If any catering equipment supplier can say that they know their products inside out, then Liverpool’s Cater-Bake can. The family-owned firm began in its current form in 1993 but founder Peter Hutchings started out as a baker himself.
Though he sadly passed away in 2009, his son Mark Hutchings is now the MD and recalls the progress from bakery to equipment supplier: “The company grew very organically – the local pizza shops here in the North West were asking my father to repair their equipment all the time. Then they asked him to find pizza ovens for them and it just went from there.”
Especially prior to the internet era, when products were harder to source, the business took off and it found itself turning into an equipment wholesaler, with national enquiries coming in.
Now Cater-Bake represents several major pizza oven and bakery equipment brands in the UK, including the Zanolli and Fage pizza oven producers from Italy. The wholesaler stocks the products at its Merseyside headquarters, along with a spares department. Its warehouse is 9,000ft2 and its spares department covers 1,000ft2.
“Our products have to be relevant to our current customer base so I do not chase new markets as we are good at the pizza and bakery industry; that is our niche,” detailed Hutchings. “Keeping our product range specialist means that we can stock a comprehensive amount of spares for each item without needed a whole new warehouse for that.”
The firm is in the midst of producing a new catalogue, something which is usually published every other year. One new addition is a range of retarder provers (dough temperature control unit) from another Italian manufacturer, Gemm.
“Gemm is a company we have known for a long time and it creates a lot of refrigeration units. It is not the cheapest, as its products are good quality, so we have added these specialist retarder provers as they are relevant to our customers,” said Hutchings. [[page-break]]
“Our product range is solid so we don’t chop and change; we sample any prospective products or we take advantage of specialist equipment requests and do a case study on them. It’s a big move as you’ve not only got to invest in the stock to be able to deliver quickly, you have to invest in the spare parts to provide back up and support too. We want to ensure good service for the customer.”
90% of the company’s business is through dealers which are repeat customers. “We develop relationships with them and have an open dialogue about the products they need,” said Hutchings. “They get to know our products very well and we enjoy good relationships with them as we are a fairly small company, so they always get the same people on the phone when they ring us with any queries.”
Everything Cater-Bake sells comes with a warranty but prior to now, it had always sub-contracted the warranty and maintenance work. However, it is in the process of setting up a servicing division and has initially hired two Comcat-qualified engineers to expand its technical support. “This will spearhead our warranty support side of things, but our engineers will be able to provide a maintenance service for any catering equipment in the North West area, not just the products we supply,” Hutchings explained. “It will boost our efficiency in terms of warranty call-outs. We can be at a job straightaway without relying on a subcontractor.”
He believes that Cater-Bake has been lucky to be part of the markets it specialises in, particularly for pizza takeaway, which he describes as “relatively recession-proof” compared to other sectors. The firm has also seen more big projects coming through over the last 18 months, for large restaurant chains which have a lot of investment going into them.
“Customers who are looking to borrow money through finance companies are finding it easier to get approved, so it’s pretty positive for us,” he reported. “It’s not been an avalanche of extra business but we have managed to increase our turnover a little in each of the last 3 years. It’s a competitive market but there’s business there to win.”
Cater-Bake’s main focus in the near future will be to expose its products to more dealers throughout the UK to increase its market share. “It’s advantageous for dealers to use us because we take away all the tricky work surrounding importing – they don’t have to translate from Italian manuals,” commented Hutchings. “Essentially we’ve got all the support here to act as if we were producing the goods ourselves rather than just importing them.”