Catering equipment supplier rexmartins is offering foodservice operators access to affordable kitchen solutions that will deliver value to their business. FEJ met with managing director Martin Porter to find out more about one of the newest brands on the market.
When Martin Porter sold his refrigeration and air conditioning business to Toshiba Carrier in 2007, almost 21 years after he founded the company, he probably thought that was the last he’d see of hot, sweaty kitchens and chilly, empty cold rooms. In the early days of business he was well-versed in reaching the parts of kitchens that others couldn’t in order to repair appliances and install equipment, building up a customer base that eventually came to include McDonald’s, Starbucks, KFC and Burger King.
Later, at United Technologies Corporation of America, which owns Toshiba Carrier, he was to manage various departments, ensuring the HVACR needs of corporate clients such as Canary Wharf, Bank of England, Wembley Stadium, Aldi and Lidl supermarkets were tended to.
After deciding it was time to move on, one could have forgiven Porter for not wanting to ever see a fridge or cooker again. But his entrepreneurial spirit was always going to shine through and four years ago he founded rexmartins, a distributor of commercial catering equipment and cookware. It wasn’t long before he spotted an opportunity for the brand to launch a range of own-label products and, after an extensive two-year development period, he launched the ‘RMB’ series at the start of this year.
RMB stands for ‘rexmartins Black’, which represents its own products, distinguishing it from the existing rexmartins ‘colour’ business, which independently supplies products from third party brands.
The RMB catalogue is impressive, spanning some 1,000. “We have attempted to create an innovative range of products that varies from the competition, and these will hopefully be in demand from the industry,” says Porter. “It includes full kitchen suites, cook stations, induction, pasta cookers, ovens, induction hobs, combi ovens, grills, dishwashers, self-extraction units and air quality ranges where the compressors are built into the unit so you don’t have a remote condensing unit. We also offer heating-cooling monoblocs. They can even heat up to 70 litres of water, through the condenser.”
“A lot of these product specifications are not available through other sources”
Initially, the company intended to develop a handful of core refrigeration products but it soon became apparent to Porter that operators were after a much more comprehensive portfolio catering to all their needs. Given the competitive, and sometimes saturated, nature of the market, Porter spent considerable time looking at how to differentiate RMB’s offering, focusing on areas such as energy efficiency and compact dimensions.
“A lot of these product specifications are not available through other sources,” he explains. “We have got our own barbecue suites with special configurations, for example. We have even got our own health and safety range as well.”
Developing an own-brand range of equipment from scratch commands enormous patience and a huge investment in terms of product development and manufacturing. He must have encountered some major challenges therefore?
“The challenges are obviously the design of the equipment, the quality of the manufacturing, the testing of the equipment, the durability, everything to do with manufacturing, as obviously we have invested a substantial amount of money into the project,” he responds.
Fortunately, Porter’s engineering background means he can look at most product areas with a technical head on and understand the pain points that customers might need solving.
Production of the RMB range is carried out by four different manufacturers incorporated with. Every item of equipment is quality checked before it leaves the plant and rexartins has permission to undertake factory audits without notice.
Manufacturing abroad offers cost advantages over the UK, says Porter, adding that the brand can also offer operators access to customised equipment. It has even spotted an opportunity to develop adaptable equipment for kitchen workers with disabilities or who might find it prohibitive to use ‘standard’ equipment. It could be an appliance that features sliders for those that struggle with thermostats, or vibrating equipment that assists those with deafness or visual impairment.
“We are looking at all areas which are not covered, which is initially why I went into business many years ago, because I felt I could run a business that was more beneficial for the end-user. And it is the same with our own product lines. There is equipment that we are now doing that isn’t there in the market.”
Rexmartins hold stock of its standard products at its warehouse in Tunbridge Wells, but lead times for bespoke equipment is just six to eight weeks, which Porter insists is “pretty quick” for the market. RMB equipment comes with a two-year parts and labour warranty and full technical support. Its showroom also contains training facilities should customers wish to carry out any off-site learning. A dedicated website is about to be launched that will give users access to all of the information they need about the equipment, as well as a list of local distributors.
“The steel price is fixed for 18 months and I have flexibility for the dollar price for 14 months. It means there won’t be any price increases on our products for up to two years”
So what about the dreaded ‘B’ word — Brexit? The currency turmoil that Britain faced when the EU referendum result was announced last year must have come as a hammer blow to the company given it had already commenced production and was gearing up to launch the brand?
“What we have done is fixed the prices of steel and the dollar rate,” reveals Porter. “The steel price is fixed for 18 months and I have flexibility for the dollar price for 14 months. It means there won’t be any price increases on our products for up to two years.”
Porter is delighted with the breadth and quality of the portfolio and, as he begins the process of recruiting distributor partners to market the products, is confident that it RMB offers a solution for all needs — with a few exceptions.
“We are trying to cover all aspects, that is the most important factor. The only thing which would be potentially slightly problematic is the real low-end market, which we are not in. If someone wants a £200 piece of kit, we are not going to compete with that. But we think we have spotted a gap in the market place and we are bringing in new types of products that we believe will be beneficial to customers.”
Having seen his last business start out small and grow to a substantial size, he at least knows what it will take to make RMB a power player in the commercial kitchen equipment market.