Folds Road, Bolton, BL1 2SB

In The Press – Interview with our MD Ben Odling for FEJ Magazine

NWCE Takes Service and Support to New Heights

After achieving significant national growth, INCREASING THE Work force to over 70 team members and the forecast to exceed £10,000,000. NWCE is continuing to boost its investment in its in-house clean, test and repair department to help provide support for customers looking to keep their catering appliances in good condition, as the company also looks to retain its current accreditations and focus on its commitment to the Ceda apprentice scheme. FEJ speaks to managing director Ben Odling about the firm’s latest moves.

How would you best describe the activities of NWCE today? Is it fair to say you are predominantly a service and maintenance business – or is there more of an even split with the design, project, and sales activities?

NWCE’s activities are currently evenly split between maintenance, reactive repairs, projects and design, and sales of single appliance replacements. The business offers a comprehensive range of services to the foodservice sector, from independent businesses to regional and national chains. The strategy moving forward is to develop regional and national chain customer bases, with a focus on design and projects. The company also seeks to diversify its services and customer base by focusing on growth in the public sector and supporting facilities management companies.

The pandemic was a difficult time for the entire industry. How well do you think you have recovered from that period and are there any lessons about the business that you learnt during this time?

Reflecting on the pandemic period, NWCE took a strategic approach by seizing opportunities and investing in resources and infrastructure, which resulted in not needing a recovery plan. As a result, NWCE’s sales growth performance increased by 100% in year 1, 100% in year two, and is forecasted to exceed 10 million in year three. Additionally, NWCE diversified its business model by opening a design and projects department in year one, thereby spreading sales revenue and stability across two departments (service and equipment sales). Furthermore, NWCE targeted other sectors, such as critical infrastructure, education, and the NHS, to make the business less dependent on the private sector. The lesson learned from this period is to diversify the business and not rely solely on one sector.

Being Bolton-based, how much of your business comes from the North West and how much from elsewhere in the country? How difficult is it to achieve national scale, especially from a service perspective?

Prior to the pandemic, around 70% of NWCE’s service-related business came from the North, but since then, the business has grown its service offering nationally. Although volumes of work have increased in the North, they now account for around 50% of the workflow volumes, with the remaining 50% coming from the South. NWCE’s rebranding to NWCE Foodservice Equipment has also helped in our national growth strategy and services offered. Achieving national scale hasn’t been as difficult as expected, as NWCE has been allocated southern regions on merit when dealing with national accounts. This natural progression is a testament to the high standard of work carried out by us.

What kind of customers does NWCE work with? Have you historically focused on certain sectors, and is that likely to continue moving forward or are you seeking to enter new customer categories?

NWCE has primarily worked with customers in the hospitality sector, ranging from independent businesses to regional and national chains. Moving forward, NWCE’s strategy is to expand its customer base in the regional and national chain segments, as well as focus on developing its design and projects offering. Additionally, NWCE aims to diversify its service and reactive repairs customer base by focusing on the public sector and supporting facilities management companies. This will enable NWCE to expand its reach and offer its services to a broader range of customers.

What is your approach to catering equipment and refrigeration suppliers? Do you look to work with select brands – and, if so, which ones are important to your growth and development?

At NWCE, the strategy is to avoid putting all eggs in one basket when it comes to catering equipment and refrigeration suppliers. However, if a client specifies a manufacturer that is suitable for their business, NWCE will work with it. If not, NWCE will advise the client on what is best for their requirements, backed up by evidence and data. NWCE has a framework for selecting preferred manufacturers based on factors such as product quality, sustainability, warranty support response, and stock availability for appliances and spare parts. We have strong partnerships with our manufacturing partners, who have been supportive and responsive, especially during the pandemic-related supply chain issues. Some manufacturers have been proactive in finding solutions instead of obstacles.

You made a series of key appointments in the business in the last few years. How significant were those in the context of your longer-term strategic goals?

NWCE has strategically made a series of significant appointments across the business in recent years, aligning with its long-term goals for growth and development. The company places a strong emphasis on investing in internal talent and personal development, recognising that a skilled and committed team is crucial for success. These key appointments have enriched the workforce with diverse skill sets and introduced new ideas and strategies to future-proof the business at all levels, from director to apprentices. Internal promotions include John Dyer as the engineering team manager, bringing 30 years of experience, Dawn Edmundson as the service manager with 25 years of service and repairs-related business experience, and Phil Elliot as the procurement manager with 15 years of buying and supplier engagement expertise. In addition to these internal promotions, NWCE has also made strategic director-level appointments to further strengthen its leadership team.

