EXCLUSIVE: UK dealers fight through coronavirus chaos

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The UK catering equipment supply chain is leading the fight against the coronavirus crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought unprecedented disruption to everyone’s normal daily life, and UK catering equipment dealers are no exception.

Therefore, Catering Insight questioned a wide range of distributors to see how they are adapting to the crisis.

At south Wales’ Shine Catering Systems, MD Julian Shine revealed: “We have spent a bit of time over that last few weeks concentrating on business continuity. We have been working in the cloud for some years, so nearly all of our systems were up and running for remote working, with just the production and distribution of large format hard copy posing a bit of a problem.

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“The office, since the week before last, has started moving to a skeleton staff with all others moving their workstations to their home offices, working remotely to reduce the risk of any one department being depleted to the point at which it can no longer cope. We have also had to implement an uprated drawing server to cope with the remote demands of BIM and SolidWorks.”

Lancashire-based Vision Commercial Kitchens too has just deployed remote working where possible, having planned additional disaster recovery measures for the last few weeks in addition to its standard procedures. These included granting employees more remote access to its server and additional training on things like Microsoft teams for communication and video calling, undertaking and assessing its supply chain and putting in place contingency measures, and finally communicating with its customers what plans it has.

MD Jack Sharkey further detailed: “We have put travel bans in place, moving all meetings to online and reduced site visits to a minimum and only when essential for people like project managers.

“Where site visits are required/essential, we are giving clear guidance on how a site visit should be undertaken. We have reduced office personnel to a skeleton staffing. We are continually reviewing the situation on a daily basis and the impact it is having and will adjust our strategy to suite the developing situation.”

Up at Hebburn-headquartered RDA, director Alex Bradley revealed: “We issued a new company policy out to all staff and clients at the beginning of last week to give advice and guidance.

“Following the more recent government advice on Monday, we have now asked all office based staff to work from home until further notice. This is a fairly simple change for us, as we are totally ‘paper free’, mobile and cloud based so in terms of our admin, accounts, design and commercial departments, it is very much business as usual.”

Lloyd Catering Equipment too has identified members of staff who can operate from home and have ordered and installed the necessary software to facilitate this with regards to both IT and communications.

On headquarters hygiene, MD Simon Lloyd explained: “Hand sanitiser pumps have been fitted around the building and staff members who remain in the office have their temperatures checked twice a day. We have managed to find a supply of FFP3 face masks and these will be issued to staff who work away from our head office. An email has gone out to all suppliers and clients asking people to refrain from visits that are non-essential.”

Over at Catering Equipment Solutions (Peterborough), all vulnerable staff are working from home and those still in the office have been separated to ensure distance.

MD Anna McNamara said: “We have implemented some very stringent hygiene rules and parameters for using kitchens and facilities and modified the lunch break scenario to avoid coming in to close contact with anyone. All meetings are only one on one and to be held at a minimum of 2metres distance. All desks, door handles are being cleaned regularly and handles avoided if possible or using a paper towel to open.”

Gloucester-based Space Group has been preparing its contingency plans for some time to be in a strong position to adapt to all possible scenarios, according to MD, Ian Bidmead.

“We are closely following, and acting in accordance with, all official government and NHS guidance, and will continue to adapt our approach on an ongoing basis to the changing circumstances. We are executing this through daily cross functional Covid-19 emergency response meetings.”

Also in the south west, GS Group has held regular meetings with staff and put together a business continuity plan in how it is managing this situation and how it will manage it whilst working in isolation if required. Staff are notified on any updates as they come through.

In nearby Somerset, Ian Dance Services is managing the situation by keeping up-to-date with the recommendations made by the government and health authority. MD Bruce Dance commented: “We are monitoring our staff daily and engineers are not permitted to any vulnerable sites such as care homes without first carrying out a risk assessment.”

While over in Eastleigh, Catering Equipment Support MD Simon Tavender revealed: “As 90% of our work is local education, we are bracing for schools shut down and mitigating access issues by working with local authorities to allow business to function.

“We have had an emergency plan in place for two months now and has now moved to managing staff to work from home. Our mobile staff are being kept from contact where possible.”

London’s Chiller Box too has set up most of its team to work at home. MD Marios Poumpouris said: “The technology exists to do so, so it made absolute sense. We actually started this process last week before the government recommendations.”

In Lincolnshire, KCM Catering Equipment has issued a letter and coronavirus policy that has been developed in conjunction with its HR company Peninsula to all colleagues.

MD Alistair White explained: “This details infection control measures, what to do if anyone develops symptoms and needs to self-isolate. Additionally, this sets out the company’s position relation to business travel, working from home and the possibility of a temporary business closure.

“The company has introduced practices for additional hygiene within the office environment, i.e. cleaning of workstation areas along with the same for our staff welfare facilities. This involves the introduction of additional hand washing facilities, the use of paper towels replacing fabric ones, and guidelines for making tea and coffee within company premises.”

He additionally revealed: “The company has studied is finances to establish the viability of supporting colleagues for as long as possible through the outbreak, and by when difficult decisions would need to be made in terms of a reduction is working hours, or if absolutely necessary temporary lay-offs.

“We are looking at where possible having staff work from home. However, whether there will be enough enquiries to make this viable is in question, so while this is technically possible, it only will be necessary where there are enquiries to follow up.

“We have ceased all office meetings at our premises, I don’t think that in terms of visiting clients that this is a decision that we need to make, as it appears that most of them have made that decision from their end at the moment.”

While at Fatboys Catering Equipment in Warwickshire, MD Chris Neeld reported: “The coronavirus situation in our own company is causing concern but no ill effects yet; we are promoting hand washing, sanitation and trying to follow government guidelines as much as possible.”

Further north, at West Yorkshire’s Greens Commercial Kitchens, MD Richard Greenway said: “We’re a smallish sized yet dynamic company that has always taken great pride in both our standards and our operating procedures. Because of this we haven’t had to make any huge wholesale changes to the way in which we operate. We’re mindful of the challenges we face and we continue to support our customers in every way we can.”

And in the north west, Lakes Catering Maintenance’s MD Leigh Howard outlined: “Our planning started some weeks back when we looked at how agile our workforce could be and what we might need to do differently to succeed.

“We took steps to introduce the flexibility to adapt to a changing environment, giving us the facility to change our approach week by week, day by day.

“This is a fast-moving situation so any rigid plan could fall short of what’s needed, so our approach has been to open up as many solutions as possible and instigate them at the right time. The options we’ve put in place are remote working for the office team, instigating phone line diversions to multiple locations, reduced contact amongst the engineering team, staggered start and finish times, video calls as a preference to supplier meetings, lone working for the engineers, sanitising and a clear protocol for absences and isolation support.

“These measures with a close handle on cash flow and liabilities will support me to support my team and avoid any full time lay off situations as team Lakes will aim to get through this together.”

Service companies too are trying to work around the international emergency. At Crystaltech, MD Derek Maher reported: “With 62 engineers on the road they have been given clear guidance and updates on a daily basis. All office staff have now been issued with equipment to enable them to work from home should that become the next stage of requirement.”

And at warewasher specialist Intellico Dishwashers & Glasswashers in Motherwell, MD Richard Hose said: “We are following UK and local government guidelines and putting business continuity plans in place, so that if we are forced to work from home we can still remain productive and available to our customers.”

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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