Distributor Q&A: Nick Howe, Court Catering

Nick Howe, managing director of Court Catering Equipment, spoke to Catering Insight just before the Olympics to reveal how the distributor’s project pipeline is shaping up and what he regards as the main issues affecting the market.

How are the summer months going and what is your project pipeline looking like?

We have just completed the new Hilton Hotel at Wembley, which is a GWP consultancy specification. We have a number of other projects on the go, but the summer is not as busy as we would have liked it to be. The Olympics is having a big impact because you just can’t make deliveries. We are doing further work at Aspers Casino in Westfield Stratford City, for example, and we have got to deliver the stuff to a consolidation depot out in Essex somewhere, so from a project point of view in London we are experiencing logistical difficulties. Going forward, though, we have got some very nice projects in the pipeline, but most of them are going to be kicking off in September, October, November, after the Olympics. We have got one or two customers which want to do the work over the summer because they know they are going to be quiet, but that is throwing up challenges already.

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As a London-based kitchen house, are most of your jobs in the capital?

We work nationally to be fair, but that is only because we get asked. We don’t go looking for that business nationally normally — there is enough business in London and the home counties. But everybody else sees London as a honeypot and they don’t always look on their own doorstep, which is why, ironically, sometimes it is easier for us to win business in Sheffield or Manchester or even Edinburgh than it is in London itself. Working in London doesn’t frighten us though, whereas I know other people it does.

What is your assessment of the competitive landscape at the moment?

My personal view is that there is almost an over-supply in the equipment market place at the moment and the margins that dealers are having to work on in some market sectors, especially through the main contractors, can be very low. And, in some cases, the way people are value engineering projects is not necessarily for the benefit of the client, so equipment goes in that is not really durable enough for the scheme. I do worry, going forward, about the reputation that companies like mine will have if you get forced down this road.

Does Court align itself with specific brands?

No, we are an independent company. We are involved in designing and specifying projects, and we will buy what we believe is the right product for the job. One manufacturer may be suitable for one client but not for another; some clients might like manufacturer X but not manufacturer Y, so you don’t offer it to them. We do have preferred suppliers that we work with purely and simply because we have knowledge of their kit, we know the reliability of it, the performance specifications of it, and we know the back-up service from the manufacturer itself. All of those count for an awful lot when you are recommending to any client what kit to use.

What are your main objectives for the rest of the year?

The main objectives for 2012 are to consolidate on what we have already achieved for this year and develop new clients and new business because there is plenty of work out there. But you have got to make sure that you do the right things to bring that business in.

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