If you are looking to fit out a commercial kitchen, there is not much that you can’t get from Lockhart Catering Equipment. But in an era where everything from cutlery to the latest combi ovens can be procured online, over the phone or via a catalogue, the company is working hard to bring an even wider, more stylish and affordable set of products to the market. FEJ editor Andrew Seymour sat down with managing director Paul Nieduszynski to find out why the company still has some more growing to do yet.
You’ve been focusing hard on expanding the business over the past 12 to 18 months. How has that been going?
We are growing sales quite aggressively, we are growing the number of products we sell very aggressively, we are growing the number of customers that we are selling to and we are growing the number of people that we are employing. So we are really proud of what we are achieving in the business and on every front we are getting to the sort of results that we are looking for.
How does that fit with the longer term plan that you have for the business?
I would say that in terms of our long-term plan we are quite ahead of where we expected to be at this point. And we have almost been surprised at how quickly the business picked up. The plan was really to put a lot of the investment into the business in 2014, including the setting up of a bigger product team, a marketing team with a studio, and restructuring and adding to the sales team. 80% of the resources that we added in 2014 went into demand-creating roles to really support us in getting growth. And we were surprised how quickly that actually kicked in.
80% of the resources that we added in 2014 went into demand-creating roles to really support us in getting growth. And we were surprised how quickly that actually kicked in”
Are you having to review the strategy now then?
We are in effect because there is some rebalancing happening. Just over 70% of the resources that we have added so far this year have been to serve the demand that we created last year. So we have this balance of creating growth versus serving growth, and we kind of tipped a load in on one side and the growth came early, fast and big — it caught us off guard a little bit. We were always planning for success but not quite as much success as we actually got. And a few big projects landed at the same time, we had the UIFSM programme, which provided a nice piece of growth when it kicked off, and a couple of customers won some big orders themselves.
How difficult do you expect it to be to maintain the growth, especially without the same level of UIFSM work this year?
This year is a little bit harder because we are now putting growth onto what was good growth last year. We were coming off a fairly flat base back in 2013, the growth curve and the inclination really started, but now we have got to achieve on top of that. The bar is always being raised. We have had a really good first half of the year and we are performing really well within the Bunzl group and they are very supportive of our strategy.
They are continuing to want to invest in our business. You have seen a lot of good stuff coming from Lockhart in terms of the suppliers we are working with and the own-brands — or our ‘exclusive brands’ as we call them — and the marketing machine is up and running. But there is still some stuff that we haven’t launched yet and a few things we are keeping close to our chest. We have got at least two or three major projects planned for 2016.
Are they product led?
No, not necessarily. We are not ready yet to unveil what they are but I am really keen that we have put this investment in and people are seeing what that strategy looks like; they are seeing the sort of products that we are launching and the marketing that is coming out. There is probably a view out there in the market that, ‘well, we now know what they are going to be doing’— well think again because there are some really good things planned for 2016. Some of those things will create more demand and some of those things will help us serve the demand that we are creating.
Do you think the market perception of Lockhart has changed over the past year?
I think we are changing the perception. When I first arrived in Lockhart I did a big piece of research with customers and non-customers and we got a very good view from that of not just where we were strong in the eyes of our customers, but also in comparison to our competitors. That really helped me solidify what the team was telling me that we needed to do with the business. At the end of 2014 we replayed exactly the same research so that we could see how much we had moved the dial in 12 months. We have always been perceived to be very strong on service and talented people, we were perceived to be quite weak on price, particularly versus Nisbets, and we have always been perceived to be quite strong on innovation.
We have worked really hard to tackle the price issue and we have done lots of aggressive direct marketing. We have saved the market hundreds of thousands of pounds in the price points that we have been putting out there and from the fact that all the competitors dropped their price points. The perception has moved quite significantly with customers and non-customers as to how Lockhart prices its products, and that is probably the biggest change we have seen in the last 12 months. I also think we have taken another step forward in innovation. With our Old Trafford and Wembley events, and the ‘Trend Set’ magazine and website, and the work we are doing with chefs, I think the view is getting stronger that if you really want to differentiate your food proposition then Lockhart is the best place to be.
We have saved the market hundreds of thousands of pounds in the price points that we have been putting out there and from the fact that all the competitors dropped their price points”
How would you assess the operator market place now?
I think the market is quite buoyant and we are seeing lots of groups investing right now. They are investing in menu changes, refurbs and new sites. They are looking for sales growth, market share gains and they are looking to differentiate their food offer. Our positioning as a real, genuine product specialist in the market gives us that ability to help.
What do you think chain customers expect from you these days?
A lot of chains are going through big changes in their market themselves, whether they are being bought by VCs or because they have got aggressive roll-out plans or menu change plans. It is pretty challenging to support them because just as we want to grow really quickly, so do they. We are seeing really lumpy projects coming through that are putting a lot of strain on the supply chain, but because of our breadth of range and strength and the relationships we have got, we are in a really strong position to support them.
Our team is working immensely hard and we are project-managing some very chunky orders. All our kit has got to arrive at the site at the right time and we have got people going out there unpacking stuff, helping customers open their restaurants. I think we helped nearly 300 restaurants open last year, from the planning stage to opening.
What about areas of future improvement? There must be things you feel you should be doing better at?
Always. We are pretty strong in most of the areas — we are very strong in national accounts, we are very strong in the design business and with the large customers. If you just take the factual market share stuff, we are weaker in the smaller independent market. There are lots of good regional players and a couple of large, decent competitors of ours in that area but we are really starting to make inroads, and we have done in the last couple of years. We continue to see it as an area where we can achieve good growth.