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Mersey beat: GDPA ramps up UK catering equipment production

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It is not easy being a manufacturing business in today’s climate. Especially not a British one. But that hasn’t knocked Glen Dimplex Professional Appliances off its stride. Far from it, in fact.

Although the business in its current guise was essentially only created seven years ago, it has gone from strength to strength despite the challenge of having to overcome an economic recession in that period.

“The turnover when the business started was probably about £8m, which was mainly through the water boilers at the time, and now we expect the turnover this year to be more than £13m,” reveals Jon Usher, head of sales and marketing manager at the Prescot-based outfit.

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“Okay, we are coming from a small base, but there won’t be many catering equipment suppliers that can boast that kind of growth over the last few years. And the company is very ambitious; we want to be north of £20m in the not-too-distant future, so for us there is very much a focused drive towards getting to that point.”

GDPA’s tale is an interesting one. It shares a giant production site in Merseyside with sister company Glen Dimplex Home Appliances, which markets a whole raft of consumer-facing brands such as Belling, Stoves and New World. Sales of cooking products alone are worth £100m to the business, underscoring the scale of the operation that it is affiliated with.

Part of the reason GDPA was set up and actually began producing professional products was down to the commercial enquiries it was receiving for Belling. As the warranty didn’t cover usage in commercial premises, it needed to come up with a separate offering.

Today, GDPA is made up of two core brands that it gained through acquisition: Burco, best known for its water boilers but through which GDPA also markets cooking appliances such as ovens, microwaves and countertop cooking units; and LEC, which covers catering refrigeration and medical refrigeration. Both elements of the portfolio have grown significantly in recent times.

LEC, for instance, initially comprised a handful of basic undercounter models coupled with a tall fridge and bottle cooler, but it now encompasses larger stainless steel gastronorm units, freezers, Carbon Trust-approved cabinets and a broader range of bottle coolers.

“There is a lot more emphasis on bottle coolers and we’re getting into much more of the heavy equipment, too, so refrigerated counters, pizza prep stations, grab-and-go-type multi-deck units and refrigerated displays,” says Usher. With LEC equipment continuing to be manufactured overseas, the real story for GDPA right now is on the Burco side, where a renewed emphasis on British manufacturing has seen the company ramp up investment in the volume and variety of product built here in the UK.

“Over the next two years you will see our range expand considerably and most of those products — I’d say 80% or 90% of them — will be made in this factory here rather than sourced from the Far East,” says Usher.

These plans have been made possible by the creation of a dedicated catering equipment factory within the current site at Prescot. The 12,000 square foot area that has become available to GDPA will significantly increase its capacity to produce British-built catering equipment and has allowed it to open a new product showroom, demonstration kitchen and product testing area.

Mark Abbott, managing director of GDPA, says that from an internal perspective, the facility gives it a level of focus that should offer it greater control over the direction of the business. “While we have got focus we can improve our efficiencies, we can look at how we put more new product through that facility and what we need to do with that facility,” he explains.

“This is not a case of putting a manufacturing facility in place and thinking that is it, far from it. We see this as the first step towards fulfilling the capability that we have.”

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GDPA expects the new production base to allow it to react much faster to market changes, reduce build times and provide an element of bespoke production that simply wasn’t viable with its existing OEM relationships.

Usher says: “If we want to put a particular personal aspect onto our product and bring that in from the Far East, we’d have to order hundreds of them or at least a container-load. If we want to do that here we have got people around who can do that.

“If we have a particular spike on a product and run out of stock, it could be eight to 10 weeks before we get more supply from China. The beauty about having a factory here is we can turn production on pretty quickly. We are the masters of our own destiny and can offer that assurance to the dealers that they will be able to get stock quickly. There is no chance it’s going to be out for an extended period.”

Additionally, says Usher, customers will still get all of the associated benefits and peace of mind that come from belonging to a much larger corporate group, such as purchasing power on key raw materials and 500,000 square foot purpose-built distribution centre in Stoke-on-Trent.

