Business is a family affair for HCS

Installing and repairing commercial catering equipment really is a family affair for Hatherley Commercial Services.

The Newark-based distributor, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary, is run by three members of the same family, who each play a hands-on role in the day-to-day running of the business.

Paul Hatherley, who has worked in the industry for more than 30 years, set up the company in 2002 with son Ben, while daughter Kirstin joined the business three years later.

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The company provides everything from design and installation services to kitchen and canopy cleaning, and has even successfully started to dabble in the reconditioned equipment market.

More than half of HCS’s business comes from services, with the company providing repair and maintenance support for commercial kitchens operated by customers of all types, including schools, nursing homes, restaurants and pubs. Most are based in the East Midlands, although the company will travel further afield for installs.

“We are running with five engineers at the moment,” Kirstin Hatherley tells Catering Insight. “We have just taken on an apprentice as well, so we are gradually growing year on year — we have made progress every year.”

Her role at the company involves everything from managing marketing and online activities to arranging engineers’ schedules, as well as sorting out anything else that might need doing.

“Sometimes with new installs my brother will go out and do the measuring up, and do a sketch on a piece of paper, and then I will draw it out on CAD, so it is very much a team effort,” she says. “We like to think that we are a nice little family business and hopefully the engineers are happy working for us.”

Being a small distributor, Hatherley says HCS isn’t closely allied to any specific manufacturers, although she notes that having Lincat based close by has its benefits when customers need an instant solution.

“If a distributor is quite big, and if they spend a lot with a particular manufacturer, they are going to get a better discount and therefore be able to give better offers, and at times we struggle with that,” she says.

“You have got the likes of Nisbets and the mega cheap internet companies that there is no way we can compete with. We try to sell ourselves on the fact that we will install it, look after it and everything else further on from there. We deal with quite a lot of different manufacturers and if people specify something we can normally get it.”

The recent addition of a new apprentice to the team is an important development for the company and marks the first time that HCS has participated in a formal apprenticeship scheme, with the trainee engineer splitting his time between college and on-the-job learning.

“We tend to find that every time we need another engineer it can be months trying to get somebody and it doesn’t matter who you speak to in this industry they’ll agree that we are in short supply of engineers across the country,” says Hatherley. “I think that creating them yourself is the way to go. A lad can’t finish school and say, ‘right, I want to be a catering engineer.’ There just aren’t the courses to cover it. There isn’t even an electrical qualification that they say we should have.”

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Aside from the issue of technical skills, Hatherley says that HCS faces the sorts of challenges you would expect for a distributor its size. That includes appeasing angry chefs that want things sorted out straight away even though parts may not be available and managing the pressures of being at customers’ beck and call 24 hours a day.

“We just want to move forward with everything we do at the moment and keep up our standards,” she says. “I think honesty is a big thing to point out with a family company. We are not going to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.”

It is a policy that has served the company well so far, and you get the impression it will play a big part in HCS clocking up another 10 years in business.

Hire business in the pipeline

Having built up a sideline business in reconditioned equipment over the past couple of years, Hatherley Commercial Services (HCS) is now exploring the possibility of spreading its wings further by moving into the equipment hiring business.

Kirstin Hatherley, director at HCS, says that with customers evaluating their capital expenditure more closely in the current climate, having a facility to be able to hire out equipment could give it a new dimension.

Although HCS hasn’t made any final decisions on the matter yet, it is something that remains firmly in the “pipeline”. She comments: “There is a lot to think about with regards to the legalities of it — drawing up contracts and things. You don’t want to dive into it too quickly. We will probably just start small and local.”

Diversification is certainly not something that the company finds daunting. Last year it moved into a new office that now features a showroom packed with reconditioned equipment. “We really want to push that at the moment,” she says. “Again, with people struggling a bit, it’s hopefully something that might be of interest to them.”

HCS typically sources the second-hand equipment from establishments that are closing down or from installs where old equipment needs to be taken away. It has even had some kit put its way by a demolition firm that it knows.

“We will put the equipment through a system in the work shop, check it out, clean it and put new components on if necessary, and then it gets put in the showroom,” explains Hatherley. “A lot of the equipment can have another four or five years left in it.”

Channel profile

Name: Hatherley Commercial Services
Address: Unit 2, Woodland Court, Brunel Business Park, Jessop Close, Newark, NG24 2AG
Tel: 01636 611211
Email: info@hcscateringequipment.co.uk
Website: www.hcscateringequipment.co.uk
Founded: 2002
Focus: New and used catering equipment; services; spares; installation; fabrication

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