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THE BIG INTERVIEW: Lloyd Catering Equipment’s realignment design

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Simon Lloyd has ushered in a new era at the 60+ year-old dealer.

It’s fair to say that things have changed significantly at Rotherham-based Lloyd Catering Equipment over the last few years. Following management shake-up in 2015, it was solely down to MD Simon Lloyd to drive the business forwards.

Lloyd revealed: “Basically the company was in a position where it had got two captains. When the reigns were left in my hands, that helped us develop a much stronger focus, because it wasn’t two people’s opinions – we could follow one track.”

The dealership is in Lloyd’s blood, with his grandfather Eric establishing the firm in 1956 and his father Brian (who sadly passed away last year) helming the business for over 40 years. And the changes he has instituted over the last 3 years look to have bolstered the firm for generations to come: “There has been a lot of restructuring and investment, with the goal of strengthening our business.

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“Over the last 2 years this has really started to pay dividends. We have just tried to maximise our efficiency and increase our client base. It’s been a lot of work in the background but it’s really starting to come to fruition. The business is extremely strong at the moment and prospects-wise I don’t think I’ve known it any better.”

In fact, since 2016 the distributor has more than doubled its turnover. “We have managed the challenges that this expansion brought,” said Lloyd. “We have been very busy at times but there’s nothing that we can’t cope with.”

Steps to bolster the firm have included taking on several new members of staff in key roles within the sales, design and service departments, pushing headcount past the 40 mark.

Plus investment in technology has been high, with moves such as switching to iPads, which Lloyd says the company carries out “everything” on. This has reduced the distributor’s paper consumption by an estimated 95%.

“You have to try and get any edge you can in this day and age,” said Lloyd. “There’s a lot of technology out there, but the trick is to use it to benefit the business, not use it for the sake of it.”

Another piece of high-tech working its way into the dealer is room-scale virtual reality. The system lets users immersively walk into a 3D environment using a headset, so that they can accurately experience their kitchen designs. “It’s been very popular and we’ve had tremendous feedback about it,” reported Lloyd. “It’s not for every project, but it is a nice tool to have in our arsenal.”

The distributor trialled its virtual reality system with some big industry names. L-r: Jamie Leon, head chef at The Viking, well-known chef Simon Rimmer and Jason Cunliffe, sales director at Lloyd Catering Equipment.

These advances have been possible as Lloyd Catering Equipment puts a large proportion of its profits straight back into the business, a practice which the MD detailed the company will continue to do for the foreseeable future.

A further major step over the last few years was to close the dealer’s venture into online selling, as Lloyd explained: “We got quite successful at it but took the decision to drop the website and our Amazon store in order to focus on our core business.”

Over his 30+ years in the business, he has seen margins decrease, but is working to maintain as healthy a set of accounts as possible. “With internet competition you have got to look at different ways you can add value to what you do, and that’s what we have been doing over the last 3 years – thinking a little bit outside the box.”

However, he commented that online competitors were becoming less of an issue. “There was a time when you were having to justify yourself against internet prices all the time, and I would say that’s no longer the case. I think that’s because in general people are recognising that we bring something else to the table.”

Lloyd also teased that a major ‘outside the box’ development would be launching later this year but was tight-lipped on the details.

With the distributor’s mainstay being restaurant group projects, it is positive that the company has stood resiliently against the recent slowdown in the casual dining sector. According to Lloyd: “If one particular client is a bit quiet for whatever reason, there’s always been another one out there that’s running like a racehorse.”

In fact, one major client tasked the distributor with rolling out 267 sites over the course of 2018, each one being installed out of hours. “Because the schedule was so tightly packed, if one had slipped the knock-on effect would have been dramatic. But we didn’t drop the ball once.”

Even the background uncertainty of Brexit hasn’t slowed the distributor down, with Lloyd reporting: “From a company point of view, we haven’t really noticed Brexit; it’s not appeared on our radar. I think a lot of times with things like this the anticipation can be worse than the event, like the millennium bug. The anticipation is at fever pitch, but I’ve yet to talk to somebody who’s actually said it’s crippling them.”

The key element to keeping the company strong is its staff, he believes. “We treat our staff very well and we get tremendous loyalty and support in return – they are a great group of people. A lot of our team have been with us for more than 20 years. Experience and professionalism like that you can’t get overnight.”

Indeed, Lloyd Catering Equipment offers training to its service, installation and design departments, including a particular focus on the latest CAD innovations.

Lloyd Catering Equipment continues to complete projects for well-known international brands.

Going back up the supply chain, Lloyd Catering Equipment has both preferred manufacturers and those it utilises depending on project requirements. Lloyd revealed: “To be a preferred supplier a company has to give us good equipment and good terms. I wouldn’t put myself into a position where we weren’t on a level playing field.”

Servicing and maintenance are becoming an ever increasing element of the business, with the dealer handling between 2,500 and 3,000 service calls every month. Lloyd thinks that this is because more operators are choosing to repair rather than replace. “Everybody’s become a lot more frugal and sensible, there’s no more playing fast and loose,” he added.

Currently the distributor has about 10 engineers and seven personnel in service call handling, plus deals with service partners for nationwide coverage. “We have a unique relationship with our partners, we invest in their van stock,” said Lloyd.

“Service is a big thing on our radar, it’s an area that we see potential to grow the business whichever way we end up doing that, via acquisition or organically.”

Unlike other companies in the catering equipment industry, Lloyd Catering Equipment does not find it difficult to recruit engineers, receiving a steady stream of CVs every week.

Looking ahead, Lloyd believes: “The biggest changes I would anticipate would be both in terms of equipment and how we operate as professionals. I think with the innovations in technology we are becoming more digital and remotely working. I think that will just keep going faster and faster.”

Overall, the distributor is looking to grow virtually all areas of the business, especially new clients and new design and build projects. According to Lloyd: “The attitude of the company is looking for where we can find the next innovation that helps us to do whatever we do best. The entire team is an enthusiastic as I am about the company doing well. We have all got the same bug. And that’s the most important asset that we’ve got.”

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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