You don’t have to run your own business to understand how agonising it must be to see the company you’ve spent the best part of 20 years building fall into the hands of administrators.
For Pratap Gadhvi, founder of Valera, that was the situation he found himself in during October last year.
Legalities prevent Gadhvi discussing much of the detail that surrounded Valera’s plight at the time, suffice to say that it came as a body blow for everyone connected with the business. “It was a horrible day, probably the worst day of my life,” he says now, almost a year on.
News of Valera’s difficulties emerged at a time when the UK catering equipment market was under particular stress, coming as they did in the same week that administrators were also called to the London offices of Hansens, once a stalwart of the industry and a name known to everybody.
As far as Valera’s fate was concerned, it quickly became apparent that while the operation would cease to continue in its existing guise, not least because of the redundancies inflicted upon its staff, the Valera brand would live on under the ownership of a new group. It is understood that as many as 10 companies registered an interested in the company’s assets when it went into administration before Staffordshire-based Unitech Industries was eventually confirmed as the successful buyer.
While the deal ensured the Valera brand and presence remained in the market, one of the immediate challenges for the business was rebuilding and reviving relationships with suppliers and distributors that it had been closely working with prior to its troubles.
Company administrations are always emotive issues, none more so than when unsecured creditors are involved or customers are left awaiting delivery of goods. Valera, naturally, came in for criticism from some parties aggrieved by the situation, although on the whole Gadhvi insists he encountered fewer dissenters than you might imagine given the circumstances.
“First of all, let me talk from the customer end,” he says. “There may have been one or two, but my approach was that I went direct to them to ask them where the problem was or what the problem was. There were maybe one or two who have not responded, but the majority — if there was any issue — have come back to me straight and I have managed to resolve it, so that side has been quite smooth.
“On the supply side, with the approval from the administrator, I did tell them what was available in the warehouse for them to claim and secure. One or two took it up, one or two didn’t. If you ask me has anyone been very awkward, has anyone given me a hard time, the answer is no. People have been very, very supportive.”
Fast forward 12 months and it’s fair to say that the Valera brand is back on its feet. Operationally, it is a very different beast these days, as you would expect. Its headquarters in West Thurrock is no more as the business is now based in Banbury, where sister company Corsair Engineering is located, while headcount stands at 12 people compared to the 40 or so staff that it used to employ, though it must be acknowledged that Valera now has the benefit of drawing on centralised group resources for key functions such as administration, finance and warehousing.
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From a go-to-market perspective, the company continues to sell exclusively through the distribution channel, while Gadhvi personally has a more hands-on sales role than he did running the original business. As well as looking after some key accounts directly, he is now handling the West Midlands region down to the south west, as well as Ireland and Wales. It means he’s out in the field a lot more, usually spending only one or two days a week in Banbury.
One aspect of the business that hasn’t changed too dramatically, however, is the company’s brand offering, with a core bunch of 10 or 11 suppliers continuing to work with the company under Unitech’s ownership.
Gadhvi says he is humbled by the backing that he and the business have received. “We are very fortunate in that on the supply side, and the distribution-dealer side, we have had amazing support, and that is where I feel very indebted to people. I am very grateful because people who used to support Valera in the past have continued to support us and have been very kind in the way they reacted.”
Valera recently published its latest product catalogue, which revealed a broader spread of products than it previously offered. It continues to use the same supplier for induction and fryers, has begun working with Panasonic, and gained a seven-year contract to fulfil the warranty obligations for Sanyo microwaves, the brand with which it was once most closely associated.
Additionally, its partnership with Fagor has strengthened, too, providing Valera with an offering in terms of combi ovens and warewashing. The Fagor distributorship has also given it access to an a ECA scheme-listed refrigeration line, which dovetails nicely with the own-brand refrigeration it sources from places such as Turkey and China.
Another of Valera’s long-term supporters, even during its turmoil, is Jordao. Like any manufacturer, it would have felt the full fiscal impact of Valera’s administration, but today it has actually taken on more work from the company as it is now supplying Valera with multi-decks and high-spec counters, as well as standalone counters.
Having witnessed how quickly the rug can be pulled from underneath one’s feet, Gadhvi is understandably cautious about making bold statements about Valera’s growth outlook.
Being part of a larger, financially-sound group brings obvious benefits to the company, but he admits the number one priority is simply to focus on what it has got and build things brick by brick.
“Firstly we want to consolidate and make sure that we do justice to what we have,” he responds. “Secondly, in terms of providing service for those products, we are continually looking at how we can improve, and in terms of future expansion we are looking at other markets because we do get enquiries from all over. We want to walk rather than run, so we will build gradually.”
Given where the brand was a year ago, it’s a rebuilding exercise that will command time and patience, both internally and from its partners.