Graham Massey has worn many hats in his career so far. But with the 40th anniversary of his company GS Group approaching, the catering equipment industry is definitely the one he has spent the longest in.
The Paignton-based distributor was established by Massey and his wife Sheena (GS was short for Graham and Sheena) in 1978, following a couple of years where they owned a grill bar in Torquay. Simultaneously he continued as an engineering design contractor, having begun his working life as a structural civil engineer for North Sea oil platforms, moving from Scotland to the West Midlands and then to London and even Hereford.
Having decided that he no longer wanted to work away from his family so much, Massey wanted to put his project management experience in industries such as tarmac construction to good use. He recalled: “It was tough to begin with. There were established companies that didn’t want us to start up, but because I’d worked in the construction industry and for consultants, I understood how contractors ticked. And essentially what a lot of the catering equipment industry does now is working for contractors, we project manage the kitchen side of things.
“I was also comfortable with health and safety legislation, plus I thought there’d be a demand for a catering equipment distributor in the south west.”
Selling equipment was the original main focus of the firm, with engineering and installation subcontracted. Over the years the firm brought engineers in under its own umbrella before separating out the divisions into GS Catering Equipment and GS Engineering.
Then in the last 12 months the GS Group added Award Refrigeration and Air Conditioning into its portfolio of companies. Massey explained this move: “People identify with a name or concept and they look for a specialist company. Our engineering companies allow each brand to develop their own opportunities without just sticking to the catering trade.”
While Massey remains MD of the whole group and each of the three company divisions, the other directors are given free rein to manage their specialist areas. Andy Ward heads up the Award firm, while Peter Williams focuses on new business opportunities for the group and Carl Jones specialises in project management and design. Massey is even handing the family business baton onto his son Simeon, who is director of catering equipment sales. “All three companies are very strong on project management,” said Massey. The firm also has three designers in its office and boasts a 60-65% share of project work in terms of overall business, with the remainder comprising maintenance and engineering.
In total around 30 people work for the group, a figure which has slowly started to increase over the last 18 months. “We’re very efficient on our estimating and project management. We’ve got plenty of depth there to take on more business if we need to, it’s just a balance of winning business on reasonable profit margins,” Massey detailed.
The distributor has built up a good relationship with a selection of building contractors, including being the first priority for several of them. Furthermore, it is an associate member of the FCSI, having completed many consultant-led jobs too.
The company is also very strong in the education and hotel sectors, but it is care homes which feature most strongly on GS’s slate in terms of end user sector. Described by one of its suppliers as ‘a specialist care home contractor’, the distributor has completed many projects in care villages. Plus this strength filters through to its engineering division, as it maintains the equipment for many care homes for local authorities and national groups.
Furthermore it has completed work for Heathrow and Gatwick airports, and is in the midst of projects for The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth and the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn in London, which was designed by Winton Nightingale.
The firm has 11 engineers and two installation teams which can work all over the south and west of England, right up to the West Midlands. “We don’t constrain ourselves for maintenance, but most of our work is in urban areas such as Bristol and Southampton, the Home Counties and along the M4 corridor,” said Massey.
For the IT aspect of the business, in the last couple of years GS has equipped its staff with new computers and many new laptops, plus it has invested in cloud storage thanks to an IT adviser which manages the systems. Furthermore, it is intending to refresh its website design as part of a rebranding exercise. “The aim is to make people aware of what we can do for them and where we are in the industry,” said Massey. “We will stay as GS Group but our website will be divided into business sections.”
Allied to this, the company will be moving further into the social media sphere and is in the process of engaging a marketing agency to help with its all-round promotion.
One of the biggest challenges the distributor faces is a familiar story in the industry, namely of finding engineers. “We always keep our ears to the ground to find good engineers,” reported Massey. To that end, the firm has taken on two electrical engineer apprentices.
Massey feels that one of the things which makes the distributor unique is its personal relationship with its clients. “We complete jobs and we get recommendations,” he detailed. “We are very sharp on snagging – of the 40 projects we have on the books at the moment there are only around 10 snags overall.”
GS wants to work with suppliers it feels it can rely on, with Massey revealing: “We want to partner with competent project managers and engineers who finish jobs and accept there might be a hiccup – and cover that in their costs.” Foster Refrigerator, Britannia Kitchen Ventilation and Counterline are among GS’s regular contributors.
Furthermore, Massey was inspired to begin charity work following the sad passing of his wife Sheena in 2011. He said: “Once you have been through the tragedy of losing someone so close to you, you have an affinity with other people going through hard times.”
His work with numerous charities comprises the nationwide Street Pastors charity for which he patrols Torquay town centre on Friday nights, offering much-needed support and medical assistance to the homeless, vulnerable people, and the intoxicated. He is also a trustee on the South Devon Evangelical Trust, a regular volunteer at a children’s summer camp in Cornwall, and a trustee for Eagles Mount Adventures, providing holiday camps for the poor mountain village children and orphans in China.
He modestly tried to play down his achievements, saying what he does is “nothing special”, but that: “I had an opportunity to make a difference and I didn’t want to miss it. Just giving your time makes a lot of difference.”
As part of his work with Eagles Mount Adventures, he travelled to Hong Kong and around China, right up to the Vietnamese border. He commented: “When you see the orphans there, it has an impact. Everyone wants to help humans that are struggling. The people there are great and the kids are so grateful – when you have so little, you appreciate everything.”
Massey recently received Cedabond’s Bob McNab Award in recognition of his efforts.