Craven & Co recovers from a supplier’s worst nightmare

A major fire at kitchen storage and handling solutions firm Craven & Co’s Yorkshire factory last year could have closed the operation and forced the lay-off of its 50-strong workforce. Instead the company has fought back to record a rise in output and orders over the past 12 months. Catering Insight spoke to managing director Angus Milnes about dealing with adversity.

What do you recall of the incident and were you in the office at the time?

Yes, I was in the office at the time. It was the middle of the day, I heard a shout, looked out of the window, saw some flames and thought ‘that’s not right’, so started a more-than-gentle trot down the factory to investigate further, together with three or four other colleagues. We had fire extinguishers and there was a valiant attempt to put it out, but we have a CO2 suppression system in that area and when that fired I ordered everybody out of the building as quickly as possible.

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The fire evacuation procedure all went well, we did exactly what we should have done, everything was isolated on the way out, a roll call was taken and a couple of minutes later the first fire engine arrived. By then there was pretty thick smoke in the factory.

What sort of damage did it do?

The fire had taken hold above the coating operation, which had then caught the roof above it and the side of the building. There was some fairly big damage done to the building together with all the services associated with it, as well as the bit of kit itself.

Do you now know what caused the fire?

We have not been able to determine that. The forensics guys couldn’t pinpoint an exact cause, but it is likely that it was an electrical fault in an extraction fan motor.

What was the immediate impact on factory activity? Did it stop production?

That particular bit of equipment was out of action, so we initiated the disaster continuity plan we had in place, which involved reviewing the situation, notifying customers and suppliers, and adopting the alternative measures that we had already identified. We put that plan into action and that enabled us to keep everybody going. We didn’t lay anybody off. We have about 50 staff and we relocated some of them into our suppliers’ businesses briefly, just to assist with capacity, and that was the way we recovered it.

Obviously there was a lot of remedial work that needed to be done on the kit, so once we had authority from the insurers we started stripping stuff out and brought in specialist guys to carry out the necessary repairs and replacements to get it operational as quickly as we could.

How many people were working in the part of the factory where the fire broke out?

There were five people at the time who were working in the immediate vicinity and on that machine. A very large proportion of our products go through that facility, so it was a major loss as far as production capacity was concerned. The way that we got through it was to use a combination of stock that was already in the business and alternative subcontract supply from elsewhere.

How long was it before you resumed normality again?

We were carrying out trials on the bit of kit that was majorly affected within approximately four weeks of the fire. Those were initial trials, just to make sure that it was behaving as it should. We needed to make sure that all the control systems worked, the fire suppression system was back in operation and the required quality was right. Once we were happy with that we began building up the production hours until we were happy with it and then we went into full-scale production. That was after approximately five weeks.

How did customers react to the situation?

They were incredibly supportive. Most were obviously concerned about their continuity of supply and we spoke to them regularly about that, just to keep them informed of what was going on. But they were very understanding and if we didn’t make a full delivery and had to split a delivery because we were trying to balance customer A against customer B then in the main they were very understanding about it.

How has business been since the incident occurred?

Obviously it was a battle to start with, but it has gone extremely well. We have seen growth from some existing customers and we have also seen some new customers as well, which has contributed to an increased turnover of around 20% this year. As a year goes, it hasn’t been a bad year. It wasn’t a record year for the company, but we did have record months.

Impact on supply chain ‘could have been much worse’

While last year’s blaze at Craven’s HQ caused hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage and led to part of the factory being closed for over a month, it was business as usual as far as fulfilling orders and maintaining supply was concerned.

In a bizarre sort of way, the fact that the company manufactures in the UK meant it was able to recover more quickly from the incident that occurred than if it had been manufacturing or importing from overseas.

“I certainly think [that point] is very relevant because the timescale that is required to replenish the supply chain is less,” comments managing director Angus Milnes.

“If a company was reliant on a Chinese manufacturer, let’s say, and there was a fire in a Chinese factory, then potentially it is not only the recovery time away but it is also the shipping time away. So it could be a much greater number. Although the fire was not great news for us at the time, as far as the customers are concerned it could have been a lot worse if we’d been an importer rather than a manufacturer.”

National sales manager, Neil Fox, believes the growth that Craven has seen from existing clients and new clients since the incident occurred has had a lot to with the fact that it was quick to let people know what had happened.

“I believe customers appreciated our honesty and openness. We want to say thanks to our customers and staff for their support and loyalty, which have made Craven & Co even stronger than before the fire,” he said.

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