GDPA sees the expansion of the Prescot site as a vital part of its plans to grab a slice of the fast-growing autofill boiler market. The company has just launched its first ever UK-produced autofill line and the factory is geared up towards managing the increase in business that GDPA expects the equipment to deliver.

“Companies like Lincat have done a really good job of introducing water boilers with filtration built into them and created a huge market from nothing,” says Usher. “And you know what, we are a competitor of theirs and we want a piece of that, and we make no bones about it — that is the brand that we are really targeting moving forward.”

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The implications of manufacturing the autofill line in Britain actually run deeper than gaining market share in that product category, insists Abbott.

He explains: “It is the first time that we have ever built autofills within our business and it really gives us good growth from a water perspective there, but what it also does is gives us a platform on water to say, ‘okay, where next?’ From a group point of view, if we are becoming a central resource in terms of water development and capability, there are other things, such as hot taps, to be able to develop into which then touch on other business areas.

“I think from my point of view, our aspirations are quite clear: we want to become a major player within this industry. And what ‘major player’ means to us is that in turnover terms we expect to be able to double our business, and really I don’t think we want to be waiting five or 10 years to be able to do that.”

Bringing Burco back home

GDPA is synonymous with water boiler brand, Burco Commercial, with many dealers likely to be familiar with the iconic Burco tea ‘urn’. Recently, in one of the biggest announcements in its history following an in-depth R&D campaign, GDPA launched a new range of British-made mains filled Burco water boilers with built-in water filtration.

The new flagship Auto-fill Filtration range is produced at the company’s Merseyside factory and boasts a built-in, easy-to-replace water filter, designed to reduce damaging lime scale build-up to vital components, even in hard water areas. The unit will even alert the operator when it is time to replace the water filter.

With an easily accessible replaceable filtration cartridge, which is available for dealers to stock, each with an enhanced life expectancy of around 4,000 litres, GDPA expects the new filtration boilers to significantly reduce the issues associated with maintaining the unit, thereby minimising downtime and possible engineer call-outs.

The range features an LCD display that allows users to quickly and easily adjust the water temperature to the desired setting, which is particularly useful given the increase in consumption of speciality teas throughout the industry, where the ideal water temperature can be as low as 80˚C.

The system also boasts a number of visual and audible alerts, as well as self-diagnostics to prompt operators to change the filter or highlight problems with high or low water pressure. The menu, meanwhile, is pre-programmed with 10 languages including Urdu, Hindi and Mandarin Chinese, making it ideal for sites where English is not the operator’s first language.

The range consists of several countertop and wall-mounted models, with tank capacities ranging from five to 20 litres.

Learning to be lean

The Glen Dimplex group has made some significant changes to its production operations in Merseyside during recent years, none more so than the adoption of lean manufacturing principles, which are now being embraced by its commercial appliances division.

Mark Abbott, managing director of GDPA, says the lean manufacturing methodology is an opportunity to identify better ways within the production environment of constructing the equipment more efficiently and effectively.

“It is about some of the very simple things that you see on a day-to-day basis, such as people’s movement between the manufacturing line. If they don’t have the things in front of them or they have to move around to several different areas to collect parts, it is wasted effort.

"We are at the early stages of implementing that on the commercial side, but the domestic side is a bit further ahead. It is great to have that ability to jump on the back of a bigger manufacturing facility that we can then learn from and apply to ovens or autofill boilers. As a smaller business on our own I think we would really struggle to get that accelerated learning experience.”

Jon Usher, head of sales and marketing at GDPA, says the important distinction to make about lean manufacturing is that it is not about automating processes, but rather making processes more efficient. A business such as GDPA, which still employs a large amount of human labour on the factory floor, can drive significant gains from it.

“We are not suddenly going to be investing in robotic arms in this factory because that costs hundreds of thousands of pounds and we just don’t get the return for that. It is still very much going to be a lot of hand or human labour involved, and lean principles help to achieve a better production set-up for that. Every weld seam on a boiler is different. In some ways we probably don’t make enough about just how much human involvement goes into the manufacture of one of those products.”

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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