When it comes to depicting the profile of a typical catering equipment distributor, Safeguard Group doesn’t necessarily fit the bill.
Not that the company minds. Its business interests go beyond just kitchens to incorporate building works, facilities management and even LED lighting.
In fact, the day that Catering Insight gets hold of managing director Steve Ingham, he’s just submitted a tender for changing 120 fire doors in two Liverpool schools.
As a refrigeration engineer by trade, his passion for that side of the business still burns brightly, however. “Originally we just did refrigeration but then I bought out another service company that had the gas side for doing the ovens, so we do all that now,” he explains.
“We have a stainless steel section and a full joiner’s shop here, too. Basically, if you own a bar and somebody smashes your window, we can deal with that; if your oven breaks, we can deal with that. As we’ve seen our customers expand, we’ve been able to say, ‘listen, we do all your catering equipment, now we can take care of other stuff for you.”
One interesting aspect of Safeguard’s operation is that it now operates from a 40,000 square foot unit in Oldham, which it has spent around £200,000 converting.
Due to the size of the premises, Ingham is able to rent units to its sub-contracting partners, including roofers, joiners and floorers.
They get access to a fully-insured building and all its facilities at a competitive rate, while Safeguard has immediate access to companies that it works regularly with on jobs.
“If you were a customer and came to us and asked a wood question for argument’s sake, they would be able to come in and answer it,” he comments. “There’s none of that ‘I’ll give you a ring back in an hour’ sort of thing. We would deal with it there and then.”
Ingham founded Safeguard Refrigeration Services 30 years ago and the company went Limited about 12 years ago. Many of its customers from the leisure, restaurant and bar sectors have worked with it for the best part of 10 to 15 years. Recent jobs in Crawley and Aberdeen demonstrate how the firm has developed nationally, although in truth one of Ingham’s ambitions is actually to secure more projects in the Oldham area.
Catering and refrigeration still account for 70% of Safeguard’s turnover and while it offers design and fit services, it is the firm’s PPM work and maintenance activities that have been the backbone of its business in recent times.
“Even in the recession, equipment has to be serviced,” he remarks. “It needs to be working otherwise it is useless to people. If it wasn’t for service, we would have gone a lot quieter without a doubt. We now intend to expand that. We have been doing some work with a couple of local breweries, so that is a sector we are trying to do more with.”
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Safeguard’s objectives this year include growing its business with restaurant chains, particularly on the design side, and exploring opportunities to deliver greener kitchen environments for clients. One area it is looking into is converting canopies to heat exchangers to heat hot water up.
“Your extraction canopy is basically just heating the sky up — it sucks up all that heat from the burners and blows it straight outside. What we are trying to do is make it go through a heat exchanger — air to water heat exchanger — and top up the hot water system for the restaurant. You can buy new canopies with it built-in, but we are looking at retro-fitting existing canopies which will keep the cost down.”
Ingham believes there is so much scope for improvement in the way that operators manage their energy consumption that he says Safeguard would willingly put in kit such as non-concussive taps and heat exchangers for free if an operator agreed to give it 20% of the saving it makes on its gas, water and electric bills over the following 18 months.
“Some of the restaurants we deal with are facing £6,000 a month electricity bills — that’s £72,000 a year just on electric. Even 10% over 18 months would be a big saving.”
If Safeguard does go down that route, it will provide customers with yet another reason to use the company’s services.
Ali Group tie-up a boost to business
Safeguard Group recently opened a dedicated Olis showroom at its headquarters in Oldham after it was approached by Universal FSE about becoming a regional dealer for the prime cooking equipment brand.
Universal FSE is the UK importer of Ali Group-owned brand and Safeguard managing director, Steve Ingham, says he decided to take up the opportunity after assessing what the business had to offer.
“I remember Olis 20 years ago from my service days, so I went to have a look at the newer-fitted kit in sites in London. Then we went over to the factories and I was very impressed. Because we are engineers, we tend to strip everything down in our workshops to see how they have gone together and where the weak spots are. Olis was fine, it passed with flying colours, so I was convinced that it was the route to go down.”
Ingham said the tie-up doesn’t mean that Olis will be the only cooking brand that Safeguard specifies for a potential project, but what it will do now is always put an Olis quote alongside any job that it tenders for.
“What I like about Olis — and the Ali Group in general to be honest — is they listen to us. When you can see there is a problem or something might need tweaking they will take it on board, whereas other big manufacturers are not always interested. Each year you’ll see the same design fault coming out again and again, and from an engineer’s point of view it gets frustrating.”