There was a time when YCE Catering Equipment was better known as Yorkshire Catering Equipment Company rather than the three initials which now make up its name.
But the change of moniker more than a decade ago was made to reflect the fact that a company started in 1980 by three founding members selling slicers out the back of their cars had evolved from a local one-stop-shop into a UK-wide business with an enviable list of national accounts, especially in the pub sector.
“The name was too regional as far as we were concerned and we were doing more and more business outside of Yorkshire,” says Lyndon Moorby, who has worked for the company for 22 years, becoming a director and co-owner of the business six years ago.
“It is difficult to park a van in the middle of Manchester with ‘Yorkshire Catering Equipment’ on the side of it — or London, or anywhere outside of Yorkshire really! People think, ‘why have you driven 200 miles to do this, isn’t there somebody a bit more local?’. So we dropped Yorkshire out of the name completely.”
In many ways, things have come full circle of late. Not because YCE is planning on reverting back to its old name but because one of the company’s key objectives this year is to increase the amount of business it does locally.
Moorby won’t go as far as conceding that YCE has neglected its local customer base, but he does acknowledge that the rate at which national account sales have grown has invariably led to it focusing a lot of its attention and resources on servicing that work.
The company admits that local sales probably account for less than 20% of its income today.
“What we have been trying to do over the last six or eight months is actually refocus on the local market and give the company that local feel in the market place again, whether it be in Leeds itself or in Yorkshire generally,” he says. “We want to put a face to a product again, so that when somebody in the middle of Leeds wants a microwave they think, ‘I know who I’ll call’, as opposed to flicking through the Yellow Pages or going online. So we are trying to do that and it is getting there, but it is a slow process. The business is there because Leeds is a growing place. There are restaurants opening hand over fist and we don’t do nearly the business that we should do, so that is our drive.”
YCE has now employed a couple of sales staff who are tasked with knocking on doors and building up a rapport with local customers. As well as selling standalone items of equipment, they’ll be hunting for leads for scheme work, which represents the core part of its business. YCE has handled some massive projects over the years, priding itself on offering the full gamut of services in-house, from planning and design to installation and after-care maintenance.
YCE has gone through some significant changes in recent times, the most recent of which was moving to a brand new HQ complete with showroom, warehouse and product repair facilities. Prior to that the company invested in modernising its IT systems, updating its vehicle fleet and refreshing its corporate identity, including the launch of a new website.
Perhaps most significantly, at least as far as the future stability of the business is concerned, the trading vehicle has been changed from a partnership to a limited company.
Richard Isherwood, director and co-owner, insists it was an important move: “The very nature of a partnership encourages you to take as big amount out of the company as you realistically can because you are paying tax on it. So why would you not have it? But as a limited company, you effectively only pay tax on what you take out, so you’re more inclined to leave money in the company and help strengthen and grow it. Making that change has encouraged us to do that.”
The company can certainly regard itself as one of the largest independent suppliers of catering equipment in the UK, and it is still keen to expand its headcount further now that it has settled into its new HQ.
“We are actually running a little bit more efficiently now since the move,” admits Isherwood. “We had reached the capacity of what we could do at our old premises, so as much as we wanted to grow the sales side of things we had no room to do any more business from there. Having made the move, we are growing with a few more sales staff and, as Lyndon said, we are starting to branch out more locally again,” he adds.
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Isherwood remains conscious that YCE isn’t the only distributor looking to scale up, but he questions how many are actually doing it for the right reasons. “I think there are certain individuals out there that are looking to grow their turnover at all costs,” he says. “There is no doubt they are growing their turnover, but they are probably making less money doing it. They are certainly not making more money because they are just cutting the margins ridiculously.”
Like many in the market, he believes consolidation is inevitable. “In some respects, the sooner it happens the better because a little bit of common sense can return to the industry. It is crazy the way it is at the moment.”
As far as its prospects go, YCE grew up servicing the brewery market when pub food was still in its infancy as a mainstream concept.
The original partners of the company spotted that opportunity early on, selling vast quantities of equipment to the likes of Tetley’s and Bass long before others got on the bandwagon.
That legacy is still evident today, with the company managing contracts such as Mitchells & Butlers, Spirit and Punch. It also serves a number of the smaller, independent pub groups that have emerged from the M&A shake-ups and divestiture programmes that have taken place in the brewery market. “For us, the pub market has been the driving force, apart from locally where we will do a bit of anything for anybody,” says Moorby.
The company certainly doesn’t have all its eggs in one basket, however. Care provider MHA remains a big customer, while lately it has reported success in the Asian restaurant scene. It has done work for South Indian restaurant chain Akbar’s, while it was also involved in the launch of the first Chaophraya restaurant in Glasgow, which with 300 covers is believed to be the largest Thai restaurant in Europe. It has since fitted out a second branch of the chain in Edinburgh.
“For some reason we seem to be getting very big in oriental and eastern food at the moment, but I guess that’s a reflection of the market place,” says Isherwood. “It is fair to say we are looking at those sorts of concepts for some of our brewers as well.”
Having reorganised the internal structure of the business and invested heavily in its back-office infrastructure — “the things you generally can’t see” as Moorby puts it — YCE is hoping that 2013 will be the year when it can push on with driving the business forward.
“What we need to do now is invest in the staff to go out and get the business,” admits Isherwood. “We are in a good spot, consolidation as much as anything, but investment in people. There are lots of sales people out there, but they are out there for a reason. We want good sales people and over the last six or eight months we have picked up a couple of individuals who have been great assets. We could do with another two or three, so that’s the goal for the rest of this year really.”
For a company aware of the need to remain agile and responsiveness in the current market, you wouldn’t bet against it strengthening the cavalry in 2013.
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YCE refuses to be drawn into internet bun fight…for now
Leeds-based YCE Catering Equipment is aiming to do more one-off sales in the local Yorkshire market to supplement its national account business and project work this year, but it is fully aware that the main competition it will face is from the internet.
The company is adamant that a back-to-basics approach to personal and door-to-door sales will prove to be the most effective way of winning customer loyalty, rather than taking on the web sellers at their own game.
Lyndon Moorby, director of YCE Catering Equipment, admits the company has toyed with the idea of developing an ecommerce site, but it currently feels unable to justify the necessary investment.
“If we did launch a site it will come out of this building but it wouldn’t be called YCE. But that won’t happen any time soon. I think there is too much going on and too many online [players] already. It’s just a bun fight really and we don’t want to get involved with that. In a couple of years when it has all settled down and people know where they are with things it might be that we come in under the radar again and see what it does for us. The problem is that it represents a lot of outlay if it is not going to give a decent return and we aren’t convinced yet that it is going to give a decent return.”
Fellow director Richard Isherwood naturally shares the same view. He points out that YCE has access to certain product lines for sale into some of its large brewery customers at prices which could easily be sold in volume via an online mechanism, but this is not something it wishes to do.
“We have given the suppliers of those products assurances that we won’t go out there and sell at silly money, so we won’t do that. And I would much rather sell less volume and make good money rather than upset a load of people. It is not in our make-up to do that either. It’s just not our way and we have got a lot of respect from our suppliers because of that.”
Name: YCE Catering Equipment
Address: Unit R1, Gildersome Spur, Leeds, LS27 7JZ
Tel: 01132 526566
Focus: Planning, design, project management, installation, after-care and servicing