THIS month's profile on Williams Refrigeration originally had the focus on "Britain's largest independent refrigeration manufacturer" but in mid-July owner Mike Williams sold his total holding to Glynwed Consumer & Foodservice Products Division, owner of Falcon Catering Equipment..
The acquisition creates Britain's biggest catering equipment manufacturing business and fills a major gap in Falcon's capabilities, both in product and export terms. As well as entering the refrigeration sector, Glynwed stands to gain plenty of synergy in single-source marketing and distribution. Service back-up is also enhanced with the combined business - including Service Line, which became a wholly owned Glynwed subsidiary a few days before the Williams purchase - now fielding over 120 engineers.
The exact turnover of the enlarged business is not known, since Falcon turnover figures are not quoted separately. Glynwed Consumer & Foodservice Products Division declared sales of £163m in its last full year, with profits of £15.7m, but those figures include manufacture of domestic cookers, fires and sinks - under household names like Aga-Rayburn - as well as Falcon, Wholesale Catering Equipment (Britain's largest equipment wholesaler) and the Service Line maintenance business.
So what happens to Williams now? Mike and Barbara Williams, the sole shareholders, have left the business but all the existing board members remain and the Williams company is expected to continue as before, now with a Glynwed logo on its letterhead.
David and Goliath
Mike Williams started the company in the late 70s when he left a senior management position at Foster Refrigerator, based just down the road from Williams in Kings Lynn. The two companies have long had different corporate cultures, with Williams tending to play David to Foster's Goliath).
In fact, Williams has achieved remarkable growth over the past 20 years. Latest group turnover is thought to stand at £60m, around £16-18m derived from UK sales of Williams-manufactured products and the rest from the company's other interests.
These include three dealerships - Don Valley in Doncaster (also known as Fast Freeze), Frost Refrigeration in Kent and Atlantic Cooling in Edinburgh - each operating as an independent cost centre. Williams also has significant overseas interests, with manufacturing/distribution facilities France, USA, China and Australia and sales in over 40 countries.
The Williams product range has spread steadily into all areas of catering refrigeration, augmented by servery and counter manufacture through the takeover of Coldseal two years ago. The Coldseal factory now also produces Pearl budget cabinets and Thermowell worktop salad units.
Williams' production, which operates under the ISO 9002 quality management system, does not stop at refrigeration. The company also makes heated cabinets, mobile heated trolleys, dough retarder/provers and a recently developed line of doughnut fryers.
Other Williams innovations include conduction chillers and composite cook-chill centres. One of its latest developments - dubbed the Glycol Coldstore - could prove a boon for larger catering sites running a number of cabinets. A self-contained unit, sited away from the heat of the kitchen, pumps a rapidly cooled secondary cooling medium to all refrigeration cabinets and coldrooms in one network.
The change of ownership will, according to marketing manager Simon Aspin, enable Williams to compete on a level footing with combines like Hobart-Foster. "We have always been a thorn in their side, but never had the resources to go on an all-out offensive. We now have greater resources and can truly supply turnkey projects."