Chip off the old block

Listening to Victoria Hopkins,  Managing Director of Pudsey-based Hopkins Catering, it’s clear to see that ambitions at the long-running family business are as high as they have ever been. With the redevelopment of their dated home into a crisp and contemporary facility as well as improving their online offering, Hopkins are cooking on gas.

You are in the process of a renovation project at your facility in Pudsey. What triggered this investment into the site and what is the plan?

We have rented our current facility for 30 years, and we had outgrown it. The building was falling apart and needed money investing in repairing it, and I was ready to move on. While looking for a new property, this building came on the market. I put in an ambitious offer and got it for a steal.

Phase one, which wasn’t a cheap exercise, was replacing the roof. Phase two was renovating the reception, drawing office and factory area. My grand-dad’s office has now been renovated to the drawing room.

Phase two will be the main office area, which we hope to complete by September.

Is there any other aspect of the business that will have to develop with your now increased capacity?

Another thing for this year is our website. We are in the tender process for this at the moment. Our current product list is 5000, and that will be going up to 20,000, so we need to make sure our B-2-B e-commerce solution is ready to cope with the increased stock size.

Online is an area of the business that we have turned our focus to, and not just recently; it has been an on-going process of improvement over ten years. In the catering equipment sector we were one of the first companies to move into that market, but since then a flooding of the market has pushed down prices.  When we shifted our attention back to the factory, knowing the cost that we would incur, we put our digital strategy on the back-burner until our facility redevelopment was complete.

So now we have completed the factory refurb and reconstruction, we have once again set our focus on digital.  At Hopkins, we feel that digital will be key to the next five years and we think that combined with our new business development team, it will increase our turnover ten-fold in coming years.  The old purchasing style was very much new businesses would come and visit our showroom and view our equipment.

On design and planning, we found that people were taking our recommended equipment list and buying a cheaper product elsewhere.  What we are looking to do is have a system where people can go on and design a kitchen online, and we will step in and offer advice where needed.

It sounds like the focus of the company is evolving. What spurred the rethink?

I had to change the focus of the company to stay ahead so, whereas before we were very much a fish and chip range manufacturer, now we are an engineering company that produces fish and chip range fryers.

So the e-commerce side of the business is very much a drop-and-ship approach where we buy in products from other producers and distribute them to the catering industry.  As for the manufacturing side of things, we increased our efficiency, so something that once took us eight weeks to produce now takes us eight days. This means that, as victims of our success, we have to fill that space in our production schedule.

That forced us to take a look at who we were as a company. What we realised is that the key product we offer is a skill. We are a traditional manufacturer in every sense of the word. Our ranger fryers are produced predominately by hand with very little automation used in our production.  We have highly-skilled craftsmen on our floor who are innovators in fabrication.

I can see us being a go-to manufacturer for prototypes. We have some brilliant items in development at the moment. People come to us and ask us for working prototypes that may be taken to the Asian market for mass production.

You mentioned international markets. Is international trade important to Hopkins or are you solely UK-focused?

We did not go looking for international trade, it is something that found us purely by chance. One day we came into the office and had dozens of enquiries from Australia. It all stemmed from a reality TV show that had aired following a British couple that emigrated to Australia and set up a fish and chip shop.

We have now in a short time sent over 20 frying ranges to Australia and have seen demand continue.  Following the success in Australia, we then started to look at the North American market. What we found that was interesting was that for a country that consumed as many fries as the US was the lack of chipping and peeling machines that were in use.

Our chippers will cut a 56lb bag of potatoes in a minute and a half so as you can imagine that is something the American market have been very enthusiastic about bringing on-board.  Production of these machines is currently based here, but we are looking at moving production for the North American market to the US.  Export is an ever-increasing aspect of our business and now accounts for 12% of turnover.

What does the next year hold for Hopkins Catering?

We are excited to see all the hard work with site and web development come to life. With Brexit rumbling on in the background, it has meant that we are seeing a bigger demand from overseas for our products with the pound being weaker. I think the next year is going to be our best yet and a real landmark for the company.