THE BIG INTERVIEW: Modo’s Neil Coombes quickly turned to other sectors this year

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Modo MD Neil Coombes believes his company has navigated through the pandemic efficiently.

Like most of the industry, West Yorkshire-based distributor Modo Commercial Kitchen Design has faced unprecedented challenges in the marketplace this year.

But according to MD Neil Coombes, the firm has responded very positively to the shifting sands: “We feel that we have navigated throughout the pandemic in the most efficient way possible by working hard to ensure that ongoing and pipelined projects are all in place. We pride our business on the relationships we hold with our client base and we’re proud to have ongoing partnerships with a number of large national and independent accounts.

“Like most, we are looking at new ways of working, new markets and initiatives to keep driving the business forward rather than trying to be defensive through these challenging times.”

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So in what ways has the dealer switched up its strategy? “Controlling our outgoing costs was an obvious way of adapting our business,” said Coombes. “We realised that a number of client projects were being paused until they knew how the UK foodservice market would sit during the pandemic, and from here, we have been able to be agile throughout and ensure we’re in a position to deliver excellent customer service whilst keeping a close eye on our financial position.

“We’ve been looking at new markets that we can tap into and this has been a real success for us over the past 6 months. While we have previous experience in care home work, contractual work and other naturally busier sectors during the Covid pandemic, we have focused marketing attention into these areas and it’s been a real success.”

The distributor has continued to outfit kitchens in a Covid-safe way.

The way the company has been able to market itself has changed too, as Coombes detailed: “Becoming more focused and targeted has been one adaptation of the business, but the most fulfilling area has to be that our network has worked with us on projects and word of mouth. We pride our business on excellent design, offering the right products for the project and excellent customer service. We feel this is the key to sustaining any business in a pandemic or otherwise.

“We are also being very commercial about things, making sure deposits are in place and limiting risk given the current situation we all face. I think this works both ways in a situation like this. We respect that a number of manufactures require deposits to limit their risks and we naturally have to do the same. It’s a challenge to be tackled together as an industry and we must all work closely together, respecting each and everyone’s business position. I think this is the way we navigate our way out of this whole thing.

“Lease purchase options were introduced into our business in April and every client was given this option of payment – we aim to always support our clients in any way we can.”

Modo has continued to working with a number of new and existing clients throughout the pandemic, such as Accor, V-ate, Chef James Summering, Oakley Court Hotel, Light Cinemas, Press Up Entertainment and Centre Parcs. Coombes believes: “I really feel that this shows our project capabilities and experience as a business to deliver first rate projects to some large clients during the most challenging business climate of recent times. We are proud of the variety of business we have and the ongoing relationships we hold with a number of the named businesses.”

For the projects that Modo has been able to continue, time on site has been reduced and social distancing measures and policies have had to be adhered to whilst working on site. Coombes explained: “Working closely with our service partners, we have navigated through these legislations like all our competitors and industry partners. We’ve respected the conditions and been thankful that we can start working towards a new normal, however that looks.”

While the firm doesn’t offer in house-servicing, instead it is assessing equipment and working with its service partners to ensure its clients have the complete package from specialists in their own areas. “We’re really proud to work with our service partners and we have no desire to step into this market,” said Coombes.

“Assessing capital expenditure has been vital to our customers and many clients have taken advantage of our kitchen MOT service, which has been designed for businesses that have been closed for any amount of time during the pandemic. The results of this give the client an insight into kitchen performance and the information they need on whether to replace or repair one off pieces of equipment.”

Light Cinemas is one of Modo’s clients.

On the subject of recent dealings with manufacturers, he revealed: “We’re proud that we’ve not had to lean on any suppliers during this time as we understand that every business has been faced with their own challenges in controlling cash and working through these difficult times. All of our Cedabond payments have been in full and on time and we work very closely with our suppliers; we see them all as key partners to our business. Without their support and expertise, the challenges we face would be multiplied. Teamwork and togetherness are things we must all consider and really respect.”

So how does Coombes think equipment design or operation will have to change to reflect the current market situation? “Product manufacture and design are, in my opinion, of a very high quality generally across the market. The obvious things must be considered during a pandemic of this kind; ease of cleaning, energy efficiency and product build quality.

“Distributors have a responsibility to the end user to rightfully specify products for the application while considering lifecycle costs and the above factors mentioned. A key consideration for us as a business at the moment is product multi-functionality, hot holding and space saving equipment. These products have been around and readily available but it’s apparent that the requirement for these products has increased.”

Looking ahead, he analysed: “Like any company, we want to first of all get through the next 12 months, and we’re confident we can grow from there. Internally, we are ready for growth. Externally, we cannot control the economic environment we face as an industry. We must stick together and work hard for new opportunities.”

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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