‘We have a passionate belief in the quality of food
Burning ambition was what motivated Rick Holroyd and Nick Howe to set up independent contract caterer Holroyd Howe in October 1997. The pair had met at Sutcliffe 11 years previously, and were working for different independent contract caterers when they decided they wanted to run their own show.
‘We both worked for independents at the level below the owners. It was like climbing a mountain and yet not being able to stand on the summit,’ says Holroyd. ‘It was a personal goal to run our own company.’
Holroyd left Nelson Hind, where he was general manager of sales, and Howe left Baxter & Platts, where he was operations director. Financial backing for the venture came from Derek Johnson, former managing director of J Lyons Catering, who put in £80,000, and made a further £40,000 available if necessary. Howe, Holroyd and Johnson each have a third of the equity in the company, and Johnson has 50 percent interest in the voting shares.
The backing meant the company started not in a back bedroom but in 450sq ft of office space in a second-floor attic in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. In May this year the company moved to new 2,000sq ft premises in Amersham. ‘We were like sardines in the old building’, says Holroyd. Head office employs nine staff; the company total is close to 280.
The company has 28 contracts, and specialises in catering for corporate headquarters, which is where Holroyd and Howe have had their experience. Almost all contracts are cost-plus, and the remaining 5 procent are fixed-price. Annual turnover is £4.8m.
Established Holroyd Howe may be, but the three-year-old company still has something to prove. ‘Our net margins are less than three percent, and in the past year we have invested £100,000 back into the business in new offices, new people, new technology. That is an indication that we are committed to this business and that we are investing in the infrastructure that will allow us to grow’, Holroyd says.
What sets the company apart from its competitors, Holroyd says, is their passionate belief in the quality of the food it uses and its value-for-money approach. ‘Some clients have more money to spend than others, and our task is to spend it better than anyone else.’ Holroyd has watched the big boys merge, but does not feel it will affect his business directly. Instead he waits for another independent to be bought up, believing this is likely to bring him extra business. For the time being Holroyd Howe is not for sale – there is too much yet to do, Holroyd says.
Rick Holroyd on the record. Why do so many caterers set up on their own?I think any caterer worth his salt has a view of how he would run his own restaurant, be it one or several. It is part of the passion of the industry. That is a strong catalyst for someone to start up his own business, and I think that cycle will continue.Thinking about selling up yet?Absolutely not. We have so much to do and to achieve. We had a great start, and are quietly building a reputation, but there is so much more to do – especially for our own people. We are investing in training and giving them opportunities.Will the Granada-Compass merger affect you?When I see another independent sell up, I think that is great for us. There are some people who buy what independent caterers traditionally offer, but in terms of two big boys merging I don’t think it will make a difference.