London-based Millers Catering Equipment may be 65 years old this year, but it is far from being pensionable. In fact the distributor recently gained a new lease of life, as Dean Broadbent joined as the MD one year ago with a mission to make the company more proactive.
The firm has actually been through several transformations since it started in 1952. It began as a grinding and tinning company, repairing and refurbishing pots and pans, then subsequently adding knife sharpening and repair services. Henry Martin and George Doe were the original owners, but when Doe left in 1958, Bill Winslade came on board as joint MD. Winslade’s son Adrian later took over as MD, but when he retired last year, he sold the business to Broadbent.
According to Broadbent: “Millers has been around a long time, but my feeling is we have only been around in this form since 1 July 2016.
“It’s a great business and the former owners were used to operating in a certain way but there’s also a tipping point where you have to do things differently because things change. The market, methods of communication and the way people interact with businesses has definitely changed.”
As he is from outside the catering equipment industry, Broadbent felt he could offer a fresh perspective as to how to move the business forward. “There was a lack of direction, focus, investment and appetite, and I could see there was a huge market and opportunity,” he said.
“Being an outsider has been quite an insight, as everyone knows one another. That’s where I buck the trend a bit, because I don’t carry any preconceptions of competitors or price points. I am learning the hard way but it also means that as we start to grow our business we can do so in a manner that isn’t restrained by what other people are doing.”
Broadbent’s aim is to therefore improve the message Millers takes to market, how it is engaging with its customer base and the service level provided. “People these days are time pressed and so are interested in the value add. We can offer this with additional advice, delivering equipment when operators want, removing existing equipment and disposing of packaging. It’s a bespoke solution.”
He spent his first year as MD learning and understanding the business and now he wants to get the Millers name further out into the market. “We will also look to employ salespeople to actively go out and market our brand,” he reported. “The world has become very reliant on search engine optimisation, which is important and has its place, but we are in a marketplace where the adage of people buy people is true. By seeing people face to face and doing some old fashioned legwork, canvassing, door-knocking and cold calling we will build up and manage a database.”
He believes that these relationships will drive the company. “Selling our way forward and not relying on what happens to us is the answer. We will be better prepared to reply to our customers and more responsive. The market is not personal at the moment; it’s all about price because the personal relationships are not there below the highest level.”
Millers is firmly aiming at small to medium sized end users, especially restaurants – particularly one brand which has expanded very quickly. “They wanted to improve their remote manufacturing facility so we were involved in the design and fit out of that, which is ongoing at the moment,” said Broadbent.
The dealer is continuing to grow from a £750,000 turnover in this financial year to a £1.1m target in the coming 12 months. With five current employees, the objective will be to take on one to two more salespeople “with a clear remit of going out hunting for new business” according to Broadbent.
The distributor’s overall revenue comprises project management, equipment sales and servicing. “They don’t flow into the revenue streams equally, but they are equally as important,” he commented. Millers outsources its engineering solutions through multiple access channels to a nucleus of suppliers, with Broadbent adding: “The relationship works well and makes us more flexible, more reactive and able to meet customers’ needs more comprehensively than we could with an in-house team.”
In terms of equipment sales, he has narrowed down the amount of manufacturers the distributor partners with. “We had catalogues for many manufacturers and when I learned about the products, fundamentally a lot of them were the same. We still use other manufacturers’ products when we need to, but we have chosen to partner with Rational for combi ovens, Lincat for heavy equipment, DC Products for warewashers, Valera for display counters and some refrigeration and Corsair for fabrication.” He detailed: “These were the companies I felt shared the same ethos as me and were willing to support our business.”
The relationship with Rational has been especially beneficial, as it has enabled Millers to hold CookLive demonstrations on its premises. Broadbent set up an on-site showroom in January, including a Rational combi oven, to enable this. “The showroom attracts people to our property and gives us the opportunity of making contact with prospective new customers. While for Rational it gives them a site in south west London, which they were pleased to find, and to be associated with the market leaders is great for us too. The benefits are mutual.”
Looking ahead, Broadbent believes that in the future the showroom will further expand, as well as headcount. Furthermore: “We have good systems now but I think the increasing use of technology will become more evident in the market and we would utilise that as best we can as well.
“The market is fairly fragmented; there are some big and small players in it. Whenever you get a market like that, it consolidates so there are more medium sized businesses.
“Millers has the appetite and the resource to be acquisitive if we wanted to be. We may look to see how we could incorporate smaller businesses through acquisition to improve the size of our customer base, without changing the focus of organic growth through new business,” he predicted
The Millers role is Broadbent’s first step into the catering equipment industry, but he has already built up considerable business experience in several other sectors. Starting his career in banking, he variously became sales manager for a photocopier leasing company and sales director for Ikon Office Solutions, the document management firm.
Joining the Kafevend Group, one of the biggest independent distributors of vending equipment in the UK, as sales director in 2005, he subsequently became a co-owner. “We grew it from turning over £10m to £20m,” he recalled. “This was through a sales approach and being more focused about follow up and sales methodology – having well trained people who know how to sell a product.”
In 2013 he played an integral role in selling the business to water cooler company, Eden Springs, and stayed on there for a couple of years as the sales director, before striking out on his own and taking over Millers.