For some, the idea of living and working with their other halves could be seen as, let’s say ‘trying’, but there are a growing band of husband and wife teams in the catering equipment community whose partnerships are a match made in heaven. One of the newest additions to these ranks is Darren and Jayne Sharpe’s dealership, Sharpes Commercial Kitchens.
The Scunthorpe-based company only began in its current form last September when Jayne came onboard full time as a managing partner, but prior to that, Darren owned the firm, trading as a sole catering equipment engineer since 2012. The rebranding marked a new era for the enterprise, as Darren detailed: “I wanted to go from a sole trader entity to a recognised company within the industry and as a well-known figure I wanted to keep the Sharpes name in there.”
Jayne added: “We also wanted to get involved in sales too, as Darren had never done that before. So now we offer any service relating to a commercial kitchen.”
Darren does indeed have an extensive background in catering equipment, having spent the last 25 years as an engineer, following a stint in the RAF as a radar technician. Looking for a new career path at that time, he first joint Hobart for 6 years, before spells at Network Catering in Birmingham, Millers Vanguard, where he also trained as a bakery equipment engineer (a rare feat for one person to cover both catering and bakery equipment servicing), Scobie McIntosh and then David Work Catering Equipment in Goole. In between all that, he ran a servicing company as part of a two-man management team for close to 10 years, before selling the company to his business partner. Alongside this, he dipped his toe into offering a catering equipment engineer online directory.
While Jayne was somewhat unfamiliar with the specifics of the catering equipment sector before forming one half of Sharpes Commercial Kitchens, her comprehensive experience is in customer services. Beginning as a hostess and then maître d’ in restaurants, she has managed a team of 16 staff in a stationery shop before spending 15 years in the motor trade as a public-facing service advisor. As a keen writer, she even wrote an entire manual dedicated to customer service practice.
For a year prior to Sharpes’ establishment, she changed track entirely and became a building company’s accounts manager. “In that time I pulled it back out of £80,000 in the red just by working hard, working out what had gone wrong and making it right again,” she recalled. “That job proved to me that I could do a financial job as well as customer services.”
As she and Darren have known each other since 2011, Jayne has gleaned information about the catering equipment industry along the way. “I’ve asked him what terms mean – ultimately if you’re going to spend a lot of time with someone, you have to have some kind of interest in what they do.”
And as for living and working together? “We don’t mind, it’s a joy actually,” said Jayne, with Darren adding: “It feels totally natural to us. We can have a business meeting at any point. But business is business and personal is personal and we maintain that divide very well.” Jayne detailed: “We rub along so well together because we can leave the business side of things alone, but one of us doesn’t have to say not to talk about the company any more, it just stops.”
Both believe that they have complementary skillsets too. According to Jayne: “Darren is an engineer and I’m a customer services, accounts and admin person, so ultimately our skills tie in nicely with each other. I have massive respect for Darren’s ability. I know that when he goes out there, people will be pleased with what he does – he is committed to solving problems.”
He revealed: “What makes it easier for me is when I say to Jayne I need to go out to work on a Sunday morning, she understands why. Because our customer care is everything. Jayne is bringing the thorough way the motor industry looks after its customers into the catering equipment sector.”
This is a thread running throughout the business, which has a strapline of ‘quality without compromise’. Whether its sending a thank you message with Sharpes’ invoices, calling end users to follow up on a sale or installation, or ensuring that every appointment is kept, the pair pride themselves on their customer care. It’s also one of the reasons they concentrate on only covering the local area of Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire and East Riding. “If we went to a wider area we wouldn’t be able to deliver what we say,” remarked Darren.
As well as being partners for combi oven manufacturer Retigo (see boxout), Sharpes also provides equipment brands as diverse as Classeq, Sammic, Nelson, Blue Seal, MKN, Rational, Panasonic, Lincat, IMC, Instanta, True Refrigeration, Falcon and S&S Northern. Darren surmised: “We look for companies that support their own products – if I sell a machine I like to know it’s supported.” Jayne added: “We wouldn’t just sell anything, it has to be something we are happy to tell the customer is a good product.”
Darren’s engineering background feeds into this, as he has direct experience of how suppliers support their products. “We won’t sell a piece of heavy equipment without a site survey, because I need to make sure that the services are correct and it’s the right oven for the operator,” he said.
Sharpes’ can undertake small kitchen designs themselves, but for larger projects the firm taps into its local trusted industry network. “If we had an enquiry from a national account, I would put it to all of our other service and sales partners, we act as a consortium,” Darren detailed. This includes consultant Sterling Foodservice Design and LeighTec Ventilation Systems in Goole.
The distributor has already worked in sectors such as education, care, restaurants, hotels, cafes and conference centres, and reports that sales work is coming in from all of them.
Looking ahead, the Sharpes want to grow their business steadily and may even soon take on another administrator and another engineer to cope with demand. “Any new hires would have to fit around delivering our quality service,” Darren underlined.
Jayne concluded: “We appreciate the customers we have because without them, we wouldn’t be successful. We just intend to become even more successful with more sales in the future.”
Sharpes Commercial Kitchens works particularly closely with Retigo after Darren Sharpe investigated the Czech Republic-based combi oven manufacturer’s offering. “For years I had been looking for a product that I believed in and for a manufacturer who believed in what we were trying to achieve,” he revealed. “With Retigo, that’s exactly what we got, which is why we jumped onboard.”
Darren first enlisted in Retigo’s engineer training course last September and then after being impressed with the product during a factory visit in November, moved into sales and became a full sales and service partner, with wife Jayne handling many of the sales for Sharpes. He said: “It was after going to the Czech Republic, meeting everybody and looking at what they were doing, that really brought home to me I needed to be involved.
“We feel part of the Retigo team, and the distribution network as we see it is all working together, as opposed to trying to compete with each other. That’s an important factor.”
The distributor has dedicated many of its weekly marketing emails to spreading the Retigo word, and has seen enquiries continue to increase. Darren predicted: “I see the growth of Retigo becoming faster and faster – its equipment sales increased by 10%
2 years ago and 20% last year, with even higher growth forecast this year. I’d like to think we will be part of a Retigo tidal wave.”