Gary Nunn will step out of Unox UK’s office in Camberley for the last time today, ending his 17-year association with the combi and bakery oven manufacturer. FEJ caught up with him as he prepared to clear his desk to reflect on the memories, moments and milestones that have shaped his time in the hotseat…
Gary, what are your abiding memories from when you initially set up Unox UK?
The business started from the dining room table and there are so many memories from the old days. I think the biggest thing was how receptive people were to actually seeing us because we were a no-mark name at the time compared to the likes of Falcon, Electrolux and others. I think we must have seemed very amateur when we first started knocking on people’s doors! They were good times and they involved a lot of hard work. I can fondly remember changing some doors on the ovens for Cornish Bakehouse with my son all the way through the night and plying him with Coca-Cola and hot chocolate to get him to work!
What made you think there was an opportunity for Unox in the UK at the time?
We looked at what was available and we thought that if we could do it better and offer more of a personal service then we could get some market share. We didn’t know how much, but we just thought we could work hard and go from there. We were very enthusiastic about it all – I think that’s what shone through. I always remember that Paul Choularton, who was MD of Catersure at the time, said that he bought his first ovens from me because of my passion and the excitement we had for the product. He took a punt on it and then we went onto trade with them for a lot of years after that.
That would have been around 2005 – presumably Unox wasn’t particularly well-known in the UK market at that point?
Unox was bringing ovens in through an importer at the time, but I think they did 26 ovens in two years so it was really a very small brand then. We were very optimistic and I think we said to [Unox president] Enrico Franzolin that we could do 600 ovens in a year. He said, ‘if you do half of that, I’ll be very happy!’ We actually did 400 in that first year, so we bettered it which was good.
Who was the first UK customer? And what was the first big multi-site deal that really set the business on its way?
The first UK customer was a six-tray bakery oven that was installed in Chez Kristof in Hammersmith and it was sold through Hansen’s at the time. The following month we sold the first combi oven to Carlo and Connie Catalano at The Colosseo in Scunthorpe. They have just recently bought another five-tray Cheftop Mind.Maps oven to stand to the side of it because they still use that oven on a daily basis.
The first major multi-site roll-out was Cornish Bakehouse in June 2006 and over a two-year period they installed our bakery ovens in 14 shops across the UK. They are still continuing to purchase the latest Mind.Maps bakery ovens today, upgrading the old models and installing new ovens in their new shops. The major breakthrough, though, came in 2007 when we got the contract to put the food-to-go ovens into The Co-op.
What’s been your most memorable moment in the industry and what will you miss the most?
Our most memorable moment business-wise would be winning the Asda contract in 2010. We went into that not even knowing what a tender was! We just thought we’d go in for it and see what it was all about and we ended up winning it, so that was quite frightening! They now have more than 1,200 ovens in their estate, freshly roasting chickens every day, and they take 200 to 250 ovens a year from us. I think the thing that Lisa [Nunn] and I will both miss the most is the people we have met along the way – all the staff, dealers and customers. I am not going to mention any names – they all know who they are and many of them have helped us along the way.
You have seen a fair few product launches from the factory in your time. Which Unox product that you brought into the UK was the biggest game-changer?
There has been a lot. The factory is very innovative. I guess you would expect me to say the Evereo ‘hot fridge’ holding unit, but I am going to say the first of the MindMaps combis, the ChefTop E-Series. We launched them at Stanbrook Abbey and I think at that point it put us up there with the big boys with regards to the belief that it gave customers. That range of ovens really put us on the map with the likes of Costco, Asda, Co-op and Shell in terms of providing an alternative mainstay oven.
What would you say has been the biggest lesson you learned during your time running the UK operation?
I think our biggest lesson learnt is the importance of remaining focused on your core beliefs and your integrity with regards to customers and staff. Never lose sight of what the customer actually wants and stay humble.
Where do you think the biggest growth opportunities exist for the business in future?
Energy efficiency is going to be a big play for people as the market opens up again. People are going to be concerned about energy and the cost of energy. Data driven cooking has a role to play in that because people need to visualise what the ovens are being used for and how they can monitor and manage them in-house. I think another key driver will be the franchise model. Certainly in the supermarkets, I see the chicken counter within the supermarket moving to a franchise brand. The supermarkets will probably just become landlords and have various outlets within the building. It is easier, they don’t have to control the staff and they have got no problem. I also think that there will be a shift towards some form of subscription-based supply within our industry. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
And what about your retirement plans – any big ambitions that you plan to fulfil?
I don’t have any big ambitions – I am just going to work very hard at doing very little, I think! In all seriousness, I quite like my energy conservation, I like my stocks and shares and things like that so I will dedicate some time to do that. I love my travel so we are going to travel more as and when we are allowed to. I’d like to walk the England Coast Path, which is 2,700 miles long, and stay at various places. I am going to hit that next year – I need to get a bit fitter first!
And, finally, any last words to add?
I just want to thank everybody in the industry that knows Lisa and I because they have all been very good to us. They have believed in us and stuck by us and we appreciate all the support. It has been a good journey.