Carry on Parry: MD Gary Rose talks strategy

Parry Catering Equipment is a name that boasts some serious history as far as UK manufacturing is concerned.

The roots of the company date back to the forties when it specialised in telephone relays, but since the seventies it has mainly been known for its activities in the commercial catering segment.

Today, the company remains one of the largest British-based manufacturers of catering goods, employing around 70 staff at its factory in Draycott, Derbyshire. 70% of Parry’s turnover comes from the sale of products built by its employees in the East Midlands, with the remaining 30% of the turnover generated from imports.

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This month heralds a particularly noteworthy chapter in the company’s history as Parry’s chief executive, Terry Cooper, is stepping down from the business he joined 12 years ago to take a well-earned retirement.

For the last seven years, Cooper has also shared the managing director’s responsibilities with finance director Gary Rose following the retirement of Parry’s former MD Archie Stubbs.

It is Rose who will now lead Parry once Cooper leaves, officially taking over as the group’s overall managing director from July 1. He admits he will be sorry to see his colleague go.

“Although there is an age gap between Terry and myself, we have worked really well together over the last six or seven years since there has just been the two of us running the business,” Rose says.

“Parry is a bit odd in terms of ownership — we have 73 shareholders even though we are a private limited company, and thankfully the shareholders really leave us to run the business on a day-to-day basis, so we have full authority to do what we want to do with the business on an operational level.”

Rose is the first to admit that the last few years have been a real test of the duo’s management skills. Prior to the global recession, Parry was growing 25% a year, but when the economic downturn struck business almost fell off the edge of a cliff. “They were testing times, but you just work your way through it,” Rose reflects now.

One of the most important steps Parry took during that trying period was to diversify the business beyond just catering equipment. It now uses its stainless steel fabrication capabilities to produce items such as tables and counter-tops for other sectors ranging from healthcare to veterinary. On top of that, Parry also has a commercial lighting and accessories division under the Parry Electrical brand.

Preparation for Cooper’s departure has been going on for some time – in fact Rose says that the succession planning started 18 months ago. From next month the senior management team will be comprised of Rose, divisional director Roger Ismay, sales director Colin Haworth and operations director Mark Banton.

Both Haworth and Banton were hired last year as Parry set about recruiting the senior skills it felt it would need to strengthen the business and shape its long-term vision.

“It has been pretty well thought out over the last 18 months and although we are sorry to see Terry retire because he is a key player who will be missed, the business won’t suffer because of it,” says Rose. “It was vital for me to make sure that happened.”

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Rose is a firm believer that culture is driven from the top and he says that the four directors all have a clear view on what the Parry brand stands for. That vision is now being communicated down to the next level of management, which consists of a dozen or so employees who are receiving leadership training and regularly meet with the main management team.

“An analogy I use is that I see myself, along with the other three directors to some extent, sitting on the roof of a car,” says Rose. “We are on this journey and I am sat on the roof of the car looking where we are going, rather than worrying about the steering, the pedals or the speed. I am trying to make sure that the vision and the direction is right, and that we are still on track. The culture is changing and we are trying to breathe some new life into the business, but it is not something we can do overnight.”

One thing Cooper’s exit won’t signal is a major shift in strategy. That’s because the strategy has been evolving for the last 12 months anyway, born out of the diversification strategy that was implemented three years ago.

“At the time, we looked at what was happening in the catering equipment industry and it was a pretty depressed market and everyone was struggling for business,” reflects Rose.

“We looked at our capabilities for stainless steel tables and so on, and realised that we could sell that same product to other markets. We have never tried to compete with distributors on that, so we are selling at list price 90% of the time. Distributors will always be the key customer base of Parry and they are very important to us. We have been accused of trying to sell direct, but that is certainly not the case.

"We don’t sell direct to restaurants, cafes or bars — we sell through distributors. Where we might sell direct is when it is a stainless steel table going to a veterinary practice. That isn’t really stepping onto our distributors’ toes but if they did happen to come across it by any chance then on a price basis they would win the business. We are being open and honest on that.”

Indeed, if there is one priority for the new-look management team in the post-Cooper era it is to grow Parry’s market share of the dealer channel.

Presently it works with around 350 to 400 catering equipment distributors in the UK on a regular basis and the company’s objective is to market its whole portfolio more effectively.

“The remit of the guys on the road at the moment is to get the message out about Parry’s capabilities, about the fabrication, about the lighting and the range of catering equipment products we sell,” reveals Rose.

There might be imminent changes at the top of Parry’s hierarchy, but as far as the company’s long-term strategy and direction are concerned everything would appear to be under control.

‘More than just a fryer’

The first thing that visitors to the ‘About Us’ page on Parry Catering Equipment’s website are told is that the company’s product offering is ‘more than just a fryer’. It’s a point that the Derbyshire-based manufacturer has laboured heavily in recent years as it’s endeavoured to emphasise the full breadth of its portfolio.

Parry’s current range of commercial foodservice equipment offering includes cooking suites, combi ovens, warewashing and a full range of stainless steel fabrication.

Managing director, Gary Rose, says the company is clear about its positioning in the market. “We are not trying to compete with the top-end equipment manufacturers, we really see ourselves against the likes of Falcon and Lincat and Blue Seal and people such as that,” he comments. “We want to see ourselves as producing good quality, reliable, fit-for-purpose catering equipment, which is providing solutions for chefs and commercial kitchen outlets.”

Additionally, he points out, Parry can offer complementary bespoke stainless steel fabrication and commercial lighting solutions. “I see ourselves as being a little bit unique because I don’t think there is anybody else out there that can offer good quality commercial catering equipment, hygienic stainless steel solutions — by which I mean tabling, sinks and fabrication — and commercial light fittings. Any restaurant will have all three of those and and we can supply that.”

And what about being a British manufacturer? Does that count for anything in today’s market?

Rose says: “I hear these days that British quality is not a key indicator. I disagree. I think to be a UK manufacturer still has some strength and some value to it. As a UK manufacturer I am proud of the fact that we are still metal bashing and still trying to add to the UK economy. But from a buyers’ point of view then it is probably not high up on the priority list. I think price is still the top issue.”

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