Every business has to start somewhere and for South Coast Catering Equipment the opening chapter was written in a small garage in East Sussex.
The year was 1972 and founder Mike Barnes had spotted an opportunity to supply kitchen kit to local hotels, restaurants and pubs.
From its humble beginnings, the company soon began to spread its wings as it became a fully-fledged catering equipment distributor and supplier to the hospitality market. At one point, South Coast boasted three separate showrooms in southern England, covering an area of 6,000 square feet.
Times change, though, and six years ago the company made the decision to close the showrooms as the introduction of the internet began to alter the way that people sourced and purchased equipment. Barnes says he knew it was time to take drastic action when visitors started coming into measure up equipment and collect technical literature before going away and buying online.
It’s no surprise, then, that he cites the internet as the biggest change to the industry during his 45 years in business.
He even thinks there will soon come a time when sales showrooms become a thing of the past for distributors.
“Nisbets is doing exceptionally well with Pages, but if you have got a showroom in the middle of Soho selling at cheaper prices than anybody else then there is something wrong with you if you fail in business! But there is only one central London and one Shaftesbury Avenue, so you can’t use vvNisbets as a formula for marketing your products via a showroom in the rest of the country.”
These days, South Coast Catering Equipment tries to concentrate on large scheme contracts using its own in-house CAD design team to create bespoke kitchens which it can then supply and install. This has helped it land several key projects in the £150,000 to £250,000 bracket, and the company is keen to do more.
Eight members of staff are employed in South Coast’s sales and design department, although it is looking to expand with the addition of a full-time CAD/design estimator and a further sales consultant to cover London and the Home Counties.
Pushing further into the London market is high on the agenda this year. It has been assessing potential office space and has decided to trade as SCCE in London. “If you went into a restaurant in Soho and introduced yourself as ‘South Coast Catering Equipment’ — what a mouthful, it’s terrible!” says Barnes. “Plus they say, ‘well, you’re from the coast, you are going to cost us more money! We have redone our headed paperwork and we are going in as SCCE. It sounds better in London.”
Barnes acknowledges that the London market is as competitive as ever, with distributors coming from afar in search of a slice of the pie. But that doesn’t put him off — far from it.
“Most of those firms from the north are all coming into London,” he says. “If you were to have a tracker on every catering equipment company car or van, my God, London would light up like New Year’s Eve when they let the fireworks off! But no battle has ever been won on a retreat. You just go straight in. It is no good being frightened of your competition.”
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South Coast has certainly built up an impressive roster of clients over the years, too many to be able to mention here. One of its most important is Aberdeen Angus Steakhouses and its new chain of restaurants, Muriel’s Kitchen. Recent fit-outs have been completed in Kensington and Old Compton Street, as well as the brand’s production kitchen in Vauxhall.
The pub trade has always been a major part of what the company does, too. One of its first large customers was the Charrington Brewery Carvery, set up in the 1970s at the Goring Hotel in Sussex. Recently, South Coast has installed a new kitchen at The Fountain Public House on London’s Old Street.
Additionally, a substantial amount of work has flowed the company’s way from the construction industry, where it works with names such as Kier Construction, Mansell’s, Balfour Beatty and Sunninghill Construction Company. Last year, for instance, it planned, designed and installed kitchens at no fewer than seven school academies alongside Kier Construction. It intends to expand this side of the business in 2014.
One of the most significant steps in the company’s history came four years ago when it launched a dedicated service business. Previously, service was incorporated in its sales company, but since forming a standalone venture it has reported growing revenues and increased efficiencies. South Coast Catering Equipment Service now employs 14 staff, of which 12 are service engineers and two apprentices.
It is fiercely proud of the fact that it has held a service maintenance contract for 350 school kitchens with East Sussex County Council for 38 years and a similar contract with West Sussex County Council covering almost 400 kitchens for the last 15 years.
Barnes is in no doubt that South Coast’s staying power and success in the market over four decades can be attributed to its servicing and back-up. “If something goes wrong and they’ve been a good customer, we’ll put it right. Our customers have come back over the years, time and time again. We have got a lot of loyal customers. You don’t keep a council service contract for 38 years unless you do quality work.”
Name: South Coast Catering Equipment
Address: Commercial House, Units 4-5, Apex Park, Diplocks Way, Hailsham, East Sussex,
Tel: 01323 444530