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Inside the world of used catering equipment sales

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Tom Carr admits he is not one for sitting around on the sofa or watching TV.

In fact, you’re much more likely to find him in his garage, tinkering around with unwanted ovens or coffee machines. Well, you would have been 10 or 15 years ago.

Today, Carr has a team of engineers and a 30,000 square feet warehouse to help him out with that, having transformed what was a weekend hobby into a full-time business that will make annual sales of £1m in the next few years if it continues on its current growth trajectory.

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Carr is the owner of Cater Revival, a Doncaster-based firm that specialises in the supply of second-hand commercial catering equipment. The company proudly describes itself as the north’s largest supplier of used commercial catering equipment. There is every chance that it will soon be able to adopt that title on a national basis in the not-too-distant future, especially if it carries on winning contracts with blue chip companies and restaurant groups.

Carr founded the business when he was made redundant after a long spell with AIG, initially taking weekly ads in free newspapers before boarding the eBay bandwagon just as the online auction site began to take off.

“I’d go into my garage and do a bit of kit up, just because I enjoyed it,” he says. “I’d maybe buy something for £30 or £40 and sell it for £200 or £300.”

It was a call from a university in East Yorkshire that led Carr to take the business seriously, however. The institution wanted somebody to take unwanted catering appliances off its hands and Carr obliged, realising that most of it could be repaired, cleaned and resold into the market.

When the next phone call was from a national supermarket chain in a similar situation, Cater Revival suddenly began to take a more meaningful shape.

The company now positions itself as a complete provider of refurbished equipment services. It will clear a restaurant or food premises, and either recycle, repair or refurbish the appliances. Alternatively, many operators use Cater Revival’s refurbishment skills to prolong the life of equipment and avoid them having to purchase new kit.

“Many of our contracts involve a strip-out of commercial kitchens and restaurants, working under the schedule issued,” explains Carr. “Our warehouse facilities enable clients to store equipment for refurbishment and subsequent relocation anywhere in the country. We offer an asset trail of all equipment stored, recording status and action as directed by the owners.”

According to Carr, on average, only 20% of the kit that it clears from a kitchen has to be disposed because it has no value or is beyond repair. The other 80% is invariably good enough to be re-serviced and re-sold. “You’ll get big companies that will turn around and say they are just going to get labourers in to do it and keep the scrap value,” says Carr. “But we will strip out equipment and purchase it from them. All our staff have got the CSCS cards and gas certificates. We take it out correctly, ready for the next contractors to go in.”

That last point is one that Carr is particularly keen to labour, insisting that staff are taught attention to detail. Whereas others might be inclined to use heat resistant paint on appliances that need powder coating, for example, Carr insists Cater Revival won’t cheat.

Cater Revival also has electrical, gas and water testing facilities on site to ensure every single unit is fully tested before it goes out the door. Carr says that it is sometimes possible to do too much to a piece of equipment, which is why its objective on each job is to restore it to its original condition.

Carr is only too aware of the stigma surrounding second-hand equipment, and that has been the driver for many of the procedures it has put in place. The firm currently provides a three-month warranty on all equipment it supplies and RAMS are issued for each individual contract it is asked to undertake.

“The main reason I am here is to change the perception of what refurbishing catering equipment involves. We rebuild every bit from the frame up, instead of just wiping it over. When a car dealer says they have done a car up and it is roadworthy, my perception of it is, ‘I have fully restored this car’. The difference with what we are doing is that we will fully restore a piece of kit, not just refurbish it.

“We don’t cut corners. Parts are delivered here every single day. We spend about £4,000 or £5,000 monthly with CCS, half as much as that with Euro Catering Parts, and we spend money with the likes of Mono and Falcon, which proves that we do fit new parts. I wouldn’t go to China for parts because all I’d be doing is digging a hole for myself. I can’t stand the phone ringing with a customer saying, ‘we’ve got a breakdown’. I don’t want to be sending an engineer out.”

One of the most intriguing aspects of any second-hand catering equipment dealership is what sort of relationship it has with manufacturers. After all, it could be argued that every used appliance sale comes at the expense of a new product being sold.

Cater Revival’s warehouse is packed with equipment from every brand you could think of. Prime cooking equipment, refrigeration, warewashers and coffee machines are the most prominent items, but you’ll also find display cabinets, fast food equipment, ice cream and milkshake machines, food prep machines, and sinks and tabling.

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Cater Revival has even bought unwanted and demo equipment directly from suppliers, while Carr says he will always assist manufacturers and importers that come calling for specialist parts. It has even been known to get manufacturers to service its equipment on occasions.

“Carpigiani willingly comes up and services our equipment for us,” says Carr. “I’d rather it be done by them because we don’t have the engineers that know about ice cream machines. We once tried a nearby contractor that does Carpigiani machines, but it broke down, so I spoke to Carpigiani and they came up to do it. They’re a brilliant company to work with.”

When Cater Revival was launched in 2000, the company did sales of £72,000, growing to almost £100,000 the year after. Last year it achieved sales of just under £800,000. “There is a lot of profit in that,” says Carr, who reckons the firm typically doubles its money on every item of kit it purchases. “My business is there so that I can re-invest in it all the time, and that’s what I do.”

It’s a reflection of how Carr rates the future potential of the business that when a leading UK brand approached it about putting a showroom into its premises he turned it down on the basis that there is more money in used equipment.

The next opportunity that Carr is keen to exploit is in used spare parts. Cater Revival is in the process of creating a dedicated parts centre within its premises, allowing it to stock and supply customers with individual used catering components. Carr says there is a compelling argument for customers wanting to source perfectly good second-hand parts.

“We bought a lot of ovens from a supermarket chain and took all the motors off them. When you are looking at between £600 and £800 for a motor, it is much cheaper than buying new.”

He might be running a business that now presides over hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of equipment every year, but the hobbyist in Carr will always shine through. “I love refurb and I love the job satisfaction side of it,” he says. “To take something that didn’t look good and transform it to something that makes you go ‘wow’ is amazing.”

The ability to help caterers limit their capital outlay or reduce the frequency with which they replace kitchens item is a powerful quality in the current climate.

You could say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Blasting machine makes light work of grime

If there is one message that Cater Revival’s owner Tom Carr wishes to stress about the way it refurbishes commercial catering equipment, it is that it is done properly and restored to showroom condition.

Every single item that goes through its warehouse is cleaned, checked over, serviced, repaired and tested. “Whether it is refrigeration or combi ovens, we normally like to run 48-hour tests on anything we are ready to send out,” he explains

“We’ll often test it at different time intervals in the warehouse and then switch it off overnight and restart the next morning because it is when the heat has caused things to expand and extract that you get the leaks and problems.”

One of Cater Revival’s biggest assets is an industrial soda blaster machine, which it installed three years ago. In a matter of seconds, the system can remove the most stubborn dirt, grease and other contaminants from a piece of equipment without causing harmful abrasion to the surface being cleaned.

“We use a bicarbonate soda, which is harmless to the guy using it and harmless to the machine,” says Carr. “Everything we do is also food safe, including the polish that we use when we clean it off. The amount of companies which spray inside of cooking areas is diabolical, I don’t know how they get away with it. We would rather the kit is cleaned properly as that is what it is all about.”

Tags : catering equipmentManufacturersProductsrefurbished equipmentused equipment
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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