CDG: the design doyennes

In the year of Daventry-based distributor Catering Design Group’s (CDG) 25th anniversary, Catering Insight caught up with MD, Phil Howard to discover the secret to its success.

Why did you establish CDG in 1990 and what was the company’s original brief?
Hospitality has always been in my blood. I’ve spent my time at the sharp end working in a range of jobs, including as a restaurant manager and wine waiter whilst studying for a BSc catering systems degree at Sheffield Hallam University (Sheffield Polytechnic back in the day).

My career within the industry officially started in 1980 at Faireagle Catering Equipment, as a technical representative, before moving 2 years later to Sutcliffe Catering West as a design consultant. In 1987, I joined Datacater as a sales manager and then went to Sutcliffe Catering Midlands as design manager, before starting CDG in 1990.

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I recognised a gap in the market for a business which could provide a turnkey service across design and build – one which could bridge the gap between the consultant and ‘distributor’. We spent December 1990 setting up the business, ready to start officially trading in January 1991.

However, our certificate of registration actually arrived on Christmas Eve, so we thought: why not? We’re ready to go and what better way to celebrate Christmas than starting a new venture on Christmas Eve!

How has the business developed since then?
In the beginning, our focus was back of house, with very minimal emphasis on interiors. Our first client was United Distillers, and as the business grew steadily within the B&I sector, our reputation as a quality provider did too, which enabled us to move into education, leisure and retail.

In 2009, the recession hit. This was a difficult time for everyone; however, we saw this as an ideal opportunity for us to consolidate and grow.

I set about repositioning the company, we attained ISO 9001 and introduced a full interiors element to the business, extending our portfolio into new sectors and ensuring our continued growth.

Since 1990, we’ve grown from just two people to 23 – so over 1,000% growth, which is truly phenomenal. I have achieved my ambition of having all of the necessary skills under one roof.

We first went for Investors in People (IIP) accreditation in 2008, to add depth to the business and to ensure we were supporting, nurturing and training the team. We are obviously getting this right as we’ve held the IIP Gold award for nearly 5 years. [[page-break]]

How has the industry changed in the last 25 years?
25 years ago, the foodservice industry was just about feeding people. Most of the major manufacturing companies provided in-house catering for their staff, which was seen as a nice perk. When the major recessions hit, businesses were naturally forced to downgrade from full catering to a snack offering.

However, with the resurgence in the high street food offering over the last few years, B&I caterers have moved their focus to more of a high street feel.

Today, it is commonplace to eat out, and expectations have grown amongst consumers as they’re faced with so much choice. The power and influence of the high street has filtered into not only into B&I, but also education. Once upon a time catering used to be an after-thought; it now forms a core part of their proposition.

What are you doing to celebrate CDG’s 25th anniversary?
I’m taking the team out for an ‘all singing, all dancing’ celebratory lunch, but I can’t tell you where at this stage as they will be reading this and I don’t want to give too much away! However, what I can reveal is that everyone will be receiving their birthdays off from 2016.

What major projects you have undertaken over the years?
We worked with Lubrizol in 1994/95, and we have just received the order to replace their serveries 20 years later.

Other schemes include Thornton’s Chocolate Factory in Derbyshire, Silverstone, Lloyds of London, Bentley, Blenheim Palace, Royal Mail, and the Royal College of General Practitioners. For a project with Glasgow University we won a CEDA Sustainability award in the first year of that category.

Some more memorable projects include for Rolls Royce, which appointed us in 2002 to completely refurbish their kitchen. However, we had to complete the work across the Christmas period to hand over on 2 January.

At Goodenough College in London, we had to close a road for the entire weekend to crane in a temporary kitchen, while for Southwark Cathedral we had to find a suitable route to lay services, which meant some excavation works were required. We had archaeological services on standby to remove any bones unearthed! [[page-break]]

What criteria do you use to choose which equipment suppliers to work with?
We have the knowledge and expertise to advise our clients what is good, what will work and which pieces of equipment are right for their business and budget.

We are completely unbiased in our approach and base our decisions purely on the client’s requirements. We put a great deal of importance into listening and understanding a brief.

When it comes to equipment, we’re looking for good quality and value for money. New ideas, concepts and developments are also hugely important, as is sustainability.

Are you constantly looking for new suppliers or do you stay with your tried and tested partners?
We believe in building long and lasting relationships and we’re always loyal. However, to ensure we continue to evolve, we are constantly on the look-out for new suppliers across every area of our business.

What have been the reasons behind the company’s growth?
We are enjoying continuous organic growth, which has a great deal to do with the fantastic team I have here. I want to create a legacy for the future, so that the team continues to deliver on our great service and reputation.

In 2015 alone, we’ve enjoyed a 25% increase in staff in our 25th anniversary year! We continue to evolve the company, enabling us to offer a complete service to a wide range of clients.

We’re committed to being able to deliver for our clients. We offer annual design placements for students from Nottingham Trent University as we’re passionate about nurturing and developing the next generation of CDG, together with bringing back into the fold people like Claire Smith, who returned to us recently after a 4-year hiatus, and Wayne Etheridge who recently returned after 5 years as a design consultant. [[page-break]]

What are the business’ unique selling points?
We’re extremely unique, in that we offer a vast array of expertise that can be found under one roof, therefore removing any issues of working with multiple suppliers.

Our clients have one in-house project manager from conception through to delivery. Consistency across the team means that we can deliver on our promise to provide great design and great service, all of which is delivered by great people.

This is why our clients trust us to do what we say we’re going to do – on time, on brief and on budget.

What can you see as the future for the company?
We have ambitious growth plans to double our turnover in 5 years with a clearly defined strategy.

We will continue to love what we do and do best – working closely with other passionate people in the industry to assist our clients as they grow. Roll on the next 25 years!

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