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Nisbets’ Klaus Goeldenbot: “We need to get closer to the industry, to be both customer-centric and entrenched in the industry as a whole”

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Nisbets’ Klaus Goeldenbot: “We need to get closer to the industry, to be both customer-centric and entrenched in the industry as a whole”

Nisbets is already a major player in the kitchen equipment supplies industry, and with the appointment of Klaus Goeldenbot as group chief executive, it has plans to be even bigger and better. Lisa Jenkins meets him to find out his plans after one year in the role

Klaus Goeldenbot begins our interview with a story about his first mentor, the flamboyant entrepreneur Professor Dr Reinhold Würth, also known as the Screw King.

Goeldenbot met Würth, the chairman of Germany-based Würth Group, a manufacturing giant of screws, fixings and fastenings, at his graduation lunch. Goeldenbot had planned to leave his home town of Germany for Paris, but Würth convinced him to stay and offered him a role at his components dynasty.

Goeldenbot admired and replicated Würth’s business philosophy of creating a corporate culture marked by values such as optimism, vitality, a high regard for employees and  their achievements, and a willingness to offer the best customer service.

“Würth had a mindset: to be successful in business, you should stay ‘forever young’, to create a culture where people act like teenagers, take risks, don’t always ask permission, and ask for forgiveness when things fail. An environment where people are continually learning and constantly curious, and where they can be allowed to learn from their  mistakes,” says Goeldenbot.

“I was with him for 10 years. The first two years as an assistant to the board, which was very glamorous, but then he sent me back to the floor into sales. It was tough selling to builders, but I learned what it means to understand the customer. Every person in an organisation has to deliver a great personal experience.”

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The next stage of his career took him out of Germany and to the UK, where he joined the world of electronic components: first with a short stay with Electrocomponents, followed by 14 years with RS Components – another market-leading, multi-channel global  business, based in Corby, Northamptonshire. He again made his way to the top, departing as president in December 2016.

In early 2017, after a few months’ downtime to recharge his batteries, Goeldenbot found himself on invitation-only executive recruitment website Nurole. There he discovered  a vacancy at Nisbets, Europe’s largest supplier  of catering equipment, for someone who could expand it internationally, inject new skills and take some risks. He saw the  synergies between this new opportunity and his previous roles and entered what he says was “a ballsy application”.

It worked, and after making it through pre-screening and meeting Andrew Nisbet –founder and chairman and director of Key West Holdings, a family-owned business which holds the Nisbet family’s investments – the job of group chief executive was his in August 2017.

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The National Catering Equipment Centre in Bristol, home of Nisbets’ Avonmouth outlet

A global giant

Nisbets’ most recent figures show a turnover of £380.2m for the year ending December 2017. Based in Avonmouth in Bristol, the company has a global presence with offices in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the  Netherlands, Spain and Australia, and an export division shipping to more than 100 countries worldwide.

Equipment sales are 20% is foodservice dealers; 15% in person at the retail outlets, of which there are 34; and the remaining 65% is generated online and offline by direct customers. “Those who buy across all channels are our best customers,” says Goeldenbot. “The enduring goal for Nisbets is to continue to grow with its omni-channel experience to allow us to interact with the customer.”

Developing its brands will remain central to this success, as it has over the past 20 years with lines such as Polar Refrigeration, Buffalo catering appliances, Vogue kitchenware, Olympia catering equipment and Athena Hotelware, which sell across all channels and generate a large proportion of sales. This is in addition to the big-name brands it sells  and distributes: Churchill tableware, Electrolux appliances, Gram refrigeration, Sous Vide Tools, T&G Woodware, Williams refrigeration and Winterhalter warewashers, to name just a few.

There are 1,600 people employed by Nisbets, with approximately 600 based in Avonmouth, and another 400 spread across UK field sales, country-wide retail stores and companies acquired by Nisbets, including Bradshaw microwaves, Mitre Linen and commercial interiors, design and servicing company the Space Group. The rest of the workforce is  dotted across the world.

The National Catering Equipment Centre in Bristol, home of Nisbets’ Avonmouth outlet
The National Catering Equipment Centre in Bristol

When it comes to the benefits offered by the company to hospitality operators, Goeldenbot is bullish: “I’m confident we offer them what every customer requires of a supplier: the ability to run their businesses efficiently, with access to a wide range of choice at a competitive price.  We have to save them time and we need to alleviate cost and inflationary pressures and provide a one-place-to-shop environment.

“It has to be convenient, as chefs, who seem to be the main purchasers, want to focus on cooking. I spent time in a lot of kitchens when I started this role to experience the need for equipment front and back of house. Chefs have so many other responsibilities that they don’t want extra hassle when buying a new piece of equipment. Whatever they order has to turn up on time and when we promised it. This is crucial. Saving operators time, relieving stress and delivering punctually – these three essential services are the ticket to the game. We’ve already done the basics very well, which is what has made us successful.”

In the future, Goeldenbot  says growth for Nisbets will come from a multitude of opportunities designed to crank up added-value for its customers, and this he will do with the help of Lynn King, Nisbets’ new marketing, brand and customer experience director (who worked with Goeldenbot at RS Components), and the rest of his senior management team.

Nisbets has recently completed a major piece of research and anecdotal feedback from his industry visits have led Goeldenbot to believe the challenges he needs to tackle are Brexit – inflation, tariffs, access to the labour market and freight price increases; food presentation – attracting more customers with eye-catching presentation and menu development ideas; and kitchens that are more efficient, with better extraction and a move away from plastic.

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The chefs’ favourite

Nisbets has excelled at e-commerce delivery, and it is close to its customers, but it has  perhaps been an enigma to its peers in the industry, always (up until quite recently) a tight-knit, quiet organisation. Goeldenbot and King plan to change this.

“What’s fascinating is that very early on after starting at Nisbets I was at a food summit hosted by Nick Jones at Soho Farmhouse, and everyone knew Nisbets – I had a very  positive response. One chef told me he loved Nisbets more than his wife! The chefs know us, but there is perhaps less connection with other people in the industry,” he admits.

King adds: “We need to get closer to the industry, to be both customer-centric and entrenched in the industry as a whole. We need an industry voice and to feel part of it in return. We hope to tell our story to more  people and play an active role.”

King explains how Nisbets has innovated in the digital world by pioneering technology that has kept it ahead of the curve, but now the businesses will focus on the processes  to be successful too, with mobile ordering  platforms, apps, and kitchen and procurement technology.

She will be heavily involved in the sustainability and CSR journey as well. “We have already developed our green range and we work very closely with eco-friendly packaging and catering disposables company  Vegware. Now we have to look closely at ourselves and ways that we can be more eco-friendly, including reviews of our packaging and transportation policies.”

As for expansion plans, Goeldenbot says this will follow a long-term strategy for growth which is being written now, ready for the autumn, incorporating the research results. “It will include organic and acquisitional growth,” he says.

Goeldenbot has delivered exceptional   business results, achieved profitable growth, built high-performing, multi-disciplinary teams. It seems his skill set will be put to good use at Nisbets.

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