UK dealers report from the frontline of coronavirus-affected hospitality sector

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UK dealers are reporting varying degrees of impact from the coronavirus crisis.

Catering equipment distributors across the country have been impacted by the coronavirus crisis, just as the rest of global business has.

Therefore Catering Insight has taken the temperature of the sector, by asking a variety of dealers to report on their trade.

The responses differed somewhat, with some detailing that little impact has been felt so far. For instance, Bruce Dance, MD at Ian Dance Services said: “At the moment we’re not seeing any major issues with our customers and the trade seems to be coping very well.”

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Likewise, GS Catering Equipment’s sales and administration manager Anna Massey reported: “At the moment this has not directly affected our trade; we have put in place safety measures where we can still visit site and protect both our staff and those we come into contact with. Any meetings that can be done without direct contact are being done over the telephone or via email.”

At London’s Chiller Box, MD Marios Poumpouris explained: “At the moment we are still working on stuff that was in the pipeline way before the coronavirus became the main focus of everyone’s lives. New enquiries are obviously now thin on the ground, and anecdotally I would say this actually started to happen just after the first covid-19 cases landed on our shores.”

While Jack Sharkey, MD of Vision Commercial Kitchens, said: “Very little has changed or been impacted as yet, but we are expecting a slow down on service work, both reactive and planned and potentially delays on projects, but we have not seen site of that just yet and we wait to see what happens on the construction sites that we are on at present.”

RDA is taking a cautious approach too, according to director, Alex Bradley: “We are yet to see what larger effect this will have on our sales and operations departments, as different clients and different sites we are due to start work on seem to have different rules and approaches at the moment. We do hope this will become clearer over the coming days following further government advice being issued, so we can plan ahead to the best of our ability.”

At Greens Commercial Kitchens, MD Richard Greenway analysed: “Naturally this scenario has impacted more on our clients that have recently opened a new business or premises as it has obviously disrupted their opening strategy and their marketing and is obviously a blow to their cash flow.

“We supply to many small independent business and we know ourselves how hard things can be at times such as these. However we’re supporting these customers in any way we can by ensuring that when life gets back to normal with our support they can hit the ground running again.

“As you can also imagine we also have clients that are currently going through the fit out process or complete refurbishment of their kitchens and restaurants; this is a nervous time for everybody, however these clients have remarked that this as the perfect time to be carrying out works, then once this all calms down they have the best shot at opening successfully when the storm passes.”

Space Group MD Ian Bidmead reported advantages and disadvantages too: “Although we’ve not had any outright cancellations, we’ve had some orders put on hold and seen some delays on decisions we’ve been expecting.

“Conversely, we’ve had some clients looking at bringing project work forward to take advantage of the quiet operational environment many are experiencing. The real feeling right now is uncertainty, and I can’t see that changing for some time to come, as we’re in unchartered territory. However, we’re finding that clients and suppliers alike are acting sensibly and calmly.”

And up at Lakes Catering Maintenance, MD Leigh Howard explained: “In the last week we have seen a steady decline in new business coming in; whilst we are still getting some daily enquiries it is well below the projected run up to the usual Easter trade.

“Locally the feedback from my customers is that the lack of mobility and social distancing is having a direct impact and forcing tourists and locals to cancel planned visits and evenings out.

“We have some planned work scheduled in and this is keeping us going. Cash flow is a concern, but I hope the industry can hold its nerve and access all the support needed to get through the crisis. The wheels need to keep turning throughout the supply chain to avoid a total collapse. The government strategy says it will ‘do whatever it takes’ and they appear to have deep pockets. Let’s hope the industry is supported and can therefore protect the workforce’s health and wellbeing and financial security.”

Prospects are a concern to Shine Catering Systems’ MD Julian Shine, who said: “We have already seen a slow down and now a closure of a construction site. This is just a matter adapting to this new reality. Anyone that had been to London for the HRC show would have noticed that there was room on the transport at rush hour and the outside venues were quiet apart from our industry parties, but last week and the over the last couple of days it has been astonishingly quiet.”

