Kings of Lyon

Charvet’s bespoke heavy duty cooking suites, which it builds at its factory in Lyon, have become a must-have for elite chefs with serious cash to spend on their kitchens, yet it’s the company’s modular range which carries the potential to really open doors for dealers. Catering Insight discusses its UK dealer plans with Charvet Premier Ranges managing director Wayne Cuomo.

Charvet is a French-owned company that manufactures in France. Where does the UK business fit into the picture?

Premier Ranges was set up as the UK sales office for Charvet about 14 years ago and we sell through a distributor network, we don’t sell direct, which follows the strategy they have in France. I suppose our key dealers are taken from the CEDA grouping of distributors. Charvet offers heavy duty equipment in modular and bespoke form — although even the modular is tailored to the chef’s requirements. The whole philosophy about Charvet equipment is that it has a large number of cooking components which can be assembled according to a specific project need and chef requirement. It is also fully chassis-built, even the modular.

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What is the split between bespoke sales and modular sales in the UK?

It varies. I suppose it must be 10% to 15% bespoke. This year we started off with three ranges in the Chester Grosvenor, a big range in Banker restaurant in London, and we have sold another one into a hotel in Cork. That is probably about a year’s production normally! The market doesn’t have a set pattern, it is just how you pick it up.

How many dealer partnerships do you currently have in the UK?

The core dealer network is about 10 to 15, but depending on how projects are developed and awarded there are others who we sell to but perhaps not as often. As long as they are an accredited dealer with an installation and service capability then we are generally happy to work with them. If companies are less experienced on the installation side then we will adopt a watching brief over the project and provide training during installation, as well as training on the servicing side. We also have national coverage with a handful of service companies who we can send in to assist.

Charvet is known as a deluxe brand. Do you think dealers sometimes shy away from it because it is perceived as being too expensive?

One of our slogans is that it is not as expensive as you think! If you think of Mercedes 20 years ago, it had one range and it was exclusive and expensive. Mercedes now produces right the way down to an A-class, which makes it affordable. Charvet traditionally was bespoke and has now introduced ranges of modular equipment which makes it affordable. It is not cheap — but it is viable to a much wider audience than the original bespoke equipment. Charvet is now an option for a lot more restaurants than it would have been 10 or 15 years ago and what we find is that even with lesser build quality competition, we are price competitive. We may be at the top end of it, but if you are not replacing the kitchen every four or five years then it is a very good capital investment long term.

Are you looking to entertain dealers that previously might have steered clear of the brand on the basis it was considered too costly then?

Yes, the message that we want to get across to the distributor market is that because of the range of modular equipment, and because of the options and price of modular equipment, Charvet is now a viable option for any busy kitchen that is planning to stay in business. If any distributor is seriously looking at Charvet as a viable option and putting it to their customers, we would be happy to bring them over to the factory in France to see what Charvet is about.

What would you say to dealers concerned about lead times given that all the units are hand-built in France?

There have been developments in speeding up delivery from what used to be six weeks for modular to four weeks. The other factor is that we will deliver either to the dealer’s warehouse or to site and we can co-ordinate the delivery time for whenever the dealer wants. In fairness, a lot of our stuff goes into rebuild projects and six weeks hasn’t been a huge problem. At times, a one-off piece like a four-burner or solid top can be delivered in a quicker time, such as within a week. We used to keep Pro 800 Series four-burners with oven and double solid tops in stock in the UK, but the reality now is that we don’t need to because we can pretty much deliver from France.

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How geared up to working with more dealers is the UK business?

We do a lot of our own exhibiting at Hotelympia and restaurant shows, we attend Skills for Chefs, work with PACE, which is the association of lecturers in chef training colleges, and we do a lot of our own marketing, which produces leads. We will then possibly go and talk directly to the chef or whoever is designing the kitchen to get a good idea of what the cooking equipment requirements are. Once we have got a reasonable brief we can then assess the geographical area and the client’s preference for who it buys from in terms of a dealer and we will take that to a dealer. Obviously there are other dealers which in turn are thinking Charvet and will bring leads to us.

Should dealers be worried about sharing that information with you in case you take the sale direct?

