lines that it takes to the market, a result of greater demand from dealers and end-users specifying more of its product.

As it’s watched competitors reduce their inventory to relieve financial pressure during the downturn, it has deliberately expanded its stocking capabilities — mirroring a policy that worked through the 90s recession.

“We have come out and said we are going to deliver next day and as others have stocked less we have found ourselves picking up more trade,” says Gamble. “In both situations, it has got us into places we couldn’t get into before. Availability is always the key.”

Its alliance with German cooking equipment supplier MKN — the only non-North American brand in its portfolio — marks the first time anyone has ever had a stockholding of MKN combination ovens in the UK.

The company remains proud of the fact that all of the kit it offers comes with a two-year warranty, with the exception of Ovention, which has a one-year warranty. Hatco became the latest brand to move to two-year terms in April. Additionally, it has also just announced a decrease in the price of Imperial equipment. Piggin says there is no specific reason for this, other than it wants to return some value to dealers that have driven it to achieve the sort of buying power that makes a reduction viable.

Gamble Foodservice Solutions operates a clear go-to-market structure in the UK, although it differs from the regional approach favoured by most manufacturers. The company’s four main field staff each focus on a specific area of the end-user market, which is currently divided into the following categories: pubs and restaurants; consultants, contract caterers and OEM fabricators; public sector, hotels and QSRs; and retail and leisure.

Their role, however, is not to transact directly with those accounts, but to secure specification. “All of that business is then put through distributors,” explains Piggin. “Between the four of us we look after a core of about 25 national distributors who we are also calling upon. We try to be proactive and forward-thinking in how we go to the market place and we realise that part of controlling our own destiny is getting that specification secured and then channelling it through the distribution market.”

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It’s not implausible that rebranding to a generic name might help to open the door to more manufacturer partnerships in future, although the company denies that it was held back under the former name, as the addition of six brands from when it initially started out just goes to show.

“I think what having a generic name will do is give our distributors the confidence to ask us for more products,” says Gamble. “A lot of our trusted customers will say, ‘have you thought about selling this?’ or ‘could you go and get me this?’ A lot of end-user groups see us as that vehicle as well because we are not a manufacturer limited by its own capacity. Quite often they will say, ‘I have seen a product in North America, which is not here at present, can you go and investigate?’”

Indeed, the partnership with MKN came about because distributors were asking it when it was going to have a combi oven in the line-up to complete the full array of prime cooking equipment. “I guess it has taken us so long to get that because there isn’t a manufacturer in North America that we could have turned to and all the German brands were tied up in what they do,” says Piggin. “We have struck a good partnership with Stuart Long at MKN to enable us to service the distributor market with local stockholding, while it furnishes the scheme market.”

Above all, though, the company credits the changing state of the high street and the direction being taken by caterers for driving the brands that it represents, due to the features that they can offer.

“The trend through to 2020 is more convenience and better quality food,” says Piggin. “The lunch market is going to continue to grow, breakfasts are coming back, and at the forefront of that the high street is changing from retail to casual dining and coffee shops. They are all looking for food on the move. Caterers are demanding equipment from us that can deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner without having to invest in different pieces of capital equipment.”

The good news for the company is that every brand it currently represents offers some form of equipment that comfortably meets the needs of this changing foodservice landscape. And with the rebrand complete, those customers should no longer be in any doubt as to who they need to go to for answers and equipment.

65 years of catering equipment wholesale

Gamble Foodservice Solutions has seen many guises since the business was originally set up in 1947, but whatever the name the company has remained committed to supplying commercial catering equipment.

Founded as the Gamble Group by Gerard Gamble, the company was initially a distributor of earthenware to the hotel and catering trade, after which the product range was extended to other tableware, including LV Glassware.

In the 1960s, the company — already established as a supplier to the trade as well as end-users — started supplying capital catering equipment to UK contract caterers, including Sutcliffe Catering, Midland Catering and Bateman Catering.

In 1976, Richard Gamble, Gerard’s son, was appointed as managing director, and as the 1980s took hold the company went from strength to strength. The decade saw the Gamble Group became the leading UK distributor of Zanussi Catering Equipment and Falcon Catering Equipment.

In 1984, the Gamble Group launched a new company called Wholesale Catering Equipment with the explicit aim of supplying smaller distributors across England with a full range of capital and sundry equipment.

By 1990, the Gamble Group was the largest, independent distributor of catering equipment in the UK and the main supplier to many multinational companies, including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Burger King and SSP, the airport caterers.

By this point the UK market was increasingly demanding American catering equipment, so the Gamble Group reached an agreement with Imperial in California to distribute their products exclusively throughout the UK.

In 1999, demand for Imperial products was such that the division became a limited company and was renamed Imperial Catering Equipment, at the same time reinforcing its policy of supplying only to distributors.

In 2004, the company moved from Rearsby in Leicestershire to a larger facility in Loughborough and soon afterwards was asked to market and distribute the Hatco range throughout the UK. The Montague series of prime cooking equipment and the FWE range of holding and warming equipment was soon added to the portfolio.

In 2013, Imperial reached a partnership agreement to distribute MKN combination ovens to distributors, also securing exclusive agency agreements with Ovention and Vacmaster. During a restructuring last year, it became evident that the company name, Imperial Catering Equipment, no longer suited the product portfolio, prompting it to revert to Gamble Foodservice Solutions from 1 May 2014.

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