Well-known industry figure, Nick McDonald, is taking a step back from the coal face of the catering equipment industry, having spent the last 2 years as commercial director of supplier, rexmartins.
Prior to that, he had a 21-year stint at Lincat, latterly as MD of the well-known Middleby Group brand. Catering Insight caught up with him to see what his plans are now, and how he views his career and the market itself.
Why did you decide that now was the time to retire from full time employment?
I’ve been working now for 46 years, half of which I’ve spent in the catering equipment industry – so I feel that I’ve done my bit! I left Lincat almost 3 years ago and, since then, have had an enjoyable time helping rexmartins to get established with a redefined product range, pricing and discount structure, marketing materials and a website. I have also introduced the products to a range of specialist dealers. That really concludes the role for which I was hired.
What will you be hoping to do during your retirement?
I have always been keen on photography and now, at last, I have the time available to devote to my hobby. I’m also hoping to watch more live cricket during the summer months.
What have been some of your favourite moments from your career?
I spent 21 years with Lincat and I am proud to have contributed to the company’s development – from the self-confessed ‘cheap and cheerful’ company that I joined in 1996 to the professional, growing organisation that it had become by the time of my departure. Over that period, annual turnover grew from under £9m to more than £44m. More importantly, staff numbers grew from around 90 to 250 – that’s employment for an additional 160 people in the Lincoln area.
And it’s the people that make a company and the wider industry. I’ve been fortunate to work with some fantastic people throughout my career; colleagues as well as dealers in the UK and around the world.
I am an export man at heart (my first job, back in the 1970s, was as an export shipping clerk for a chemicals company). I’ve been fortunate to travel on business to more than 50 countries during my career. An abiding memory came during my time in the scientific chemicals industry when I met and briefly shook hands with Fidel Castro at an exhibition in Havana – and I have a photo to prove it!
During the nineties and noughties, Hotelympia was the event for the industry. As well as providing a forum to meet dealers and end customers, it also allowed staff from all levels within Lincat and the wider Lincat Group to come together and develop closer working relationships.
Is there anything you wish you’d have done differently?
I’m generally happy with the decisions I’ve made during my career, although I do regret not developing a stronger apprenticeship scheme at Lincat. Young people, trained and moulded in the ethos of the company, are the key to success in the longer term. Sadly, though, short term profit targets often conflict with these longer term goals.
How have you seen the industry change from when you first started to now?
The increase in foreign ownership of the major manufacturers springs readily to mind! Back in the nineties there were several successful, profitable, wholly UK-owned companies but today there are very few.
And the internet has had a major impact, in particular on distributors. I really don’t buy the frequently cited “man in a back bedroom” image of the e-commerce dealer and have often challenged people to name one or two. Most dealers now have an online offering of some kind and those who specialise in online sales – and do it very professionally – reap the rewards with market share gains.
What are your opinions of the current state of the UK catering equipment market?
It seems very flat at the moment, and this is reflected in the published accounts of the major players: nobody seems to be making huge gains. That might be down to the uncertainties over Brexit in recent years although I think it’s easy to overstate its impact.
In many respects, the market structure is much the same as it was 20+ years ago with many hundreds of dealers fighting one another for a share of the cake. There is little differentiation and this leads to a fight to the bottom on price. It also stifles the commercial development of innovative equipment as dealers are understandably tempted to offer customers the product and brand that has been requested, rather than offer an innovative alternative – perhaps at a higher price but with operational benefits such as energy savings.