It is no secret that the economic downturn has left a sizable hole in the budgets of companies which provide independent catering services to private and public sector customers over the last couple of years.
Subsequently, equipment projects have been downgraded, delayed or even scrapped as firms have attempted to weather the storm by reining in expenditure.
You might think that this would leave a kitchen house like Stangard Design Solutions pretty downbeat given that almost all of its business comes from the contract catering space, but you couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sure, business is tougher than it has been in the past, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it judging by its project team’s busy summer schedule.
More importantly, though, the company believes there are enough indicators to suggest there is plenty of further activity in the pipeline. “We have monitored our enquiry level for the last two years and on average we receive something like 30 to 40 enquiries a month,” explains Mark Harris, design director at the Gloucestershire-based outfit.
“And I don’t think that number has dropped [since the recession]. Everybody has been saying their turnover is down, but what is encouraging is that the enquiry level has been maintained every month.”
Around 90% of Stangard’s turnover is generated from the contract catering market, which is largely due to the background of its core team.
“Three of us actually used to work for Sutcliffe Catering which was bought out by Granada and then eventually merged with Compass, but we were lucky enough to have a really good grounding on the training aspect of design with Sutcliffe going back 20 odd years,” says Harris. “Our market strength is the contract catering sector, so we do an awful lot of work with Compass, Aramark and some regional contract caterers that we have got very good tie-ins with.”
While there has always been a temptation to expand into new areas which are not quite so familiar, Harris admits that is not a move that would make sense while the market remains under pressure.
“We have explored looking at recruiting other people and exploring other markets, but not at the present moment in time,” he says. “Given the economic situation, let’s just be good at what we do and try not to diversify too much.”
As the ‘Design Solutions’ aspect of its name would suggest, Stangard’s expertise in the design and drawing side of its business are as significant to its growth strategy as its project management and installation skills.
It recently hired a new designer specialising in 3D drawings and has invested in the latest CAD software. It expects this technology to give its services added impetus and redefine the way that designs are interpreted.
“3D visuals are becoming the norm now,” says Harris. “Clients can’t read 2D drawings — they want us to create the dream and the only way we can create that dream is to actually show them physically what it looks like in an image. We are doing more of those, and it is helping us secure the business. It is a bit like a domestic kitchen. If you were going to B&Q and you were given a plan you’d think ‘that seems to be how I like it, but what does it actually look like?’ Some people can’t visualise that.”
Moving forward, Stangard — which works closely with manufacturers such as Electrolux, Falcon, Rational and Williams in particular — aims to make better use of its 3D design services to improve customer presentations and ensure proposals are more attractive and interactive. And as Harris notes, such a high-tech tool is as much a sales aid for the contract caterers that it works with as it is for its own staff.
“In effect, those guys that work for the contract caterers are our sales guys,” he says. “The challenge we have on every project when working with contract caterers is that we have always got two clients.”
As end-users look to squeeze more out of their catering facilities, the onus is being put back onto the contract caterers to demonstrate what they can do to make a difference. Many are being asked how they can reduce headcount without compromising output or challenged to develop more cost-effective food offerings.
Whether that ends up resulting in a replacement combi oven or a £500,000 kitchen refurbishment, Stangard Design Solutions is one company ready to use its sector expertise to come to the rescue and provide a solution.
Name: Stangard Design Solutions
Address: The Parlour, Wick Business Centre, Manor Farm, Upper Wick, Gloucestershire,
Tel: 01453 819210
Focus: Catering design; CAD services; mechanical & electrical design; equipment supply; equipment installation