The relatively unusual position of being a manufacturer and distributor gives Gloucester-based Target Catering Equipment a unique view of the market. And it saw that there would be a skills gap heading for the catering equipment fabrication industry, in short order.
When the firm was formed in 1988, companies didn’t need to provide fabrication training, as there was a glut of people available. So initially it recruited electrical apprentices and finished their education in fabrication. “However, we found that bigger companies would poach our employees,” recalled MD, David Pedrette. “They recognised that our little business had trained these people well, multi-skilling them.
“It takes an awful lot of investment to multi-skill someone, compared to someone on a production line that performs one operation. In fact it probably takes 10 years to train someone to a skill level where they can produce top quality work.”
Therefore the business tried a different approach, lobbying the local technical colleges to provide sheet metalwork, fabrication and welding courses, to help to replace an increasingly ageing practical workforce. “We were told that there was no demand for this training,” Pedrette recalled. “We were at a loss; the local Gloucestershire Training Group (GTG) was funded by the larger local manufacturers as they were the only ones that could afford to pay upfront for the training, but even they were struggling with numbers.”
Eventually, however, the problem could no longer be ignored, and when Pedrette’s daughter, Charlotte, joined the business, she discussed possible ways forward with what was now re-named Gloucester Engineering Training (GET). “GET could deliver the accredited training that revolved around engineering practice, but not the practical aspect, as they didn’t own any fabrication equipment,” explained Pedrette. “However, they realised that if they could put together a package with us, they could present it to other businesses that required sheet metalwork fabrication welders.”
So Target and GET created a scheme whereby apprentices are obligated to the company they work for and will face a financial penalty if they leave their training. “We want people to commit to our business and be able to move around within it,” Pedrette said. “And only a small business like ours can give these apprentices a good family camaraderie.”
GET signed up four other local firms to make it a viable business prospect, and investing in welding equipment. The first intake was last September, when Target signed up Chris Evans as an apprentice. Open days are now taking place at GET for the next intake starting this September.
Currently Target has 12 employees, five within design and management and the remainder within the firm’s on-site workshop.
The Target brand was inspired by Pedrette’s grandfather, Fred Archer, who owned a roadsweeper brush manufacturing business of the same name in London.[[page-break]]
Induction technology is Target’s speciality. “Induction opens up more sites for catering use because there are no harmful byproducts of combustion, so there are no big ventilation ducting systems to worry about. It creates a far better working environment,” believes Pedrette. “We take top end components and we build exactly what chefs want; we turn their ideas into reality.”
Target’s portfolio is continually growing, but predominantly it serves owner-operated businesses. “We’ve never made two induction suites the same,” Pedrette said.
It has worked as a supplier to London-based distributor Chiller Box, designing equipment for the Caffe Vergnano 1882 chain. “This relationship is developing to hopefully produce more standard products specifically for that chain,” he explained.
However, as a small business, Target can only go so far when it comes to developing a product beyond a one-off, bespoke item. This is why the firm works closely with major manufacturer, Lincat. “We can test and trial products in the market place, but brands such as Lincat can go into mass production and increase the economies of scale,” detailed Pedrette. “Then we use Lincat to supply the resulting products to our customers.”
The firm analysed its operations to focus on avenues which would return the most profit to the business. For instance, it used to import Modena bespoke rotating deck pizza ovens from Italy, but the brand appointed another distributor and only offered Target a limited product range. Deciding that this didn’t fit in with the company’s tailor-made philosophy, and taking into account the physical effort involved in installing the 2tonne ovens, as well as the low margins generated, Target dropped the line. This was one of the measures that helped to ensure its sales figures increased by 30% this year compared to last.
Target has a design house featuring a CAD facility, which it uses to deliver the bespoke requirements of a project. For most projects the company uses its own staff for installation, but on occasion it calls upon manufacturers’ technicians where specialist knowledge is required.
Spanning the design and manufacturing fields is advantageous for the firm, believes Pedrette. “If we want to trial a piece of equipment we can obtain the components and create it before we commit to a full manufacturing procedure.” For the products it supplies, it judges them on quality and niche application.
Recent design and outfit projects include the Kingham Plough pub in Chipping Norton for proprietor Emily Watkins. It also converted an old Airstream trailer into a Tex Mex diner, which essentially formed an extension to the catering service at the Royal Oak pub in Tetbury – a kitchen which Target had outfitted 2 years previously.
“Repeat business and word of mouth is how business is done,” commented Pedrette. “You’re only as good as your last job. You’ve got to be creative and constantly evolving.” He believes that being involved in the business day to day ensures that high quality is maintained. “If you want to keep control of your small business, you have to be visible,” he said. “We can respond to market trends faster than any of our larger competitors, so we can keep our customers ahead of the game too.”