Clearly something is going right at catering equipment installation specialist, Archer Catering Systems and its sister servicing company, Contiquip. When Catering Insight sat down with brothers Nick and Greg Archer, respectively directors of both firms, they reported that they’ve been rushed off their feet.
According to Nick: “From an Archers perspective, we’ve had a really busy period of time. Normally we’d have expected a summer holiday peak to have been and gone, but it’s just carried on at a very high level of work.”
Greg added: “There’s been no downtime – you usually get a drop-off where you can have time to breathe, but it’s rolled on from one job to the next.”
Archers carries out installations nationwide, working alongside dealers on projects in the public sector, restaurants and pubs. One of the reasons for the firm’s recent high order pipeline is because it has completed some big rollouts for two kitchen houses.
Greg theorised that another explanation could be: “Because we don’t sell, we are deemed to be a safe company. So if dealers are using us, they know we’re not going to try and steal business from them.”
Major distributors calling on Archers’ installation services include Lockhart Catering Equipment and now its subsidiary, Aggora, as well as CDS Wilman, CDG, Brakes Catering Equipment, Airedale, Advance Group, Catering Equipment Solutions, Space Group and PHCC, which was actually the dealer who inspired the company’s first foray into installs.
Nick and Greg’s father Tony founded the Salford-based firm in 1981, initially as a service business. But when PHCC MD Steve Hammond contacted Tony towards the end of that decade and asked him to carry out installations, this prompted a complete change in focus. Greg detailed: “We grew with the boom of the food industry, where restaurants were coming alive and people went out to socialise and have something to eat.”
The Archer family returned to the servicing sector just over 10 years ago though, founding Contiquip in 2009. While this business was originally going to import European warewashers, the Archers found that the exchange rate made that prohibitive and discarded the idea.
Greg recalled: “The recession started around that time and instead of replacing equipment we had people asking if we could fix it. So we said ‘let’s see if there’s a market here’ and that was when Contiquip was born.”
Having grown up around the family business, throughout the years, Nick and Greg have seen the market change, with end users becoming more demanding that equipment is installed or repaired immediately. According to Greg: “From an engineering point of view, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You’ve got to try and keep all the engineers working, but if someone phones up and says they need an engineer, they expect them to be available now. If I did have them on a peg waiting for jobs I’d be worried that we’d not got any work on, so you’re always on a hiding to nothing.”
While Nick analysed: “If my installation engineers are booked to go to site and when they turn up it’s not ready, who pays for that day? The project management side of the industry has certainly changed from what I was brought up with and taught.”
Another aspect that has changed and bolstered the business to become a £2.5m turnover company is the increasing amount of work generated by manufacturers. Well-known names such as Maidaid, Parry, Valentine, Blue Seal and Falcon are calling upon Archers to help them install appliances. Nick attributes this to the firm’s membership of buying group ENSE. “While we were not really buying a lot of equipment from suppliers there, we were finding we could help them.”
Greg added: “In the end we felt we were on the wrong side of the table at ENSE conferences, so we now have a ‘supplier’ table ourselves, and at the last two or three events, it’s helped the business to grow again.”
The respective installation and servicing engineers are kept separate for both entities, with the only real personnel overlap being the Archers brothers themselves. Headcount across the two businesses totals around 25, with seven at Contiquip and 18 for Archers, including four office staff. Nick said of the latter: “They produce health and safety paperwork for us. We try and do things in the correct manner, with SafeContractor approval, Altius accreditation and last year becoming one of the first companies to be CEDAsafe accredited.”
He further feels that his links with CEDA has not only helped the company to pick up contracts with dealers such as CDG, his work in the technical steering group is his way of giving back to the industry. “I have tried to take an active role, because if I’ve got issues with CSCS cards or WRAS certification, then in theory it must be affecting other installers that are out there.”
Greg concluded: “There’s a responsibility to try and help. You can just moan about it or you can stick your head above the parapet and actually do something about it.”
When questioned on what they think the main catering equipment sector challenges currently are, Archer Catering Systems’ Nick Archer and Contiquip’s Greg Archer cited labour and quality of engineers as being key priorities. According to Greg: “There are people out there that are willing to undercut you. You put in time and effort training your engineers, sending them on courses, only to be gazumped. That’s undervaluing the industry. This is a multi-billion pound industry – there’s enough work out there for everyone without scraping the barrel.”
While Nick underlined for installation engineers: “Rules and regulations are changing every day and we need to be up to speed with what’s going on. Some installation engineers don’t necessarily go about their work in the most thorough way.
“The big challenge is bringing labour through, especially given that a lot of the industry is an old male demographic.”
Archers is actively trying to combat this by participating in the CEDA Academy youth initiative, with project support manager Macauley Knight currently serving as vice chair. “The CEDA Academy has got to work,” said Nick. “We are also supportive of CEDA’s apprenticeship scheme and have two people starting that in January. When the over 55s retire, is the quality going to be there afterwards?”
Greg remarked: “If they ever want to retire, then they need to learn to trust and invest in the young people. The biggest problem in the industry is it can be very unsociable hours and young people don’t want that.”