After recently being installed as managing director of catering equipment manufacturer Glen Dimplex Professional Appliances (GDPA), Mike Butt has set to work on fine-tuning the company’s market proposition. FEJ editor Andrew Seymour headed to Merseyside to find out why he thinks the owner of the Burco and Lec brands is well-placed to bring foodservice operators exactly what they want.
You’ve been in the role several months now. What have been your key objectives so far?
At the moment, Professional Appliances is a small part of a big organisation in terms of the Glen Dimplex group from Ireland and so the drive for us is to become a bigger part of that. GDPA covers two sides really — one is the LEC brand and the other is Burco, so the real thing for me has been to really understand where we are at from a market profile position, and where there are strategic areas for improvement. Our drive is going to be to continue with the equipment profile that we have got at the moment as well as expanding our commercial catering equipment offering into more heavy duty. One of the key strategic objectives for us is to be market leaders in hot water boiling and there are a few steps that we have got to take to deliver that, and we are on the way to doing that at the moment. We recognise that we are one of three in that market sector and we want to be at the top in terms of function, quality, volume and, most importantly, innovation.
You joined the company after spending a short period at Airedale, which is a kitchen design and fit-out contractor. What did you learn from your time on that side of the fence?
I thought I understood the contract and design house element of the business really well before I joined, only to actually find out that I knew a lot less than I thought I did. That block of experience exposed me to the dynamics of that contracting market and I think it will hold me in good stead. It’s a tough business where specification and value is challenged every day of the week by the building contractor, so yes, specification is important but value for money balanced with product quality is a really important driver — more so than I actually thought in that sector.
Prior to that, your last supplier role in the industry role was with Dawson Foodservice Equipment. That was quite a different business model to the one that GDPA operates. How you have found it in comparison?
Probably easier, because whilst in the Dawson days the relationships with the factories were a lot more detached than they were here, it was more the dog wagging the tail even though it was our task to create the proposition for that equipment. Here we have got the availability of driving the product proposition rather than just the sales and marketing proposition.
You talked about expanding the product range. You’re about to launch a first induction offering. How is that shaping up?
Our field trials have virtually finished on that now and the core statement of our proposition will be one of value — though not at the expense of quality. We are very excited about it because believe we have got a proposition that will open up the availability and the affordability of induction to the foodservice market. We all know the cost of running induction speaks for itself, but the barrier has been the cost of entry because we live in a world today where people are not looking three to five years ahead to get a return because they are not sure whether they are going to be in business in a year’s time. So I think the decision-making criteria that people are using today is very short-term and therefore the capital entry point into that is critical. We believe this new piece of equipment hits that entry point and we think that for the café, restaurant, golf club-type environment we have got a winner.
What do you think is the biggest strength of GDPA?
I think the biggest strength we have got is the group. The manufacturing, the R&D, the financial support of the group — once we have got the strategy absolutely nailed on they will get behind it and support it. It is a privately-owned group, so there are no shareholders, apart from the family, to satisfy, and they are absolutely committed to growing in this sector. And for me, it is not just a UK thing but an international thing. 30% of our business comes from export now and we will increase that as we move forward.
We believe we have got a proposition that will open up the availability and the affordability of induction to the foodservice market”
And the biggest weakness?
I think the only challenge that I have found is that the Professional bit is only a small part of a large organisation at the moment. But I don’t see that as a weakness really, more of an opportunity for me to get that business firmly established within the group.
What are your targets with regards to the business?
We need to double the size of this business, and pretty quickly, but the market is still growing. We have got quite a lot of public sector business that is under pressure at the moment, but I think the quality end of the eating-out market has been growing for the last couple of years and I think that will continue to grow. The national account chains are growing — Whitbread is opening up faster than people can cope with. So eating out, regardless of what has happened in the market over the last three to four years, has still continued to grow and we see that as a growth area.
What would be your message to operators that haven’t engaged with or used the Burco or Lec Commercial brands before?
If you go back to the key fundamentals then, whatever we do, the key message will be around quality and value for money. I think that’s the world we live in today — and not only in foodservice equipment. Look at the Aldi and Waitrose scenario. Two growing businesses — but their market is polarised and the bit in the middle has shrunk. That value for money bit is very important.
Does the ‘value for money’ message resonate more with certain types of end-user than others?
I think it resonates with everybody. Just go back to the induction discussion. People understand the value of induction and people understand the payback of induction; the barrier has been the capital cost to entry. It is about delivering quality and added value at a price point that is attractive and affordable to people.
30% of our business comes from export now and we will increase that as we move forward”
What do you make of GDPA’s after-sales support capabilities?
I remember in my first couple of days looking at the next-day response and finding out that we are delivering a 92.5% first-time fix — that’s market leading. We run our own fleet of ‘Fix’d’ Professional Appliances engineers and there are 13 of those now. But we have also got the fallback of another 100 engineers nationwide. I don’t think the business realised how strong that proposition is, but I believe having your own service teams is absolutely paramount because it is not just about selling and putting the equipment in, it is about what you do when it breaks down. You can soon lose a customer when you are not getting out on a Saturday afternoon or a Friday evening, which is the most important time for them.
What are you most excited about with this role?
We have got the opportunity to shape the future and be a market-leading catering equipment manufacturer — and we have the support of the group to achieve that.
A question of standards
GDPA’s Lec Commercial refrigeration business has gone through the process of becoming energy-rated following the formal introduction of EU Minimum Energy Performance Standards at the start of last month. But now that Britain has voted to leave the EU, there is some uncertainty over what might happen to those regulations in the longer term and whether they will cease to become legally binding.
Managing director, Mike Butt, believes that although there are currently some unanswered questions, having standards is still the right thing to do. “Even if we are not part of the EU, we will need to have those standards in place to be able to export into Europe, and we will therefore need to comply with them,” he says.
“I’d imagine that the UK, whether we are part of the EU or not, will still continue with those standards because it is the right thing to do. Best practice should always prevail, so I am glad we have done it and I am glad the market has done it. It has always been difficult to substantiate energy usage claims in commercial equipment because there are that many variables, but this gives some real transparency.”
• Bottle coolers and display fridges
• Catering fridges and freezers
• Cooking equipment
• Countertop equipment
• Hygiene products
• Refrigerated counters
• Water boilers and coffee makers