Andrew Seymour travelled up to Falcon Foodservice Equipment’s impressive Stirling HQ and production plant to hear what the brand is doing to stay ahead of the game.
The worlds of enterprise electronics, nuclear power pumps and double-decker buses might not ordinarily have anything to do with catering equipment, but in the case of Peter McAllister they depict the long and eventful path that has led him to the door of one of the industry’s most prominent commercial cooking equipment brands.
The common denominator is manufacturing, and in hiring the highly experienced industrialist last July, Stirling-based Falcon Foodservice Equipment appointed a new leader with a first-class knowledge of how to make large manufacturing businesses tick.
Having gained his first proper insight to factory management and supervision, sales and procurement in the electronics industry upon leaving university, a switch to tech giant Sun Microsystems saw him take on global operational and supply chain improvement roles, with regular trips to places such as the US and China shaping his understanding of the forces that drive factory performance.
Then it was onto Glasgow’s Weir Group, which manufactured pumps for the nuclear industry, before the opportunity arose to work for Falkirk-based Alexander Dennis, the UK’s largest bus and coach manufacturer, where he ran a plant responsible for employing almost 1,000 people and generating £300m in turnover.
With a 2 year spell as COO at the UK’s then-largest interiors manufacturing and fit-out company, Havelock Europa, on his CV, it’s fair to say that McAllister arrived at Falcon with sufficient pedigree to move the business forward.
“I guess when you look at people who normally take the role of managing director, they tend to either be a manufacturing guy, an accountant or a sales guy – those are pretty much the three routes,” he said. “And I think probably the biggest strength I have got is that I have done lots of different roles within manufacturing and been involved with manufacturing plants around the world, which brings lots of varied manufacturing and improvement experience.”
One of the first steps he took was to refocus some of Falcon’s design resource to examine its existing product range and get the business plugged into continual improvement and design for manufacture — two big workstreams that are very much in progress at the moment.
“We need to be adding value in everything that we do and one of the things we are doing, for example, is looking at standardising some of the sub-components across our product ranges, which will make us more efficient,” he explained, adding that the business is likely to make a capital investment of around £1m next year to support this vision. “Why do our customers care if we are being more efficient? Because really what it allows us to do is deliver the best value we possibly can to our customer base.”
The brand’s equipment is outfitted into a variety of end user site types, including chain restaurants, breweries, hotels, hospitals, schools, prisons, military and marine installations. Product lines such as Chieftain, Dominator Plus, Falcon 350, Pro-Lite and F900 are well known throughout the industry.
The merging of product development and design for manufacture is fundamental to McAllister’s ethos of ensuring that it can deliver innovation at the right price-point.
He explained: “In product development you are adding more features that might add cost. If you have got design for manufacture, you’re actually taking cost out. We are now working on a number of new products where we are adding features in a way that still continues to add value to our customers. A couple of the new products that we have brought out include the Flexi Pan and the 450mm-wide twin pan fryer, and we have got a number of other ones in development. Some of them you will see this year and there are others on the go that feature genuinely ground-breaking innovation which might take us a little bit longer in terms of coming to market.”
His arrival has corresponded with Falcon hiring in a mixture of graduates and experienced personnel to support areas such as customer service, product development and innovation, as well as the introduction of an advanced CRM system.
Sales director and Falcon stalwart, Lawrence Hughes, said it is an exciting time to be part of the business as it looks to execute on its vision of delivering the best customer support on the market.
“There are so many highlights but for me it’s all about being part of a strong, dedicated and talented team. The people – those with many years of service and the new people we have – make every day extremely rewarding.”
Hughes added that the investment Falcon is making in its factory and new product development is reflective of its desire to understand what customers want – and don’t want.
“Our new products come from the operators’ needs. We listen to what they want so it is important that we make the market aware of the innovations we have developed that provide real solutions for their operations, such as Flexi Pan, which offers a compact multifunctional unit for the modern kitchen.”
Distributors’ requests have also been taken into account for the product design. According to Hughes: “By involving our dealers and chefs at each stage of our design and development process and taking their views into consideration, we ensure that the final product meets their needs. For the Flexipan our dealers wanted a product that they could supply which met the growing needs for multi-functional equipment and chefs wanted a piece of equipment that was easy to use and one that didn’t take up too much valuable kitchen space. Sounds simple, but it’s an essential part of our process at Falcon.”
