There is still room in the industry for a small, family-run distributor which prides itself on quality, as evidenced by Luton-based Roland Allen Catering Equipment.
Owned by the Wright family, with Steven as MD, the dealer is this year celebrating its 60th anniversary in business, which is no mean feat. And it is a double milestone, as the firm has just moved within Luton to new premises, a step which office manager Donna Redmond believes brought several benefits.
“After being at the last premises for 60 years it has enabled us to organise our stock and showrooms in a more efficient and customer-friendly way,” she said.
“The location of our new premises has proved to be much better for our customers as it is more accessible and has plenty of parking availability. The environment is a more pleasurable one to work within, which increases staff motivation, leading to a more effective working day.”
Since the move at the beginning of February, the distributor has reported a “phenomenal” first few months with regards to sales and orders through both bricks and clicks channels. “We feel the new location has played a significant factor in this,” said Redmond.
However, as the anniversary milestone arrived in the month the business was moving, it has not yet had a chance to celebrate. Nevertheless, it is in the process of producing a mini catalogue containing offers and discounts to mark its 60 years in the business.
But what is the secret to Roland Allen’s longevity? According to Redmond: “Being small in stature and predominantly a family-run business we are quite different to other distributors in the marketplace today.
“The personal one-to-one service we offer to our customers is indeed a rare attribute nowadays and is becoming less and less available due to technology and the general working ethos in this country.
“Although we cannot always compete with our rivals on price, you cannot buy customer service on the internet and our customers still value this option, as do we. Also our knowledge and expertise in this industry spans six decades which is invaluable in itself.
“We are a one-stop-shop offering a full catalogue for our customers, from our showrooms and warehouse in Luton, our e-commerce website and our Roland Allen website which covers our commercial kitchen projects and design service as well as our bespoke catering solutions.”
Of course the distributor has moved with the times over its six decades though, with Redmond reporting: “The presence of technology and the integration of the internet have transformed our business and the way in which it operates significantly. Customers are more inclined to scour the internet for purchases, mostly looking for the cheapest options, rather than come into a showroom and touch and feel the products and get good customer service and advice.
“You don’t need to hold as much stock as you used to, as most items can be ordered today and received tomorrow, and this is what consumers expect in the 21st century. Our delivery vans used to be out on the road up to 8 hours a day, whereas now we send a lot of items direct which cuts out this service. All of these changes have led to requiring fewer staff to operate a business and needing existing staff to be able to multitask in all departments.”
These changes have meant the staff headcount has reduced in recent years, but the business has been expanding its maintenance capabilities.
“We have had a service department for many years now which we have used as an added extra for our existing customers. Having realised there is a distinctive lack of companies offering good service engineers within the commercial catering equipment sector, we saw a gap in the market that we felt we could fill, as we have an excellent service system in place with experienced and fully qualified engineers able to offer UK-wide coverage,” detailed Redmond.
“Our system allows customers to book a service call direct from our websites, via email or telephone. Our response times are within 48 hours of booking a service call and we send email confirmations from beginning to end, keeping the customer informed all the way through to completion. We are also able to offer full service contracts and maintenance contracts bespoke to the customers’ needs.”
One constant for the firm throughout the years has been Cedabond membership, as it was one of the original distributors to sign up to the buying consortium. Redmond revealed: “Being in a buying group has many benefits to both distributors and customers. For a distributor there is credibility being associated with CEDA and Cedabond, and our customers have the confidence that they are buying from a company affiliated with an industry-recognised organisation which works with suppliers with proven track records with regards to service and expertise.”
Experienced supply partners are key for Roland Allen, as it likes to use well-established brands within the industry which offer good customer service and efficient warranty after-care. Added Redmond: “Quality and practical designs are paramount, as is being able to keep up with current market trends so that we are giving our customers the very latest products and information. Suppliers must offer a good delivery service and ideally be in the Cedabond buying consortium, although we will consider and work with suppliers outside of Cedabond.”
Roland Allen’s own project management expertise relies on a cradle-to-grave approach to kitchen schemes, according to Redmond: “We are involved from day one, from concept to conclusion, from the initial design. We work in conjunction with the architects and builders to ensure our customers’ ideas, requirements and vision are met, and in most instances exceeded.
“Having completed numerous projects ranging from a small cafe to a Michelin star restaurant, we have so much knowledge and experience in this area, which shows in our customer testimonials and repeat business.”
She believes Roland Allen’s unique selling points are: “Our customer service, our knowledge, experience and longevity within the industry, our ability to keep up with the marketplace in all aspects and being a one-stop-shop for our customers.”
Nevertheless, she revealed that the firm is concerned about the rise of online-only dealers. “I think the latest trend of what we call ‘pop up internet companies’ selling catering equipment supplies for less than what most distributors can actually purchase the goods for is worrying. They make a minimal profit with no overheads, and just offer production line selling from a room somewhere with a computer and telephone. This is destroying the sector and needs to be addressed going forward.”
To compete with these types of companies, Roland Allen has hired an IT manager called Josh Simons. He has been tasked with building upon its current website business and increasing the company’s e-marketing and online presence through social media. “Josh has proved to be an invaluable asset to our company thus far,” said Redmond.
Looking ahead, she sees a positive future for the distributor: “We intend to go from strength to strength by identifying and realising our full capabilities and by continuing to use the footprint we have developed over the last 60 years, which has been successful,” she concluded. “We will improve upon all aspects of our business and service, keeping our customers and staff at the forefront at all times.”