No, they are perfectly safe in disclosing who their client is to us. We are more than happy to come along and talk to the customer — in our sales team we have the ability for chef-to-chef conversations as the guys that plan it are qualified chefs and talk the right language. We are not going to go and undercut dealers and try and sell direct, so there is that dealer confidence that they are working in a partnership. As dealerships open up, we are geared to training them and for the large cooking suite projects we will bring the dealer and the client across to the factory during assembly. Charvet is a viable option for distributors to develop their business if they look at where it can be sold into and what they can do with it. As well as bringing down the delivery timeframe, the other thing that is important is that there is a realistic commercial margin in there.

Can you quantify that in any way?

All dealers know what they can buy kit for and invariably they are looking at their net purchasing price and putting a margin on to cover installation and so on. What we are saying is that if you look at the list price, we are price competitive with the more quality brands but I don’t think any manufacturer has the lifespan that Charvet equipment does. And when you look at some of the other European brands, Charvet still builds on a chassis, even for modular, which is very important. With our modular range, you would expect a good 15-year-plus lifespan, while some of the bespokes in the UK are 25 to 30 years old. From the dealer point of view, this gives them the confidence that they are putting in kit which will do the job and will stay together.

Are you looking to recruit a specific number of distributors?

We want to grow the distributor network but we have purposely set out not to have 10 dealers in every town. You get a problem if you have got too much of a concentration of dealers in one area. All they do is become competitive, they then try and slash the price, and nobody really wins in that situation. We prefer to have a sensible number of dealers with which we develop and grow. We are not looking to sell to every dealer in the country. Some dealers have different markets, some specifically work with markets which require lighter duty kit than we provide. Charvet is not designed to go in every kitchen, but if a distributor does 20 kitchens, out of that 20 there is probably at least five that would benefit from putting Charvet in.

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French connection

The Rhone-Alps in France’s south-eastern region might not be renowned for its industrial prowess, but it is from this charming area that Charvet runs a manufacturing operation producing bespoke and modular cooking ranges to suit everything from kitchens supplying in-flight meals out of Heathrow Airport to the world’s top Michelin-starred restaurants.

The factory currently builds around 5,000 units a year and while that figure is a little below 2008 pre-recession levels, it still represents a significant amount of activity for a business that has been hand-building heavy duty commercial kitchens for almost eight decades.

While modern-day manufacturing tends to conjure up images of soulless buildings stuffed with conveyor belts, you‘ll find nothing of the sort at Charvet’s hub. Instead, the factory floor is carefully segmented into zones, each served by a team of individuals with very specific roles to play in the construction of each unit once design approval has been granted. From assembling the chassis that forms the skeleton of the suite to placing Charvet’s Porsche-like logo on each unit’s exterior, everything is carried out in-house, while the premises also contains a large section devoted to spare parts.

Led by CEO Pierre-Alain Augagneur, Charvet has invested heavily in modernising its plant over the past few years, bringing in new manufacturing equipment and harnessing the skills of its 135-strong workforce to ensure the brand retains the quality for which it is known.

That, explains Augagneur, has been one of the reasons it has been able to resist having to significantly raise its prices in the wake of growing raw material costs. “Our pricing policy has been quite strict and we haven’t increased as much as you might expect. We’ve tried to make improvements in productivity and factory efficiency,” he says.

Charvet has also sought to expand its business internationally — the UK office is now responsible for the Middle East and parts of Asia for example —and that has also helped it to weather the economic storm.

Augagneur says the company now ships its kitchens to in excess of 20 countries, although its home market naturally accounts for the biggest chunk of its revenue. “In prime cooking equipment and horizontal cooking equipment, France is our largest market,” he says. “It is always difficult to say because the figures are not so precise, but generally I think that we do about 18% to 20% of the horizontal cooking equipment market in France. That is quite a lot of volume when you consider the number of manufacturers.”

Charvet in numbers

4 Weeks it takes to build a modular suite

12 Weeks it takes to build a bespoke suite

18%+ Purported share of its home market

80 Number of years Charvet has been manufacturing

135 Workers at Charvet’s factory in France

5,000 Units manufactured every year

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