'The industry I entered has changed beyond all recognition'

David Fereday, chairman of catering equipment and weighing scales manufacturer H Fereday & Sons, celebrates a remarkable 60 years in the industry this month. Catering Insight asked him to pick out some of the biggest changes he has seen in the industry during his time at the helm.

I was 16-years-old when I started in the family firm’s factory learning the art of weighing scales manufacturing, which was the company’s essential activity in those days. I earned £2 10 shillings for a 40-hour week, the same as the other lads and was given no favours.

After National Service and gaining Chartered Engineer status, I set about redesigning the company’s products and modernising the manufacturing methods, while at the same time being the foreman and supervisor of production.
It was a hectic time. The company became a major manufacturer of scales branded Weylux, while catering equipment was a fringe activity involving the buying and reconditioning of army surplus.

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However, coming into the 1990s, Far East competition was eroding the British scales industry’s competitiveness and to keep profitably involved in manufacturing the production of Caterlux hot cupboards was developed to market to catering equipment distributors.

While production of scales continued and still does, this has become restricted to niche items not available from any overseas source.

Since the mid-90s, the design and manufacture of Caterlux hot cupboards has been progressively professionalised with a full range to match the major brands.

This culminated in the move eight years ago from our London premises to a purpose-built factory in Harlow enabling production to be substantially increased.

Looking back, I have seen some dramatic changes over the years. Caterlux cupboards initially were made on a one-off basis with no real formal design. Now all parts are produced on NC machines and sub assemblies are fully interchangeable with a modular system to enable the immediate manufacture of any one of the vast range of specs, ensuring next-day deliveries can be met.

Talking of deliveries, prior to modernisation there was always an order book of quite a few weeks, not due to the volume of orders but just simply because of the hours required to build a cupboard.

Legislative changes have impacted particularly on the heating of cupboards. At one time, gas accounted for 70% of Fereday’s production. With the advent of EU-inspired controls on the design and manufacture of gas-powered equipment and kitchen ventilation, gas cupboards are rarely specified nowadays despite them being far cheaper to run than electric units.

On the marketing side, which is now my main responsibility, Fereday has had to adapt to the shift away from showroom-based sales to end-users buying from distributors’ websites.

Traditionally it was distributors who guided their clients to the best product for their requirement. Now, it is often the end-user who makes the choice and is likely to think ‘safe’ in choosing a major brand of which they are more aware, even though this may not necessarily be the best value. I always stress that Caterlux cupboards come from a company established for more than 150 years to gain credibility from a wavering purchaser.

Building a strong distributor base has been my main focus for the past 16 years since my ‘part retirement’. But gone is the time when I used to scour the country burning up petrol.

Distributors’ hours are now too precious to spare the odd 30 minutes over a coffee. I can get oodles of phone calls in on the day, waving the Fereday flag — far more efficient than belching CO2 into the air.

So, what of the future? Currently Mr Clegg has done a good job for our industry, with business well over 50% up to ensure hot nutrition for the youngsters. When that is done and dusted I will continue ploughing a furrow waving the Caterlux flag to ensure the lads on the factory floor are not too idle!

David Fereday is chairman of H Fereday & Sons, a British catering equipment and weighing scales manufacturer. www.hfereday.com

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