Power Players 2020: number 5

Advance Exterior crop
Advance’s results bounced back for the 2018-19 financial year.

*Position held*

Dunstable-based Advance Group posted positive results for the 12 months to 31 March 2019, generating £16.7m turnover. This was 8% up on the £15.4m figure from the previous year, which was impacted by the downturn in one of Advance’s core markets, the casual dining sector. Likewise, operating profit also rose by nearly 4%, from £515,000 to £535,000 in 2018-19. This enables the business to maintain its number 5 placing in this year’s Power Players.

But the kitchen design house’s founder and chairman Steve Coates knows that this year’s figures will look very different. The coronavirus crisis is unprecedented in his 39 years in the industry. Coates told Catering Insight: “I have led the business through 4 tricky recessions but we have never faced anything quite like Covid-19.

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“I have read many business books throughout my career but there is nothing I have read that gives you a playbook of the do’s and don’t’s on how to survive a worldwide pandemic. This effectively closes down your business overnight and in an instant puts everything you have worked for at risk. That focuses the mind pretty quickly and within a few days we had the beginnings of a survival plan. That’s how seriously we saw it and I am pleased we reacted so quickly.”

Coates compared the current situation to “doing a jigsaw were you have all the pieces strewn over the table ready to start and someone has made the picture blurry so you can only save a fraction of what you need to put it all together”, adding: “That’s just how it feels in our business at present. Lots of packets of incomplete information that makes it extremely difficult to come up with a sensible plan of how to move forward. So we are just taking things one week at a time.”

With an almost immediate shutdown of the sites Advance was working on, the company’s project turnover stopped pretty much overnight. According to Coates: “This has left us with a number of jobs to complete. We are now starting to see building sites gather some momentum. How many of them will end up being installed? We honestly have no idea at the moment. You have to balance between clients hope and the reality of the world we are living in day to day. So we battle on with the jobs we have in hand, striving for that perfect handover and keeping the customer experience at the highest level possible.

“The frustrating thing for us was we had a very strong pipeline of projects before lockdown, probably the best for 3 years.”

Advance did keep a small team working in its projects business through lockdown as many of the architects and designers which the company works with on a regular basis have remained open.

Steve Coates, chairman, Advance Group.

Coates added: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Advance who has helped support our customers through lockdown. It’s not been easy for them but they have shown an extraordinary level of commitment to both the company and our customers.”

On the medium term future he is am still optimistic: “We may have doused the fire of hospitality but its spirit will live on and it will rise again. When it does Advance will want to be there offering our project customers the same level of trust, enthusiasm, and commitment that we have shown over the last 39 years.”

Essential advice

When asked for strategic recommendations, Advance chairman Steve Coates said: “I have never been one to give advice, but we have changed our forecasting of projects business to only include the jobs we actually have orders for and not put anything in the forecast until we have that customer order in our hand. It does make the near future look grim but in my experience it’s more likely to be what we actually end up invoicing.”

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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