Ed’s view: The era of the ‘super distributor’ is here

Something that has been much-heralded but not conclusively demonstrated until recently is that the UK catering equipment distributor sector will be dominated by ‘super distributors’. These large conglomerates were described as having multiple dealerships in one group, with fabrication and servicing arms, as well as owning manufacturers and suppliers.

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Whether this is healthy for competition is another matter, but the fact that the era has arrived is now pretty much indisputable. Typifying this is the latest of Unitech Group’s moves into the distributor market, namely the acquisition of London distributor Court Catering Equipment.

The surprise deal means that Unitech’s commercial catering section will turnover in excess of £35m. The group is now one of the largest networks of solutions providers to the hospitality industry in the UK, with a bank of experience comprising 30 service engineers, 10 commercial kitchen design engineers, 13 project managers and 16 regional sales managers. And with Scottish-headquartered ScoMac, north east-based Crosbys and midlands-headquartered Francis all within that, on the dealer side, many regions and market sectors are covered.

By the looks of things, Unitech is steering Crosbys towards focusing on light equipment, as its sales department was recently refreshed with two new faces joining, (Howard Bedford and Paula Grieveson) following the departure of business development manager Ben Crosby. Bedford’s hiring is especially pertinent, as he will be covering the south and London, seemingly backing up Court’s heavier equipment offering.

While other serial purchasers in the UK catering equipment, such as JLA, Lockhart or Nisbets, have undoubtedly made waves with their expansion trails, this is the first time that such a big repository of kitchen design house expertise has resided in one place. JLA’s purchases were generally aimed at taking on more engineering resource, and while Nisbets does have Space, and Lockhart with Aggora, none of them have four big dealer names designing commercial kitchens under their auspices.

It will be interesting to see how the Unitech network stitches together, especially with Unitech Engineering, fabricator Stellex and manufacturer Corsair all trading under that umbrella too. Fabrication and manufacturer backing is both a blessing and a curse – that support should always be there for the group dealers, but it also may restrict the options they can offer to end users.

However, with the dealer market so disparate, it is unlikely that any one group will hoover up the lion’s share of project and scheme work. So while ‘super distributors’ could muscle in on other territory, there should still be room for all types of dealerships to continue to thrive.

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One Comment;

  1. Steve Loughton said:

    I would say that when the industry goes through the (relatively) hard times we have experienced over the last while this kind of agglomeration is not unusual.
    The challenge in my opinion is whether the incumbent management teams can effectively steer what becomes a very different shape and size of ship?
    We do not have a good track record of training our leaders, in the wider business disciplines, and this is something that must change if those individuals are going to be able to keep pace in an increasingly turbulent environment.

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