Hall class: supplier reveals 5 year strategy

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Ray Hall and Kris Brearley are ensuring RH Hall is future-proofed.

In supplier RH Hall’s 40th anniversary year, the firm could be forgiven for looking back and reflecting on its four decades in business. But in fact the company is doing the exact opposite by facing forwards, with MD Ray Hall and sales director Kris Brearley putting together a 5 year vision and growth plan to 2023.

Taking a year to compile the 50-page document, Hall and Brearley have rolled it out to every department, giving each one clear strategies and targets. However, the most ambitious target of all is the overall turnover aim, which is to reach £20m by 2023, a big increase on the circa £13m the supplier is due to post for 2018.

“It’s not just about revenue, we have planned how to maintain margin too,” said Hall. “We’ve clearly laid out our vision, company values and what our key selling points are.”

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Key to reaching the turnover target will be revenue from the firm’s latest product generation, such as the New Covent Garden Soup Server which has just been approved on the TUCO framework for supplying universities, as well as the iWave barcoded automated microwaves and taking advantage of outdoor cooking popularity with Crown Verity barbecues.

iWave and Crown Verity are two of six main exclusive brands RH Hall supplies to the UK, along with Sharp accelerated cooking, Maestrowave microwaves, Smeg convection ovens and Simply Stainless fabrications. It has access to over 100 other foodservice brands too, with Brearley commenting: “We can offer independent, unbiased advice as we are not limited to one brand. We can also test a particular product against another.”

Hall believes that the equipment side of his company’s offering is actually the “easy part”, revealing that menu development is also a big component of the business now. “Our biggest strength and why we continue to be successful and develop is really getting into the heart of the marketplace and understanding what customers are looking for,” he said.

Believing that this is one of the factors that sets the supplier apart from others in the industry, Brearley said that the firm’s two-person food solution team covers the country carrying out menu development: “We can work with the distributor involved and potentially the national account and food company and bring it all together for them, which is a unique recipe.”

In fact, RH Hall describes itself as a ‘solution provider’. According to Hall: “Our challenge is to make sure that we are offering the customer something that fulfils their needs and meets their expectations. And to do that, we need to understand a lot more about what the customer is after.”

He encouraged dealers to be more open about who their end user is when approaching RH Hall, pointing to successful distributor relationships the supplier has with companies such as Bunzl Lockhart Catering Equipment.
Brearley added: “We are an open book. We and distributors need to trust each other, and that way we will get the right result.”

Hall further detailed that supply channels are not the first thing the supplier focuses on though: “One of the most important things from our point of view is not the final best supply route, because you’ll establish that towards the end of a project anyway. What’s most important for us is putting forward the right equipment. If a customer has got particular routes that it favours purchasing through, whether it be a dealer, a kitchen contractor or its store development in-house team, that doesn’t really matter to us, apart from setting up the right arrangements.”

However, he underlined: “We are happy to work through dealers if they are able to provide what’s needed, but where they are not, then we are not going to lose out on that business. We publish that fact and we are very transparent.”
Hall further stressed: “We want to develop our dealer network as far as we can. If the dealer market is growing we will grow with it.”

The onsite development kitchen in RH Hall’s Pitstone headquarters.

Another attribute for the company is its ability to modify products for particular customers. Its own service and production department can add elements such as a panel to cover some appliance controls, or adding artwork onto a machine, as well as bespoke set-up and pre-programming.

The in-house development kitchen in Pitstone, Bedfordshire is another benefit, as all appliances are plug and play and can be swapped out as required, with a large area reserved for testing. Plans are afoot next year to sort the facility into zones dedicated for different foodservice sectors too.

One segment doing particularly well for RH Hall currently is grab and go, along with coffee shops, though Hall acknowledged that overall it’s a difficult marketplace. “We know that Brexit is holding back investment in a major way, and a lot of chain businesses are cutting their stores back. But we are very fortunate because we have got a good spread of business through different marketplaces.”

While the traditional trade dealer sector remains strong, this can be partially attributed to the supplier’s involvement in both the Cedabond and ENSE buying consortiums. Brearley noted: “It’s been very good for us. It gets us closer to the distributor trade and hopefully there should be a bit more loyalty based on each buying group.”

After-sales care is also uppermost in the RH Hall toolkit, with eight full time employees in the customer service department and six directly-employed engineers looking after warranty work, backed up by nationwide service agents dedicated to different product areas. According to Hall: “Our customer service is second to none and our team are excellent. There is no compromise – if something goes wrong it needs to be put right.”

This means that the supplier takes all the responsibility of any product issues arising. “We want to track it and find out so we can have supplier reviews. And if they don’t sort it out then we can remove the product from sale,” emphasised Hall.

And indeed, the company’s criteria for representing a manufacturer’s product includes durability and ease of use. Brearley reported: “We also carry out analysis to make sure there’s a market for it, as well as getting our service engineers to put it through its paces.”

Hall added: “Sustainability and the ethics side is coming into our buying process in a big way now. We look at where and how products are made and how that company is structured.”

As one of the first companies in the industry to introduce next day delivery, RH Hall ensures it has about £2m worth of stock in its onsite warehouse at any given time. “It’s a hell of a cash investment, but stocking is crucial for us,” said Brearley.

Additionally the firm is aiming to make its spares offering more user friendly for service agents, with plans in the pipeline to expand the range of spares available through its online portal, developing a dedicated spare parts section within the next few months.

With a headcount now reaching 60 staff, RH Hall is continuing its drive to hire and bring apprentices through the business. “We want to have an apprentice in every department,” said Hall. “We have seen some really good benefits from that, some real success stories. It’s not a huge expense money-wise, but it is in terms of time, making sure apprentices are being mentored. You’re disadvantaging yourself if you’re not planning properly for the future.”

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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