Former Rational and Hoshizaki man Paul Anderson took over from Bill Downie as managing director of Meiko UK in April this year, a move that has seen him return to the brand where he worked in a sales capacity 15 years ago. FEJ met up with him at Meiko’s Slough HQ for a wide-ranging discussion on taking over the hotseat, turning marketing on its head and delivering more value to chain businesses.
Having worked for Meiko from 1999 to 2002, there must be elements of the business that have stayed the same and others that are substantially different…
Fundamentally, the business has grown exponentially in terms of the number of staff and size of premises, but the core beliefs have stayed the same which was key for me on my return, which I am over the moon about. It is not harmful to any other business that I have worked with, and clearly from Bill’s leadership over the last 24 years it was not a broken machine. But a fresh pair of eyes and a different approach allows Meiko UK to successfully move forward alongside our group aims and goals.
Meiko turns over around £18m in the UK — do you expect to be able to keep up with the high pace of growth that the company is expecting globally over the next three years?
The UK has had some significant growth over a few years, which is the best way to describe it. But with some of the things that are happening, I expect to see a great increase over the next few years. I firmly believe we have the right products and with new members of the team coming on board and a more activity-focused customer support we will definitely enhance the growth targets.
What strategic changes have you made since joining the business?
The first three months have been about getting a feel for how the business is operating, it would have been crazy to come in and implement changes straightaway. What I’ve already implemented is to empower the team to take more responsibility for their skillset. We employ clever people because they bring clever ideas, it shouldn’t be necessary for us to tell them what to do, but we can support them with mentoring, guidance and leadership.
I have made a few changes to give greater support to our industry and customers — Steve Cook, who handles most of the incoming enquiries from consultants and the sales team has been promoted from office manager to commercial director. Phil Walley has been recruited to cover the London area and Mick Jary has joined as our specification manager and he will be supporting consultants.
The UK is very different as an office to most other Meiko subsidiaries in that you are quite insular…
The core focus for the group is to be even more decentralised, so that you take total ownership and autonomy of the business you are running, which is great because Meiko UK is quite decentralised already, so we understand it. We have really good service, finance, CAD, order processing and sales administration department, quotations, spares and a warehouse. It is very efficient. Very little is outsourced.
How do you plan to take the business to the next level?
Taking it to the next level will require more focus from the sales side to be more proactive in end-user market awareness and some clever activities with our distributor network and valued partners. We are just about to start celebrating 90 years of Meiko, and those celebrations will go on until July next year. It is very rare, as a German company, to achieve that length of time. We will be holding awards and running quarterly initiatives that will see end-users win an all-expenses meal for two and hotel stay in one of three beautiful venues across the UK.
We will be publishing a coffee table book that will celebrate the 90 years of Meiko and there is a specific website that details how the company was formed and the changes it has gone through. As an aisde, people often say, ‘is it pronounced ‘MyKo or ‘Meeko’ — it’s actually ‘Myco’ and the reason for that is it was founded by Oskar Meier (My)and Franz Konrad (Co), hence Meiko was formed.
Service and support has always been a point of difference for Meiko. How many engineers do you now employ in the UK?
We have around 40 engineers at the moment and we will increase that number. We are looking to take on three to five more whose role will be to manage a lot of the chain business, where rapid support is needed. We will be looking at possibly adding smaller vehicles and focused stock for an even faster delivery and response time than we already offer.
The pound versus euro could be better but it is not going to stop us”
Do you mean you are under-covered in some areas of the market at the moment then?
No, we are not under-covered at all. We are perfectly covered. However, what I will do is increase the coverage even more to provide quicker support. If you take a large pub chain, for example, it can sometimes take time out of our general day-to-day PPMs but if we have a specific team purely for the chain accounts side then it will allow us to provide even faster service, so it is an area we are looking at.
I have initiated a suggestion box over the last few weeks and ideas have included having bicycles in London, with spares on them, or even electric vehicles with spares, so we are looking at taking things to a different level. The company cars are all being changed to hybrids because it is much more economical and efficient as a business. We have a huge fleet and own all our vehicles.
Chain restaurants typically demand instant service and tend to have high expectations when it comes to maintenance. Is that how you see it?
For us to grow into more chains and groups, we need to ensure that we give them the correct service and support. We already have that, but we want to increase it even more, hence why we will be spending much more time talking to more people, more often. We are a little bit more structured and have refocused our activity already.
Are chains the hardest part of the market to serve?
It is a good question. It is a different part of the market to serve. Yet group business can add volume, so it needs to be a very delicate balance, alongside our overall mix. With the current Brexit situation and the currency against the pound, everybody wants the best price for everything possible but what we also find is that people are now making it a consideration to invest in companies that are going to be here in five or 10 years’ time because they want the support. Buying cheap could possibly mean you buy twice. Are they necessarily going to get the after-care support?
It is important to us that if somebody buys our equipment we provide the back-up, so we have various choices of warranty, various choices of planned preventative maintenance, even a three or five-year no-bills guarantee, which we find a lot of people are going for. We are also finding that they are taking a lot of time to consider added benefits like the reverse osmosis system, which means you haven’t got to expend labour polishing glasses; the whole system takes care of it.
Have you reviewed Meiko’s pricing structure since you joined?
Yes, there has not been much change on that front. I am comfortable with the pricing. The pound versus euro could be better but it is not going to stop us; demand for Meiko is increasing. Our order intake and our order backlog are very healthy, much more than last year, we have seen a big increase already so far. So overall the pricing is ok. Who knows what the future holds, let’s leave that with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.
Are you looking to increase coverage of sectors where Meiko hasn’t traditionally been strong?
Yes, absolutely. Meiko is predominantly strong on rack and flight machines, which is where we are seen as a real expert on the system design and the ancillary systems, and that tends to be hospitals, schools and contract catering. Where we are getting stronger, and where the focus will be, is on the hotel and restaurant side of the business, the QSRs. That’s where it needs to get stronger, believe it or not. I don’t think the industry is fully aware of what we have to offer — undercounter, rack machines, flight machines, utensil washers — it’s a comprehensive portfolio and we also have waste removal systems.
I like the idea that we are retaining the brand, but you can have a bit of fun with it”
Where do you see the end-user market at the moment?
Gauging the market is always difficult. Every day is different according to the press. But fundamentally it is not stopping the UK’s drive for eating out. What we have seen is that food sales have increased. Areas of the market are looking to invest in the right equipment that provides long-term benefits. There are always going to be businesses that want to buy on price, we get that and we understand that. We try and make the best product for the market that gives them a fast return.
Overall the market is relatively healthy but the business certainly doesn’t come to anybody, you have got to go out there and get it, that’s for sure. We are never going to be the cheapest product — that is not our aim. We want to be the best in energy efficiency, environmental benefits and ergonomic use, all encompassed within the best customer service.
You have made some interesting marketing moves since you joined, notably the introduction of ‘Eric’ and ‘Buster’, animated characters that represent your warewashing machines…
You’ll see a lot of differences in terms of marketing moving forward. I like the idea that we are retaining the brand but you can have a bit of fun with it. Eric is our undercounter model and stands for ‘Environmental, Reliable, Innovative, Clean’. We came up with a name after holding a competition within the office. Buster will be for the pass-through. Obviously we can use these in terms of training aids. From a visual perspective, ‘stories tell, pictures sell’ and it promotes a bit of fun. It is not destroying the brand, it is adding to it. The symbolism is fantastic. I can honestly say that we’ve had some serious fun in designing these and it hasn’t stopped yet!