When it comes to the job of repairing and maintaining commercial kitchens, Swift Maintenance Services has generally preferred to go about the task quietly rather than shout its expertise from the rooftops.
But with 40 years’ experience behind it, the company has a story well worth telling and it is one of a business that has managed to keep pace with industry change by focusing on its core skills and remaining relevant to customers.
Indeed, one of the first customers that Terry Birch picked up when he founded the business in 1973 was West Midlands Fire Service and it still remains a customer today.
Terry, who has since handed the managing director’s reins to son Chris, still keeps active in the business, helping to foster the friendly, family-led approach that has undoubtedly been a factor in its growth over the years.Grant Shaw, contracts manager at Swift, believes the breadth of the company’s service sets it apart from rivals in the field.
“The difference between us and other maintenance or equipment suppliers is that we offer a turnkey solution where we can install first-fix services with our own directly-employed NICEIC electricians and Gas Safe mechanical engineers, as well as complete ventilation systems via our sister company Swift Ventilation Services.
"We have acted as main contractors on kitchen schemes to the value of £300,000 where we have designed, specified and installed specialist flooring, wall covering and the required catering, refrigeration and ventilation equipment — all this without losing the core of our business: service and maintenance.”
Swift’s ventilation division, which functions as a separate entity, was only launched last year, but the company spotted an opportunity to provide specialist expertise in this area and ensure that it becomes “as turnkey as turnkey gets”.
Local authority work is one area where the company excels, recently securing a maintenance contract with Shire Services in Shropshire that augments the work it is already doing throughout the West Midlands area.
Having never sacrificed the local authority work in search of higher margin private contracts, Shaw admits it is a little bit galling to see others expressing their desire to get into this sector following the recent publicity around school meals. “It is a bit of a frustration now when you get that announcement of free school lunches and all of a sudden the industry is going to be riding to the rescue of local authority catering,” he says. “We have been doing that for 40 years or so.”
The focus for Swift in 2014 is very much on extending its local authority business, but also growing its blue chip clientele and furthering the work it does in the facilities management space with firms such as Carillion, Interserve, GSH and Mitie.
Additionally, the company has carried out sub-contracted service work for major catering equipment distributors and is keen to build on its progress there.
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The company, which has just joined CEDA, employs 18 people, including 10 engineers, so remains well-placed to comment on the challenges that face service-based businesses today.
Shaw admits there are recurrent issues that it encounters, from the general quality of engineering when it follows companies — often smaller ones — into a job and they haven’t carried out the work properly to the difficulties of recruiting engineers that aren’t just Gas Safe or Comcat-qualified, but which have the experience to go alongside it.
Catering equipment has come a long way in the last decade and most manufacturers would argue their kit is more reliable than ever, but Shaw says the company still attends as many breakdowns as it has ever done.
“It goes through phases, but as crazy as it sounds I honestly believe that, components-wise, catering equipment is probably marginally better than when I first came into this industry 20 odd years ago. However, build quality isn’t. ‘Value engineered’ is the saying, isn’t it? I am not going to name names, but there is a certain six burner cooker out there that is a completely different cooker now than from when I first started — and I am not talking about the jazzy facelifts it keeps having, I am on about the general build quality. And I have never known stainless steel that is magnetic, but there are a lot of magnets that stick to a lot of catering equipment these days!”
If it’s true that life begins at 40, Swift Maintenance shouldn’t expect any let-up in business for a while yet. In fact, judging by the recent contract wins that it has got under its belt, things are only going to get busier.
Shire contract the biggest deal in 40 years of trading
Swift Maintenance Services recently secured the largest singular contract in its 40-year history after being awarded the reactive maintenance and equipment replacement contract for Shire Services, the catering and cleaning unit of Shropshire Council.
The two-year agreement, with an option to extend for a further year, covers close to 250 sites based in Shrewsbury, North and South Shropshire , Hereford and Worcester , North Wales and Walsall. Shire serves around five million meals a year to schools and colleges.
It will be the first time that Swift has worked with Shire Services, but the company has a strong background in the local authority sector and currently carries out similar work for Dudley, Sandwell and Wolverhampton councils.
“A big help for us is that our CV obviously stands up to many on local authority, so we feel we are in a good place to assist clients in this sector, especially with the free schools meals idea being announced,” comments Grant Shaw, contracts manager at Swift Maintenance Services. “Shire Services is a very proactive authority and we are very pleased to be involved with them.”
Name: Swift Maintenance Services
Address: Unit 2, Albert Street, Wednesbury, West Midlands, WS10 7EW
Tel: 01215 054001
Managing Director: Chris Birch
Focus: Catering equipment maintenance, repair and service, including new equipment supply