Foodservice consultancy SeftonHornWinch (SHW) has expanded its business to include implementation and procurement services as part of a move to safeguard its future for next 20 to 30 years.
With founding partners Derek Horn and Ken Winch gradually reducing the amount of time they spend in the business in line with a phased exit plan, managing director Gareth Sefton has restructured the operation and is looking to grow the variety of services it offers.
SHW is now effectively built around three pillars, each of which is a legal entity in its own right: Design, which is the core SHW consulting business; Strategy, which incorporates foodservice management services; and Implementation, covering project management and procurement and installation advice.
Sefton told FEJ: “I am looking to develop services in the consulting market that I think will see us through for the next 20 or 30 years because I think the existing consulting services may have got a bit stale now. We face pressures from different areas of the market in terms of dealers and suppliers, but most importantly of all I just want to set ourselves apart from our competitors.”
The launch of the Strategy division is designed to bring the Kent-based outfit up to speed with others in the market. “This side of the business isn’t new for a lot of people, there are management consultants out there,” acknowledges Sefton. “It’s a new service to us to really catch up with some of our peers in the market and provide that management and cohesion between offering strategy and design.”
The move that is likely to raise most eyebrows, especially among the distributor market, is the launch of the Implementation division, which sees SHW branching into project management. This idea was primarily born out of the job it did for Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, when it formed a working partnership MJB Project Management. MJB’s Michael Bennett has now joined SHW as a full-time employee to lead the Implementation business.
“What came out of that was that we could offer a procurement and project management service, which was still fee-based and independent, but non-profit on the actual equipment itself. We haven’t become a dealer, we haven’t become a contractor. We charge a fee for our services and negotiate procurement deals for our clients, with the idea being that they place the orders, not us. Again, we are not setting ourselves up with the means to fund or bankroll the cash flow of the projects.”
Sefton insists this model isn’t as unprecedented as some might assume. SHW partner Ken Winch has worked this way with restaurateur and Wagamama founder Alan Yau for the best part of 15 years, providing kitchen design and consulting services on one side, while a project manager oversees the procurement aspects.
“It is just a different way of doing it rather than going to a traditional kitchen house. By virtue of the fact that you are dealing with procurement agreements direct with manufacturers and you have got a fixed fee, the client placing the order knows exactly how much it is costing them and what the costs are. You are avoiding any smoke and mirrors of margin, and we are being upfront by saying this is our fee, which is effectively what our margin is. Whether it turns out to be cheaper or more expensive than going down a traditional route, who knows? It is not for every client and we are not going to sell that service to every client that we have. There will also be a limit on the size and scale of it.”
I get the sense that as soon as a consultant does anything else other than offers advice, everyone else jumps around and gets upset”
Sefton said that he has established the three divisions of the business as separate companies to enable the principles to have shareholding in each, without crossing over. Miles Berkeley is a shareholder of SHW Strategy, alongside Sefton, while the same arrangement applies on the Implementation side with Michael Bennett. Each division works alongside each other offering their respective services.
Sefton said that as far as he knows SHW is the first design consultancy to formally offer a project management service, adding that he held “frank discussions” with various kitchen houses about the development prior to going ahead with it.
“I explained to them that on occasions the client may not want to go down the contractor route but would still prefer to keep the relationship with us. What we are doing is simply offering procurement advice to our clients and a standalone fee for the project management. We are only on our second project now, so it is not like we are going to take over the market by any stretch of the imagination. And, as I said, we are not bankrolling projects, we are not doing contracts and we are not tendering on our own projects.”
Sefton argues that the enlargement of SHW’s portfolio in this way is no different to a traditional catering equipment distributor bolting consultancy or design services onto their business, which many have done for years.
“It is as much contracting as a contractor does consulting. And in that sense I mean that all the contractors do their own little bit of design work. I don’t necessarily see that as competition to us because if a client goes down that route it is, by and large, unlikely that they would engage a consultant anyway, so it is not as if I have lost that work. And I think the principle remains the same in the other direction. The contractor market shouldn’t think that they’ve lost out to that job because it highly likely that job wouldn’t have gone in that way anyway. I am not out to upset the market, we are still tendering to the market, and the kitchen houses that we work with are still continuing to work with us.”
While some might accuse the company of blurring the lines between the traditional roles of the commercial kitchen supply chain, Sefton suggests the boundaries have been changing for years and that companies simply need to do what’s best for their circumstances.
“Over the last 20 years I have been in this business, the suppliers, manufacturers and contactors have changed and developed quite a lot. The consultants are the ones that haven’t, so maybe it is our turn to develop and change. We will not react to the market because of what the contractors or the manufacturers want, we will react to what our clients want. And if that means that we change and maybe parts of them change, then so be it. I get the sense that as soon as a consultant does anything else other than offers advice, everyone else jumps around and gets upset. I am trying to look after my potential clients and what I feel they want as a service.
“For a couple of years now we have been splitting out the tenders, so that the larger parts of the scheme, like the coldroom refrigeration, cook suite and ventilation, might be a direct order anyway and then a contractor picks up all the loose bits and does fabrication. This is just one step on from that. But at the end of the day we are a fee-based consultancy and that doesn’t change. What we are doing is packaging up project management and procurement as a fee-based service. People might suggest that is contracting, but it is clearly not when there is a scope of services and a fee and we are not funding the project.”
Asked if being involved in project management and procurement would increase the chances of preventing a kitchen being ‘value engineered’ — an issue that most consultants find irritating —Sefton replied: “If you think about kitchens circa £250,000 to £300,000 then we feel net manufacturer pricing plus our fee will remain competitive for our clients. So what you might find is that there is less of a requirement for value engineering because the job comes in a little bit cheaper anyway. But a lot of clients still want competitive tendering because they think competitive tendering gives them value for money.”