Simon Lloyd, MD of Lloyd Catering Equipment is uneasy too, saying: “The situation is moving very fast and recommendations are changing on a daily basis but it seems clear that the hospitality industry will be one of the hardest hit. The vast majority if not all of our clients are expecting and bracing for a significant downturn in trade which will have a severe knock-on effect for our business both in terms of supply and service.”

While KCM Catering Equipment MD Alistair White noted: “Enquiries have slowed over the past week. I can foresee a very difficult period for the industry; all our clients are impacted in one way or another to varying degrees. The main question is how long this disruption will continue for, and whether the hospitality industry will pick up where it left off. Personally, I think this is going to have ramifications for at least the next year.”

Fatboys Catering Equipment MD Chris Neeld is highly concerned: “The impact on trade and our customers is severe. It feels as if the bottom has dropped out of the industry and ordering for new functions and replacement equipment has stopped dead. Work on projects for refurbishment of kitchens and other areas is being cancelled where it can and completed only where the project has gone past the point of no return.  New enquiries have stopped, projects shelved and the supply part of the hospitality industry is very slow.”

Similarly, Catering Equipment Support’s MD Simon Tavender described: “So far 26 customers have closed due to direct contact with coronavirus. All our smaller customers are shutting down or holding payments to us which we understand and are working with them.

“We are chasing payments from larger companies but many are on reduced staff and it is becoming more difficult to chase monies.”

“Trade has dropped by 50% and is expected to get worse. We have already had a £190,000 refurbishment of a prestigious landmark postponed until November. We started the project and have paid out on many of the materials so we will need to carry that deficit

“We need better information from the government on what support they can give.”

However, he did acknowledge: “Suppliers so far have shown no issues and we have been working with all our suppliers in projected needs and making sure we can sustain supply.”

In Scotland, Grampian Catering Equipment MD, Graham Batty, responded: “Already there has been a number of bars and restaurants in Aberdeen announced that they are closing immediately and some said they might not re open.”

Further south in Motherwell, Intellico Dishwashers & Glasswashers MD Richard Hose reported: “The government has advised that the population steer clear of pubs and restaurants and this announcement is already forcing some of our customers to close their doors temporarily. The uncertainty is very unnerving and this situation will become a lot worse before it gets better. The knock on effect that this will have is a real cause for concern.”

On the servicing side of things, Hatherley Commercial Services’ MD Kirstin Hatherley detailed: “We are heavily reliant on our schools work and hope that schools will still let us in to continue with our contractual maintenance. If not I will have to start laying staff off; it’s looking very bleak at the moment with schools saying they may be off until September.

“Obviously bars and restaurants are heavily hit too; this really is going to have a big impact on our industry. We are going to try to give our engineers jobs in the workshop for the next couple of weeks but this will not be sustainable.”

At Crystaltech, MD Derek Maher said: “As we repair commercial glasswashers and dishwashers in pubs, restaurants, hotels etc, this section is being hit the hardest. We are experiencing a number of pub groups that have issued instructions to halt all capital expenditure.”

While at regional competitor Alecta Technical Solutions, MD Mark Saville revealed: “The impact of the most recent advice from central government has yet to filter through to the reactive maintenance service for high street eateries, as calls are still being placed and enquiries made to us.

“However, it is without doubt that smaller footfall on destinations serving food will impact the necessity of repair on some pieces of equipment and therefore the number or perhaps frequency of calls made to companies such as ours.”

He further detailed: “Care home groups that we work with have requested guidance from us on our proposed measures to combat disruption as a result of the virus pandemic but have agreed with us to work on an essential basis on their sites. Through this agreement we are working to complete preventative works at the same time as reactive work is completed, thus limiting the frequency of visits to homes but when in attendance maximising productivity and safe guards to keep the customer up and running for longer.

“Universities and Schools in both the public and private sector we support are either closing for Easter at an earlier date or continuing their operation; however reducing the number of calls they log to reduce the amount of people coming into the premises. With those that are taking the Easter break earlier, we have taken the initiative to get ahead of the curve and carry out preventative maintenance for them in line with our maintenance contracts, which is proving to be successful at this time.”

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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