Unlike most people, Peter Hansen can remember the precise details of his first day in permanent employment. “June 26th 1976 — about 1.20pm,” he recalls. “Around an hour and a half after I left school!”
Then again, you wouldn’t expect any different given the job in question was with his family’s professional catering equipment business.
Hansen is now the managing director of that business — which today serves the market from its HQ in London’s Fulham Road — but it was his late father who started it all.
“When my Dad started the business after the war, we were very much Hansens Kitchen & Bakery Equipment Limited, which was the original name of the company, and it is fair to say the biggest focus was firmly on the bakery equipment side,” explains Hansen. “There were probably a dozen little high street bakers in any typical town in those days, but that eventually died out and went by the wayside. Things just changed.”
While the decline of the traditional bakery market might have caused less savvy equipment suppliers to crumble, Hansens simply channelled all its efforts into creating a business that could cater for every chef and commercial kitchen worker’s need.
The vision it had back then is still very much in evidence today through the distinctive blue and yellow shop front that houses thousands of products from chef’s knives to heavy duty cooking equipment.
But in the last 10 years Hansens has also made a name for itself in the project side of the business, managing a number of prestigious hotel kitchen and restaurant chain fit-outs.
It has worked with Gordon Ramsey on his restaurants and built up a client list that includes everyone from Angus Steakhouse to the Sanctum Soho Hotel.
Hansen estimates that around two thirds of sales are “project-led” these days, although he clearly cherishes the role that the showroom has played — and continues to play — in the company’s development.
“We are not unique, but there is not really that many of us that do the whole package,” he says. “All I could think of in London would be us and Dentons. I know everyone in the trade and you’ve got companies like Court Catering which are huge in the big project stuff but they wouldn’t touch a knife and fork or spoon. Okay, our showroom is open to the public but we also deal with the light equipment and utensils for most of the jobs that we do.”
While showroom sales have been overtaken by project sales as the years have gone by, the proliferation of online buying has also inevitably impacted the volume of walk-in custom.
The company operates its own online shop but that doesn’t mean Hansen is particularly enthused about the impact the internet has had on the catering equipment market.
He says: “One of the issues that is a worry to all of us really is the continued presence of the internet because it is driving down prices, without a doubt. We had two situations yesterday. One of those was a good, regular customer of ours that we’ve been doing business with for donkey’s years. He was after a Rational oven, so we quoted him a price and he came back saying he could get it for such and such elsewhere. You have only got to look for Rational ovens on the internet and you’ll find a dozen people. We will probably feature in that list, but if you buy it from us it is going to be more expensive because we will deliver it, install it, demonstrate it and do all the other bits.”
Hansen admits that one of the only ways it can compete on equal price terms is to accept lower margins, although he believes the extent to which traditional dealers and internet sellers are able to co-exist comes down down to each manufacturer’s channel policy. He has high praise for the likes of Meiko and Rational in that regard.
“It is only the manufacturers that can ultimately police it, that’s the trouble,” he says. “The only thing they can do is cut their discount and that is at their discretion. But we have actually tripled our turnover with Rational this year, simply because their whole attitude has changed.”
Hansen might joke that if he could change one thing about the industry he would get rid of the internet, but the realities of modern-day business mean it is an area the company has had to take seriously.
“It has got to the point where if you can’t beat them you’ve got to join them. But it’s important to remember the internet is about selling a product, it is not about selling a service. Doing an installation, operating a kitchen and putting a focus together is a service package, it’s not just a piece of kit. One of the issues with catering equipment and professional catering is helping people to make the right choices.”
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The company works with all of the major suppliers and this, says Hansen, enables it to take an independent approach when designing and specifying kitchen projects.
He says: “In terms of key equipment we deal with all of the big boys — about 20 to 25 of them — and that includes Rational, Convotherm, Hoshizaki and Falcon. Refrigeration is an interesting area because it is a very big part of what we do. It is fair to say that the lion’s share of our cabinet and counter sales is generally always Williams, whereas the lion’s share of our cold room sales is nearly always Foster. Spookily enough, we do almost a 50-50 split with both of them, so it is quite a nice balance.”
The company’s focus for this year is very much about building on its major project work and elevating the profile of the business in the market place.
It recently hired a new administration logistics manager as part of some internal restructuring and that move is also designed to free up Hansen’s workload given the hands-on role he plays. “It should allow me to get more involved with the site work, meet suppliers, meet with customers and negotiate better deals, as opposed to being chained to my desk!” he says.
It might have been more than 35 years since Hansen began his first assignment at the company, but the desire he has always shown to make sure the family business remains successful shows no sign of waning.
Hansens’ Chefs Shop has been a core part of the company’s offering ever since the company sold its first potato peeler in 1946. The 4,000 square foot double-fronted showroom it purchased many years ago is situated on two levels and takes its place among the bars and boutiques that pepper the Fulham Road in the heart of Chelsea.
The Chefs Shop, which holds thousands of items including plates, pots, bar sundries, knives, cookware, food prep appliances and prime cooking equipment, is open on weekdays between 9am and 5pm and on Saturdays from 10am to 4pm.
As well as coming in to buy standalone items, caterers and chefs can sit down with one of Hansens’ designers to discuss bigger projects, as the company operates its own design studio located at the back of the premises.
“I suppose the main strength we’ve got is that we can do everything in-house, from the design through to the supply, the after-sales services and obviously all of the pots, pans and glassware as well,” says Peter Hansen, managing director of Hansens Kitchen Equipment. “Effectively we’re a complete one-stop-shop.”
Name: Hansens Kitchen Equipment
Address: 306 Fulham Road, Chelsea, London, SW10 9ER
Tel: 020 7351 6933
Specialist areas: Design; installation, supply, export, online sales, showroom sales
Take a tour around Hansens’ showroom in our exclusive picture gallery here.