McFarlane Telfer’s development over the years from a fabricator into an engineering business has proved to be an extremely successful strategy. Andrew Seymour visited the company’s headquarters in Maidenhead to get the inside story.
When McFarlane Telfer opened for business in 1992, kitchen maintenance was the last thing on its mind. Founder Chris Craggs set the company up as a stainless steel fabricator targeting luxury London hotels. It was only 6 years later that a maintenance team was introduced alongside its projects division, but after the financial crisis struck it closed the fabrication and projects arms to focus solely on repairs.
This new strategic emphasis, coupled with its alignment with high-end customers, proved to be a masterstroke, allowing it flourish as a specialist service provider with a mission to deliver open, accountable and best-in-class kitchen maintenance for multinational customers through global intermediaries.
The last 4 years have brought consistent annual growth of 30% and seen its geographic reach evolve from London and the South East to the whole of the UK and, more recently, the Middle East. With Craggs spending more and more time exploring new international opportunities, sales and marketing director, Mark Brooker, has been promoted to MD of the UK business. It’s been a seamless transition given the pair have been working together to shape the strategy ever since Brooker joined the Maidenhead-based business 3 years ago.
“I have a different style to Chris but we have a very similar set of goals – and I think that’s the key point. We will come up with things in different ways but we have the same degree of passion and drive to hit the targets we set. There are times when we have exactly the same views and times when we have opposing views, but the key thing we both see is this ability to achieve things: me from a position where I genuinely believe the only thing that can stop us is us; Chris with the view that it is all about that dogmatic approach – ‘unless you do it, you don’t know’.”
Brooker has only been involved in the catering equipment scene since starting at McFarlane Telfer. Prior to that he worked for Chubb Electronics Security. At Chubb he was responsible for 120 engineers in London; at McFarlane Telfer he oversees 50 engineers nationally.
McFarlane Telfer has never been precious about describing what it does – “we fundamentally fix fridges and cookers and that’s the way Chris describes it,” said Brooker – but it remains hugely proud of its ethos and ideals.
Staff receive extensive career development plans from the moment they begin their employment and undergo one of the most comprehensive social, commercial and technical training programmes in the industry. Awards from BIFM, BQF, Investors in People and CBI merely underscore the extent of its commitment to individual development and fostering a true ‘people’ culture. “Engineers are not just trained to be fixers of equipment; they are trained to be account managers; they are trained to be able to handle situations with customers,” explained Craggs.
“We take them in on sales opportunities to help us win deals and we take them in when things have gone wrong to help us keep deals, so they are ambassadors and they are account managers. I would suggest that is a differentiator, certainly in how others play it,” he added.
There was a time when it was thought that home working and employee flexibility would prove to be the downfall of workplace catering. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. And while it is likely that the types of food and catering facilities in B&I will change, everything will still need to be prepared, produced and delivered on equipment that will ultimately need servicing, repairing and sometimes replacing.
For Brooker and his colleagues, McFarlane Telfer’s objective is to increase the sophistication of the products that it delivers, the prices that it charges and the methods of its delivery.
He concluded: “We exist in a fairly traditional market place that hasn’t had a great deal of thought or dynamism injected into it and I think we have the opportunity to just try and challenge whether things are being done in the right way, without simply change for the sake of change.”