The wave of patriotism that swept the country during the Olympics and Paralympics was so pronounced that many analysts have suggested the feel-good factor could help deliver a spike in consumer and corporate spending for a good few months more yet.
Having been involved in the Games through supply deals with a number of its major customers, Lockhart Catering Equipment is one company hoping that the national sentiment will continue well into the final quarter of the year.
The Theale-based outfit provided much of the light equipment that was used by caterers such as Aramark, BaxterStorey and Sodexo during the event, resulting in one of the most demanding, but ultimately rewarding, summers that the business has ever seen.
“We did just over £1m of catering equipment in about a three-week span, which actually meant we had to come on site, unpack, take the packaging away and recycle all the waste. It was quite a big logistics operation,” says Chris Wakeman, managing director of Lockhart Catering Equipment. “As we go into the second half we are now hoping that because of how successful the Games were it is going to have a positive impact on our customers’ markets.”
The timing of the Olympics has been particularly important for Lockhart considering the somewhat volatile nature of the catering equipment business during the past 12 months. Wakeman admits that short-term market visibility is not as clear as it would like.
“At half-year we are slightly ahead from a volume perspective but because the market place is tough, margins are under pressure,” says Wakeman. “Volume is there but margins are pretty tough, and everybody is in the same position. The Olympics were very good to us and that really kept us on track. It is now about trying to look at what the next four or five months are going to look like and hopefully we will continue to grow.”
With more than 15,000 stocked products in its range, three UK regional offices and a central national accounts office, the Bunzl Group-owned company is one of the most powerful foodservice equipment suppliers in the market.
Like any business providing physical products to a large number of customers, it has had to develop a multi-channel approach. Its ‘Essentials’ direct mail catalogue remains popular with many caterers, while earlier this year it launched a brand new website. Further investments are also being made in strengthening its online proposition.
“The web channel is a market place that can provide lots of opportunity if you can get it right,” comments Wakeman. “But we also continue to invest in face-to-face selling. We are a big believer that catering equipment needs to be sold, and we are more of a consultative sell, trying to understand what our customers’ businesses are looking for and what they want from a catering equipment supplier,” he adds.
Despite boasting one of the broadest product ranges of any supplier, Wakeman believes there is a lot more the company can do in terms of the cross-selling of categories.
“We have a lot of people who just buy light from us and we have a lot of people that just buy heavy, and our aspiration is to get them to buy light, heavy, and also do design, supply and install,” says Wakeman. “That is where we try to take our customers.”
The design and install aspect of the operation — which Lockhart offers through its dedicated Design Services division — is one that is becoming increasingly important to the company. The unit specialises in all types of interior refurbishment work including kitchens and support areas, dishwash handling systems, front of house servery areas, dining rooms and shopfitting.
“When we go to sell to corporate customers, what we try to say to them is ‘what does Lockhart represent?’” says Wakeman. “We try to represent a very broad range of light catering equipment, a comprehensive range of heavy equipment, and then our added value design, supply and install. About 70% of our design business comes from our corporate national accounts where we are providing both light and spot replacement heavy, but also design, supply and install.”
Trying to balance so many components is unlikely to be without its challenges, but for Lockhart the combination of light, heavy and design and install serves as a clear point of difference in a highly competitive market.
“We have lots of competitors in all three areas but we believe we have very few that can actually provide all three, so that is key for us,” concludes Wakeman.