Ron Neville, founder and MD of Preston-based CHR Equipment, is an extremely popular man, judging by the comments that flooded in on this very website when the news broke that he was retiring.
Colleagues past and present queued up to congratulate him on calling time on his 50 year career in the catering equipment industry. He will now be heading off into the sunset with his wife Ann, who is also retiring from her role as CHR’s financial director.
Neville is passing on the mantle of CHR MD to his son Paul and Paul’s wife and CHR co-director Catherine. Neville feels that now is the time for him to step down, as: “After 50 years in the industry and having worked both sides, manufacturer and distributor, I thought maybe Ann and I should spend some time together. We want to do some of the things we have promised ourselves over the years.
“The company has a good team and I believe that it will give them the opportunity to go forward with new ideas.”
He never considered selling the company rather than continuing the family involvement, as when Paul and Catherine joined the firm he believed he found himself with like-minded people. “I made up my mind that CHR should remain as a family business,” he recalled.
When asked what the most rewarding project he has been involved in is, he could not pick just one, as he reported there have been so many good things.
“In the early years I enjoyed working at Berry & Warmington and then CCE developing the north west area for both companies. I got the opportunity to work with some great people and be involved with some super projects through my time at Masters & Andren and Cidelcem, where I was marketing a great range of products including Bonnet cooking equipment and Offeco servery counters,” he recollected.
He highlighted the introduction of induction cooking in the early 80s at prices that would “frighten the life out of most people”, and undertaking his first kitchen with Ron Dickinson of Royal Insurance with a full induction cooking suite. [[page-break]]
More recently, he is proud that CHR has been involved in projects Fera at Claridges, the Pavilion on Kensington High Street, and Manchester House restaurant which he described as “the best project CHR has been involved with”. Here, the distributor supplied and installed four of its own Eco-Chef bespoke cooking suites. “The development of Eco-Chef in the last 3 years has left me with great memories,” Neville commented.
Other memorable moments for him include being involved with the development of Old Trafford for Lancashire County Cricket Club, travelling across the desert with Cidelcem following the Paris Dakar Rally, and taking the team from CHR to a catering exhibition in Paris.
“I have enjoyed seeing young people coming into the company in the last 2 years and developing their skills,” he recalled, adding: “And this year seeing Preston North End back in the Championship!”
Reflecting on CHR’s most difficult challenges, he said from 2000 to 2006 it lost a great deal of money in bad debt. “Later, the economy took a turn for the worse and competitors discounted heavily. But we tried to ensure that CHR stuck to its principles of selling products that were fit for purpose and value for money for a fair price for both the distributor and the client,” he detailed.
The discounting trend is the biggest change he has seen in the industry over the years. “Retail prices have gone up and up, discounts go up but the net price in the main remains the same,” he explained.
“Some clients are obsessed with how much of a discount we can give them, sometimes before they know the price. In the early days selling to the public sector was very different. There were people who worked at the sharp end, producing food. Now we have professional buyers – what they want and what is sometimes needed are not quite the same.”
His only possible regret during his career is: “Perhaps I should have formed CHR earlier, but then I would have missed working with my mentors at Masters & Andren and Cidelcem.”
Looking ahead, Neville is hoping to go on many holidays in his retirement. “I will be taking lots of photographs and discovering the Ribble Valley where we now live. We have been here for 12 years and really haven’t got to know what is actually a beautiful place.
“I will also spend more time in watching Wigan Rugby League who I have followed from the age of 8 and perhaps a trip to follow the Great Britain side in Australia.”
Neville will be keeping busy as he is planning to take a photography course and learn the Lightroom and Photoshop software packages. He concluded: “I will have time to spend with my grandchildren and of course I shall have to learn to live with Ann 24/7! But I’m sure she will have the same problem learning to live with me!”