It’s fair to say that most executives approaching their 40th year in the same industry would probably have one eye on the golf course by now.
But as anyone who has ever worked with Steve Loughton will know, the prospect of stepping off the gas and taking things easy doesn’t sit comfortably with the affable Standex UK chief.
In April this year, Loughton will complete his second term at Standex, a company he joined after a successful 10-year spell at Manitowoc, where he was credited with stabilising the UK business and building a highly energetic senior management team.
He is now repeating the feat at New York-listed outfit Standex after answering a call to configure the Theale-based UK operation for growth, explore sales opportunities in mainland Europe and create a business nimble enough to react quickly and effectively to changes in market behaviour.
While the task that confronts him may sound daunting to some, Loughton is clearly relishing the challenge. “The real exciting thing for me is taking a plan from a piece of paper and executing it through the people and the team that you get around you…feeling their energy run through the business and out to the customers,” he enthuses.
A lot has happened in the period since Loughton came on board, including a name change from BKI Europe to Standex Food Service Equipment and the appointment of senior personnel in finance, distribution and key account management positions.
Efforts have been made to make the business less inward-looking and more accessible, with increased emphasis on the individual qualities of its five principal food service brands — APW Wyott, Bakers Pride, Bevles, BKI and Tri-Star — undoubtedly leading to improved market recognition.
But there is one development that symbolises the company’s transformation more pertinently than anything else and that is the adoption of a supplementary channel sales model.
Given its historic strength in the retail sector — it counts high street names such as Tesco, Selfridges and Wagamama among its customer base — the majority of business Standex does is brokered directly due to the size and complexity of the clients involved and the pricing they demand. But at the same time, a new strategy has been put in place to cultivate a strong and loyal dealer network that can co-exist alongside its traditional business.
The move is already paying dividends by helping the company to reach sectors and outlets that would otherwise have been out of its grasp, while links have been forged with national buying consortium Cedabond. Led by distribution sales chief Malcom Morris, who previously worked for Adande, Bradshaw Microwave and Valentine, dealer sales now represent the fastest-growing part of Standex’s UK business.
“I would say that when I came here — not including spares and exports — probably 95% of what we sold was retail, leaving 5% to be sold direct and through dealers. What I would now say is that outside of retail we sell nothing direct, and I would say that the amount that we sell to dealers has probably trebled,” reveals Loughton.
Around 35 dealers actively source product from Standex now, although Loughton points out that the specialised nature of the company’s portfolio tends to dictate the frequency of orders. “It is not like a six-burner range or a straightforward deep fat fryer, so they wouldn’t be selling one every single day of the week,” he notes. “We have got big rotisseries, pressure fryers, equipment they might use in hot chicken takeaways — that kind of thing.”
So, is 35 a number that Loughton is happy with or is a further recruitment drive on the cards this year?
“Personally, I think that for the right kind of national coverage for our company, we would be comfortable with about 50 dealers — that would be a good number,” he answers. “Once we start to get closer to that number I’d be looking to employ another specialist distributor salesman or dealer salesman because selling to a dealer is not like selling to a key account. It is a different skill, a different mindset.”
For now, though, Standex must demonstrate that its commitment to partners is as genuine as it claims.
Any apprehension among dealers would be understandable given Standex’s roots in the direct business, although Loughton’s reputation in the market has clearly helped convince many of its merits. “What they need to do now is trust that the company is not going to sell around them to their customers,” he remarks.
“I would hope that I would be well trusted out in the dealer community to do what I say I am going to do. And I think if one of those dealers approached me and said ‘well you are selling direct to these major retail companies’, I would explain why and I would like to believe that it would be well understood.” [[page-break]]
In its last fiscal quarter at the time of going to press, Standex Corporation revealed global food service equipment sales were up almost 12% year-on-year. While Loughton concedes that sort of double-digit figure is a little higher than what Standex is seeing in the UK, he insists all data, including independent quarterly surveys carried out among selected CESA members, point to the fact that the business is performing ahead of the market.
He comments: “We have a company that is growing comfortably and within our capabilities. We are not stretching the envelope to the point where I am thinking ‘crikey, I don’t think we can do this’. We have a firm plan in place, we know where we are going and we are going to get there, and when I see the way we have been able to grow the business in the last couple of years I feel very confident.”
Loughton admits his main priorities for the year are to build on the steady progress Standex has made in the market, develop his team and their skills, and, more imminently, to ensure the company has a successful Hotelympia which exposes it to a wider audience of users.
In the meantime, there is the small matter of dealing with customers whose expectations in terms of deliveries, response times and product performance are rising by the day.
“We deal with some of the biggest companies in the world. Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s are world-class companies and you don’t win and retain their business by luck. These are tough taskmasters and that is good because it keeps you focused — and tough inside as well,” says Loughton.
Somehow you just know he wouldn’t have it any other way.
On managing five separate brands under the Standex umbrella
“We operate here as Standex Food Service Equipment and we are a wholly-owned subsidiary of Standex Corporation, so we don’t have a greater or smaller allegiance to any individual brand than another. It is our job to maximise the sales potential and support of each brand in the market place.”
On the importance of evolving the business in the UK
“We have fantastic brands, some great customers and a brilliant team around us but we do need to continue to think outside of the box. We have to move forward and expose ourselves to all of the challenges that are out there.”
On the impact of factory consolidations in the US
“It will actually shorten lead times. We will have more consolidated manufacture, less individual people to deal with and less points of embarkation, so it will be easier to consolidate goods and manage inventory. It will create a much easier flow of product and help manufacturing costs, of course.”
On the company’s overseas sales aspirations
“What we have got is a lot of people in mainland Europe who buy things from us, but not many people go and get sold to. The challenge is really to build that. What we need to do is get into [European] markets ourselves and stimulate sales as opposed to purchases.”
Standex Food Service Equipment
Manitowoc Foodservice UK
Buttress Ltd (and CaterParts)
Various roles including Managing Director,
Garland Catering Equipment