On dealer relationships, he emphasised: “We work hand in hand with our established network of dealers to continually develop further their knowledge and understanding of Falcon products as well as assisting them with general foodservice training. We have created a full suite of support tools which have been extremely well received. We also regularly run a series of Lunch and Learn sessions at dealer premises for those that can’t make it to Falcon – a case of taking Falcon on tour I suppose!”
On the product side, McAllister has acted to ensure there is greater structure in the way the business manages portfolio evolution.
“I guess one of my observations about Falcon was that we have brought lots of great products to the market but we are not so good at the end-of-life part in some of the older products. We have 250 products in our Falcon-manufactured range. They are highly reliable, really good quality and they add really good value to our customers, but we have never really done that end-to-end product lifecycle management, so we have now got a new role in there in terms of a product manager managing lifecycles.”
For McAllister it’s all part of a longer term strategy to ensure that Falcon’s manufacturing foundations remain strong enough and nimble enough to support its growth ambitions. A key aspect of that involves embedding a culture of continuous improvement.
“The great thing about continuous improvement is you have to keep doing it – it is continuous improvement. The sort of workstreams and projects that we have got on the go just now are really about re-establishing our manufacturing foundations.
“The next level to that is to truly start innovating on top of that, and that’s why our NPD and design teams are going to be refocusing again on innovation for the future.”
On that basis, McAllister is keen to foster a company culture capable of showing a little more “velocity”, but stressed that speed should never come at the expense of quality.
“You have still got to make sure that if you are taking a product to market you have stress-tested it to the absolute maximum and it is safe, reliable and has the right quality for the market. We are selling products into some pretty tough environments and the last thing you want to do is take something into one of those markets when you are not quite ready in terms of your reliability.”
It won’t have taken McAllister long after joining to grasp just how competitive the UK cooking equipment landscape is. After all, Falcon even faces competition from other members of the Ali Group, its ultimate parent company.
How does he therefore ensure the brand remains relevant in a space where there is no shortage of rival brands jostling for business?
“I guess for me this is the bit where I feel really lucky to have landed where I am. I genuinely believe that Falcon is the brand that defines the industry in the UK. I believe that what we have is the benchmark product line, particularly in Dominator. If I look at our competitors in the industry, they are doing some good things as well. But my view is that the best place for Falcon to be is at the forefront of everything and that’s absolutely where I intend to take the business.”
2019 is set to be a memorable year for Falcon as it marks 200 years of existence. Its history can be traced all the way back to the Falkirk Iron Company, which was formed in 1819 to meet growing demand for cast iron goods. The first records of catering equipment began in 1850.
McAllister sees it as the perfect opportunity for the business to celebrate its heritage but also reflect on both its future and its past. It is planning to open a new Customer Experience Centre later this year and is working on new product launches.
Hughes said of this latest step: “We already benefit tremendously from having one of the best equipped development kitchens and showrooms in the UK with dealers from all over the country visiting on a regular basis.
“Our new Customer Experience Centre will be building upon what we have already and we look forward to hosting many more of our dealers and end users. Our dealers will be able to receive comprehensive training, host their own meetings and enjoy a fantastic cooking demonstration by our development chef, Shaune Hall – and of course receive some fantastic Scottish hospitality.”
In some ways, Falcon is caught in a paradox: the company is enriched by 200 years of history and tradition, but if it is to remain at the vanguard of an ever-evolving market it needs to look to the future rather than the past.
McAllister insisted the firm is inspired rather than burdened by the situation. “On the one hand we are definitely a business that is very proud of our heritage, but on the other we are also a business that is not resting on our 200 years of laurels. I see myself and my team as stewards of a 200-year-old legacy and that legacy won’t continue if we don’t continue to look to the future, to innovate and to develop the right products for the market.”
Falcon Foodservice Equipment is a pioneer of British catering equipment manufacturing, with its plant in Stirling a hive of activity all year round. The business has made £2m worth of investment in its metal shop in the last 5 years and is looking at a further investment of around £1m next year in its metal fabrication area.
MD Peter McAllister said: “We are very proud to be a British manufacturing organisation. We do not buy sub-assemblies from round the world and then assemble them in the UK and say they are manufactured in Britain. We take sheets of metal and we fabricate them into the products that we need.
“I am not saying we don’t buy any of our products out of the UK because a lot of the big suppliers for burners, as an example, are not in the UK. But we manufacture a significant amount of components ourselves – that gives us the right reliability, the right quality and actually it gives us a really effective cost base because the investments that we have put in allow us to be cost-effective,” he insisted.