With three decades of experience to its name, TWO Services can offer a unique behind-the-scenes perspective on the catering industry. Founder Alan Osborn and his son, and current MD, Barry Osborn explain what led the Basildon-based company into the commercial kitchen arena and the changes they have witnessed in the business.
TWO Services founder, Alan Osborn, first experienced the foodservice industry at the Compass Group where he worked for 18 years as a regional manager in the B&I sector. When his time there came to end, he originally planned to start a catering consultancy business but, with a young family to support, soon found himself working day and night to bring in income, even running a wine bar in East London at one stage.
When a friend mentioned they were looking for someone for a daily office cleaning contract at the Doomsday exhibition, Osborn decided that he would tender for the work and, sure enough, he got the job. It became his first cleaning contract and, in June 1986, T.W.O. Services became a registered company.
Osborn’s word was his bond and once he committed to something he made sure it got done — and to a high standard. This attitude stood him and his fledgling company in good stead and is partly why TWO Services has just reached its 30-year anniversary.
It was a few months after that initial job that a friend of Osborn’s mentioned they were tendering for a catering contract, which included a kitchen deep cleaning agreement, and that it was hard to find someone to do the job properly. “He said, ‘with your catering experience, you should be cleaning kitchens’, so I thought, yes, why not give it a go?” Osborn recalls.
Many kitchens used to have four cleans a year, which is best practice for keeping everything safe and running at optimum levels. But of course the various recessions put paid to that”
Consequently, Osborn tendered and won his first kitchen cleaning contract at the Iveco Ford truck manufacturer headquarters in Watford. From there, more jobs followed and, years later, after growing up earning pocket money on cleaning jobs, Alan’s sons Barry (who took over from Alan as managing director in 2011) and Jon (financial director) eventually joined the business.
Today TWO employs 120 people and has a turnover of more than £4m, providing a complete range of cleaning, maintenance and equipment services nationwide. It is also one of the few cleaning and maintenance companies accredited with ISO 9001, ISO 14001 (environmental) and OHSAS 18001 (health & safety). Family values and high levels of service are still central to the firm and staff turnover is unusually low for this industry.
“We’re proud that many of our staff have been here nearly as long as the company has been going — it’s like a big family. My first ever recruit, George Baffoe, was made company director for his loyalty,” says Osborn. “And there are many others who came on board in the early days that have spent the majority of their careers with us and been promoted as a result.”
A spate of recent internal promotions illustrates this fact. New general manager, Carl Twaites, was previously chief maintenance engineer for 11 years, while Kay Wiskin, who spent 10 years in the office as sales and operations co-ordinator, is now out and about as the face of TWO in the south, in a sales executive role.
“It’s that consistency and personal touch that our clients like,” insists Barry Osborn. “Over the years the commercial industry has become dominated by big corporates and FM companies where staff come and go, but they can rely on us as the one fixed constant. We’re still an independent, family-run business. There are no automated machines and our customers get to speak to real people who have an ongoing responsibility and relationship with their account. Our staff know their kitchens, their equipment and their history.”
So what has changed? For a start, TWO has seen the frequency of cleans decline over the last three decades. “Many kitchens used to have four cleans a year, which is best practice for keeping everything safe and running at optimum levels. But of course the various recessions put paid to that, most notably in the public sector where council budgets were squeezed and so services cut,” continues Barry.
“However it can prove a false economy because equipment doesn’t function as efficiently, therefore shortening the life-span and increasing the likelihood of breakdown and emergency call-outs. Dirt and grease can build up and clog things like extractor fans, resulting in up to 35% higher energy costs due to the extra weight. Not to mention the increased risk of catastrophic fires that can spread through extraction systems.”
Developments in kitchen hygiene inspections and ‘scores on the doors’ systems have, however, started to see some organisations rethink their cleaning regimes, according to Barry. He notes that he has also witnessed the evolution of food and presentation in corporate restaurants.
“Back in the day everything was fried, but now trends for healthier options, global cuisines and super foods have meant B&I caterers have upped their game and are producing much more diverse, higher quality options. They have to in order to keep staff onsite and compete with the sheer amount of choice in terms of rival food outlets on their doorstep.”
Like them, TWO Services is also facing fierce competition, but with its unrivalled catering experience behind it the company is confident of cleaning up in more ways than one.
Modern developments mean fewer hazards
Kitchen sizes have changed dramatically in the time that TWO Services has been around, especially in places like schools and government buildings, where kitchens were known for being huge but having little in them. Now, with space at a premium, kitchens are often much smaller and jam-packed with equipment — which can prove challenging for both the caterer and the cleaning company.
“On the plus side, modern developments mean fewer hazards — they have much lower ceilings, so we’re not working at height as much as the old days and there is much more emphasis on health and safety and fire regulations in the design and layout,” says managing director Barry Osborn.
Health and safety is another area that has evolved, although for Barry it is not the scourge that some might think. “For us, the H&S regulations are not a burden — we have a duty of care to our staff and our clients. We carry out pre-start and on-the-day risk assessments in accordance with OHSAS 18001 and it gives us peace of mind that at the end of the day our team go home safely to their families. Plus, our clients have the reassurance of knowing that thanks to our kitchen and ductwork cleans they are not endangering lives or premises through unnecessary fire risk.”