RDA’s next generation design

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RDA’s founding family, l-r: Alex Bradley, Judith Addyman, Neil Addyman, Roy Addyman and Nick Bradley.

When Restaurant Design Associates was founded by Roy and Judith Addyman in 2007, the distributor employed just three staff – people the Addymans knew from previous ventures: Paul Hirst as head of design, Andy Mills, designer, and Steve McMullen in the role of project manager. Judith and Steve have since retired but the others all remain with the firm until today.

Just a year later, the founders’ three children, Nick Bradley, Alex Bradley and Neil Addyman, joined the team and gained a good grounding in all areas of the business before falling into each of the three core departments; design, commercial and operations. Last year, all three stepped up to become directors of the firm.

Nick detailed the company’s evolution: “We’ve always had a strong family ethos at the core of the business and, although we’re stronger in numbers now, we like to think this remains the same today. Since RDA’s formation, we’ve received in the region of 1,700 enquiries, and have completed 346 project installations.”

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The distributor’s headcount is now 20, which includes eight designers of various disciplines, three quantity surveyors and four project managers. Nick commented: “I’ve quickly learned that (after the customer of course!) the staff are the most important element of a business. We think of them as an extension to the family and genuinely recognise our achievements as being a result of a collective contribution from everyone at RDA.”

He reported: “To mark the company’s 10 year milestone, we closed the office for the afternoon and enjoyed a slap up lunch with all the staff at Jesmond Dene House in Newcastle. Naturally, one or two celebratory drinks followed!”

With the trio of new directors having been in place for a year, this has already benefitted the business. Nick explained: “From our introduction into the business 9 years ago, we’ve all taken up distinctly different roles based on our work and academic experience, and this has laid the foundation for our departmental structure today.

“Essentially, we each head up a department and are pretty well practised now at ensuring they’re constantly in sync with one another. Our inclusion on the board has given us the freedom to introduce the required level of procedure to deal with the increase in our workload, and our directorship has effectively tripled, which now provides a platform to really kick on and grow the business further.”

RDA launched an ambitious 5 year growth plan 18 months ago based on increased turnover, which Nick reports is so far is on target: “Our strategy involves an increase in our target markets. While historically the work has generally come to us, we now feel we have a strong and wide-ranging portfolio to enable us to actively sell into markets we previously haven’t operated in.”

RDA was first formed on the strength of relationships it had with some of the main players in contract catering. Nick said: “Over the years, we’ve developed associations with most of the well-known contract caterers and, as such, remain strong in all the typical markets they operate in, such as healthcare, education and B&I.

“Most recently, we have been looking at a handful of opportunities within defence and sport and leisure, both of which are key target markets for us presently. We are also making inroads on the high street working directly for private clients. Furthermore, we are taking on an increased number of design projects internationally.”

One of these internationally-inspired projects was for the first site of the LA-based The Counter burger chain in the UK, in Glasgow. Nick revealed how this project came about: “This was on the back of a previous project we completed with a similar brief, where the challenge was to take an existing successful brand from the US, and develop it to cater for a different demographic at home in the UK.

“The previous project involved the design and install of Wingzone, a casual dining restaurant based around chicken wings in Finsbury Park, London. Little did we know, we were being watched from afar by the new UK master franchisee of The Counter. Following a contract to design and install Doughocracy in Liverpool, we went on to work on The Counter UK, which opened in June at Springfield Quay in Glasgow.”

Other recent projects the distributor has been involved in include staff dining for a law firm in Canary Wharf, which was completed towards the end of last year. The building was about to intake an additional 1,500 workers, which necessitated the upgrade in catering facilities. RDA designed a new kitchen and servery, deli bar, seating areas of various styles and a high-end bar operation, which has since been shortlisted for an award.

Nick believes that the main market challenges for the firm include an increased expectation from diners. “Nowadays, everyone is used to eating out, be it casual or fine dining, in restaurants and bars where the service, food and interior design is of a high standard. As designers, this is something we relish, as it allows us to stretch our creative limits even further.”

However, he cautioned: “There is also the current weakness of the Pound to contend with, which has caused a lot of our imported equipment and material prices to radically rise. Obviously not wanting to pass on this increase to our clients, it’s more important than ever to use all of our designers’ and quantity surveyors’ skills and knowledge when selecting equipment and materials that are aesthetically pleasing, practical and good value for money.”

In terms of the equipment suppliers RDA works with, Nick feels they should be reliable and of high quality. “Cost of course comes into it, but genuinely pales in significance to the previous two,” he commented. “As far as turnkey operations go, our whole business model is based on providing a consistency of service to our customers. And as much of the labour and equipment supply is sub-contracted, we are in many ways only as strong as our supply chain.

“We’re grateful to be involved with most of the industry’s leading brands, which all do a great job for us and recognise the shared interests in good working partnerships.”

The firm has increased its investment in overheads as the headcount has risen, and this year has also invested significantly in its IT infrastructure, both in terms of software and hardware. “This is aimed at ensuring we’re well equipped to deal with the growth plan ahead,” said Nick.

That plan involves rolling out the remainder of the 5 year strategy begun last year. Nick detailed: “We’re well aware of the dangers of growing a business too quickly. It’s all about getting the balance right, which time will tell as to whether we have or not.

“All going well, in a few years, you will continue to see RDA performing strongly in our core markets. I expect the contract-catering sectors will remain our largest, but look forward to opening more high-street restaurants and bars along the way.”

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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