From a company which was started by MD Tony Ricciardi in his garage 12 years ago, to this year smashing its target of £3m turnover, CK Direct has come a long way.
The Peterborough-based kitchen equipment specialist had a record year to April, reaching £3.6m in sales. The firm’s books are looking good in the first quarter of this year too, as orders are now up by around 10% on the same period last year.
The company designs, manufactures and installs extraction and ventilation systems and stainless steel fabricated tables, hot cupboards, and heated and ambient gantries for small hotels and independent restaurants through to public sector clients such as schools, colleges and care homes, as well as major high street food chains.
Ricciardi traded for 3 years as one-man band, buying canopies from various suppliers and fitting complete systems including fans and ducting. With the appointment of Carlo Cataldo in 2006 as operations director, systems were put in place to help the company grow to what it is today.
But what does the MD attribute all these positive numbers to? “Our business has developed due to repeat orders from catering equipment dealers,” he said. “We are now focusing more on the catering equipment distributors rather than the end users.”
This has been a move made over the last 2 years; whereas CK Direct’s customer base 5 years ago was 80% end user and 20% dealer, it has now performed a complete about-turn to 80% in favour of the dealer.
One of the company’s key focuses has been customer service, ensuring project deadlines are met, work is carried out to a high standard and making sure someone is at the end of a phone line to deal with any issues that may arise post-installation. Ricciardi detailed: “Our after sales service is excellent; we ensure that if any issues occur we will be there within 24 hours to rectify problems.”
After sales service and maintenance is managed by Cataldo, who is on hand to deal with any issues customers may have. He is backed up by a good supply of fully experienced engineers. [[page-break]]
The firm has leveraged its success to invest in a new and larger 10,000ft2 manufacturing unit in Peterborough, plus new high tech manufacturing machinery and new offices. “This has enabled the company to produce a higher level of quality and reduce lead times,” said Ricciardi. Meanwhile, staff numbers have grown to 30, including two full time CAD designers.
This has led to a quicker and higher quality manufacturing process in order to produce competitively priced products such as extract hoods and service spines (SDU), stainless steel sinks and benches, dishwasher tabling and hot cupboards and gantries.
When specifying and installing commercial kitchen extraction systems, Ricciardi believes that health and safety considerations are a big part of most companies’ working days nowadays. Therefore he feels CK Direct’s most important target is to ensure its systems are fully compliant and safe to use, as well as doing their main job of extracting fumes. “This applies especially when gas appliances are being installed under the canopy,” he explained. “Whereas a few years ago gas interlocks and fresh air input systems were only a recommendation, they are now compulsory.
“Price is also a main consideration, as most customers are always on a budget and do like to make savings where possible. We are not the cheapest or the most expensive brand but we do offer very good value for money. Although I did read a very interesting post on LinkedIn which said ‘If you think it is expensive to hire a professional, wait and see how much it costs to hire an amateur’.”
Currently the firm is generating a large amount of quotes. While Ricciardi welcomes these, the downside is that all the work can arrive at the same time, which in some cases can triple or even quadruple the workload, putting a lot of pressure on the company’s workshop.
However, CK Direct has solved this issue, as Ricciardi detailed: “This year we have prepared for that by introducing additional shifts, including night shifts. That has worked extremely well over the last couple of months, making the flow a lot smoother and allowing room to breathe.”
Recent prestige projects completed include Gordon Ramsay’s Heddon Street Kitchen and installations for another celebrity chef, Gino D’Campo, at the Lakeside and Bishopsgate branches of his My Pasta Bar restaurant. CK Direct also undertook kitchen refurbishments for the London Fire Brigade, and more than 60 primary and secondary school projects were completed during summer 2014.
“Our unique selling point is the ability to meet tight deadlines and respond to any issues quickly,” concluded Ricciardi. “We will continue to build relationships with our current customer base and look to increase this whilst continuing to meet deadlines without compromising quality.”