Nick Brassett, with 35 years of equipment specifications and kitchen design experience, now serves as the commercial director. Lyndon Moorby, with 35 years of know-how in kitchen design and project management, has been appointed as the projects director. Lastly, Lisa Odling, with 10 years of operational excellence experience, now serves as the operations director. NWCE’s commitment to investing in its workforce also includes apprenticeships through the Ceda apprentice schemes, with plans to invest in more apprentices in the coming year. This strategic focus on talent development has contributed to a threefold growth in the workforce over the past three years, with over 70 team members now supporting NWCE’s long-term strategic goal of further growth and consolidation in the marketplace. These key appointments have been instrumental in shaping NWCE’s trajectory and ensuring its continued success in the future.

What’s on the agenda for NWCE for the remainder of 2023?

NWCE has several exciting initiatives planned for 2023. We have invested heavily in our in-house clean, test, and repair department to deep clean, test, and repair our clients’ equipment to bring it up to good working order, allowing them to reuse more of their existing appliances. This initiative aligns with our clients’ environmental sustainability goals, allowing them to re-purpose the existing equipment, reducing their carbon footprint and capital spend. Additionally, we will focus on retaining our current accreditations, including SSIP, Safe Contractor, Constructionline Gold, Gas Safe, and F-Gas. We plan to consolidate our position in the marketplace. We will also continue our commitment to the Ceda apprentice scheme, internal training and development. Finally, we will seek to expand their business into new and emerging markets.

What would you say are the biggest challenges facing a business like NWCE?

In addition to the challenges of supply chain stability and volatile costs for parts and appliances, there are other challenges facing a business like NWCE. One of them is keeping up with the latest industry trends and technology developments to ensure that the company remains competitive and relevant. Finally, there is the challenge of maintaining customer relationships and delivering a high level of customer service, which is essential for building a positive reputation and generating repeat business. In true NWCE style, we will tackle these challenges with a positive mindset, viewing them as opportunities rather than problems.

How do you view the competitiveness of the market landscape at the moment? With costs going up across the board, how difficult is it to price and win new business?

In terms of market landscape, NWCE sees it as a highly competitive one, with costs always being a factor in customer decisions. However, being a company run by engineers and backed up by excellent administrative staff gives NWCE an edge, as we can provide the correct advice to clients, gaining their trust and helping them save unnecessary spend in areas like maintenance, energy, and capital spend.

NWCE’s technical ability also allows them to specify the correct equipment for clients, resulting in significant savings for some of them, such as over £30k per year in energy costs for one kitchen alone for a national client. We also offer bespoke maintenance packages after visiting sites, surveying, and collating data on equipment usage, avoiding unnecessary spend on maintenance that is not required and preventing re-active call outs and equipment downtime for equipment with heavy usage. Overall, NWCE believes that having their clients’ best interests at heart and proving it through their services helps them retain business, leading to growth despite the challenges posed by the market landscape.

What do you see as the big growth hotspots for the firm?

We see growth opportunities in exploring new and emerging markets, which could offer potential growth opportunities. We also believe that our commitment to environmental sustainability, such as investing in electric and hybrid vehicles, recycling, and zero landfill initiatives, will not only benefit the environment but also attract clients who value sustainability. Finally, our continued investment in the Ceda apprentice scheme and internal training and development programmes will allow us to future-proof our workforce to support our growth.

How have you managed your phenomenal growth?

NWCE has managed its growth by identifying key growth areas and investing in the necessary resources to sustain and accommodate the growth. This included adding to the workforce, investing in infrastructure, and streamlining existing processes. For instance, NWCE changed its CRM, accounting, design, and estimating platforms, which helped stabilize the business and make it more efficient.

NWCE also invested in our award winning field service engineering software, Bigchange, which provides real-time updates for clients, better route planning, and environmental impact efficiencies. The company is managing to save 1.5 tons of CO2 per van. Additionally, NWCE uses Revit for design and 3D modelling, along with AutoQuotes for estimating, which has improved its product offering and saved time.

You have an award-winning business, 3 catering insight awards in the last 3 years. How has this been achieved?

We have always focused on providing a high-quality service to our customers, going above and beyond their expectations. This includes investing in the latest technology and training our staff to be the best they can be. We also constantly strive to improve and innovate, whether that’s through developing new services or finding more sustainable and eco-friendly solutions. Overall, it’s a combination of hard work, dedication, and a passion for what we do that has led to our success and recognition in the industry. Our team really are amazing, and these awards could not have been won without each and every one of them. It adds an extra layer of significance when our industry peers, customers, and suppliers vote on it, making it even more special.

Watch our informative video of where we have come from Our History – NWCE Foodservice Equipment