The Hatherley family is creating a bit of a dynasty in the catering equipment sector. While siblings Kirstin and Ben now jointly run Hatherley Commercial Services (HCS), their father Paul was one of the driving forces behind its inauguration and had worked in the sector since 1969.
Having already established a servicing company in the Newark area, Paul brought those clients across when he and Ben founded HCS in 2002. Kirstin joined in 2005, and when Paul decided to retire in 2015, both she and Ben were well-prepared to take the company on to new heights. And they must be doing something right as the firm has grown steadily every year.
“We have brought in new systems and updated the IT side of things,” reported Kirstin. This includes fully integrated software for servicing which monitors the engineer fleet’s whereabouts. The system was set up in 2015 and means that all seven of the company’s engineers can now receive their jobs via a tablet device and send any estimates instantly. To further boost these capabilities, HCS will be investing in a new vehicle fleet this year.
As maintenance is part of the company’s DNA, it is no wonder that around 65% of the business is dedicated to this sector, compared to the remaining 35% for installations and project management. “Because we have a well-developed service side, that has stood us in good stead over the last few years,” said Kirstin. “During the recession, people obviously want to service and maintain equipment more readily than replacing it, as it is more affordable.”
Nevertheless, the projects and installation division is soaring too. In fact in 2015 the firm was a runner up in CEDA’s Customer Service Award for outfitting an incredible 50 schools over one summer holiday period. “Not all of them were complete refits,” Kirstin recalled. “But the challenge with schools is that they often don’t have the electricity supply to cope with commercial equipment, or there is asbestos in the buildings.”
The education sector is one of the mainstays of HCS’s work, and the firm was one of the major beneficiaries of the government’s Universal Infant Free School Meals initiative. Focusing on the local authorities, comprising Nottingham City Council, Leicester City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council, the distributor intends to stay in the East Midlands area for projects. “We have taken on some sub-contracting further afield at times, but when we don’t specifically have anyone covering those regions, it’s a long way for us to go,” Kirstin detailed.
“I think you can provide a decent service if you stick to your own area, unless you employ engineers across the country. We have no plans to do this at the moment but you never know in the future.”
Ben heads up the project side of things, carrying out the site surveys, with Kirstin creating the design drawings. Aside from schools, HCS also takes on smaller projects in venues such as cafes and garden centres. According to Kirstin: “At the moment we are quite busy on site surveys. School ventilation systems are probably most prominent in our diary, because many of the schools in this area were built so long ago that they haven’t even got extraction.”
This tranche of work should take the HCS orderbook to September and beyond, aside from the regular servicing visits. “We’re good at our annual servicing visits – maybe too good as we see our reactive maintenance work reducing!” she joked. HCS’s engineering expertise also allows it to refurbish and sell re-conditioned catering equipment.
The 11 employees overall are managing the current workload, but Kirstin says boosting the team further may happen if the firm won a big tender. Currently she emphasised: “We are concentrating on training the staff we have in subject areas they require, such as manufacturer training.” For example the company’s refrigeration engineer has just completed a course on hydrocarbon refrigerants.
Engineer recruitment overall has been a challenge for HCS, as for most of the industry. “The pool in our local area is small and it is difficult to find many engineers. They know that as well and I think they use that to their advantage when negotiating employment terms!” said Kirstin, adding that the firm is fortunate enough that most of its engineers are under 45, avoiding the prevailing ageing demographic in the sector.
Nevertheless the dealer is trying to ‘home grow’ new talent and has taken on a second apprentice. “He was recommended to us and he has worked out really well,” Kirstin reported. He is due to specialise in gas appliance installation and so will soon undertake ACS training. HCS has looked at local college courses but Kirstin reported that nothing is specific enough to completely train its staff.
Furthermore, HCS has recently invested in a health and safety consultant called Croner, as Kirstin detailed: “Croner has online training and ensures all of our documents are up to date. This helps us with tendering, plus if there are questions on health and safety they can point us in the right direction.”
She is pretty positive when looking at the future, commenting: “People are still eating out and getting over the recession, though obviously Brexit hasn’t helped. Operators are starting to understand not to buy cheap. Over the last few years we’ve seen brands coming out of China become popular in the market. As a service company we’ve repaired this equipment and found the spares are obsolete. So end users are starting to realise they need to spend a bit more money initially.”
HCS works will all major equipment brands, but as an ENSE member, will try to use the buying group’s suppliers where it can. However, Kirstin added: “Councils often specify exactly the brands they want. But as a service company we can sell the package and not just the equipment. We’re not just going to put a box on their doorstep, we’ve got a team of engineers that will install it and look after it throughout its life.
“Users need a trusted local company to look after them that they can contact. We’re not going to disappear overnight – we’re here and we’re real people. As a small company we proud that we can do everything within a commercial kitchen.”
Having just been voted as the new chair of CEDA’s Northern Region, Kirstin is making a name for herself in the UK catering equipment industry. “Hatherley Commercial Services is a small local company, so it’s nice to get ourselves on the map with the big boys,” she said.
She was the vice chair of the region for the last couple of years and so it is a natural progression to step up to the chair position. She will now be chairing all the regional meetings, with her counterpart, Cathy Wilcox, director of WilcoxBurchmore, performing the same role for the South.
Kirstin underlined: “It’s nice to see two females in these roles because it is a male dominated environment. It’s also good for our company as people then know who you are and find out what your business does.”