Business profile: Ringo Francis, chief executive and founder, Zenith Hygiene

27 October 2017
Business profile: Ringo Francis, chief executive and founder, Zenith Hygiene

Zenith Hygiene celebrates 21 years in business this month, and at the age of 62, its chief executive and founder, Ringo Francis, is still very much involved in creating innovative products and in educating the industry on their importance. Lisa Jenkins reports

What are your highlights of 21 years in the business?
A major highlight was floating the business in 2005 and then buying it back in 2008. We made a million pounds in our first year and then doubled our sales consecutively. In 2006 we went to £2m, then £4m in 2007 and £8m in 2008.

We've enjoyed six years of double-digit growth, which can be attributed to an amazing team with fantastic experience. We listen to our customers and always aim to deliver a service that exceeds their expectations.

I've also learned to be more tolerant and relaxed over the years. I've seen most things and lived through one or two recessions, and I'm much more measured in my reactions.

I've also learned some important lessons in my time. I trained as an accountant and the first company I worked for was called Zenith Carburettors. It was there I learned the importance of listening to your customers, looking after your sales team, and never forgetting to innovate. I named my company Zenith Hygiene to remind me of these lessons.

What are your plans for the company in 2018 and beyond?

Any more acquisitions planned?
We are always looking for opportunities. The acquisitions in 2016 were part of our strategy and we worked hard with the local businesses we bought. They were all doing fantastic jobs, but for a variety of reasons couldn't take their businesses to the next level. They had all been about for a long time and some of them were looking for exit strategies, so we helped them and grew our business at the same time. We did carry on with some of the owners and staff from these businesses: Alex MacDonald from CCL Pentasol is our manufacturing director and Oliver Johnson is with us as part of ABC Hygiene.

How is Zenith Hygiene a sustainable business?
In addition to developing efficient hand dryers and water-saving urinals, we also have a collection of Bio Range products that minimise their impact on the environment. The range uses raw materials from natural sources that are biodegradable and provide an option for our environmentally conscious customers.

We have also invested heavily in a fleet of vehicles that are compliant with the latest EU legislation, and every lorry has a TomTom EcoPlus driver management system, which measures fuel consumption and helps us reduce our carbon footprint.

We try to be sustainable across the whole business and it's always part of our review process: can we be more efficient, which new raw materials and organic products can we use? Our larger corporate customers want sustainable products, but this is sometimes a price challenge for our smaller customers. But we do seem to have more traction in terms of the demand for sustainable products and our market share has grown in this sector, too.

Zenith Hygiene has recently launched an e-learning platform with CPL Online to teach its customers about hygiene compliance. Are there plans to diversify into any other areas?
The service with CPL Online is simply about adding value for our customers and it's another way we can offer a flexible service. Our customers can drop in and out of the training in their spare time, at whatever hour of the day, rather than attend a formal training course - unless they want to and we still offer these.

We had more than 100 people sign up on one Sunday recently. The online training is delivered as part of our service package and was developed as an animated programme in conjunction with CPL Online.

Aside from this, we are focusing on our core business, 90% of which is products such as paper towels, towel dispensers, floor cleaning chemicals and equipment, tea towels and gloves, among many other things. We also have a supply of tools, including glassware, utensils and crockery, which we can provide as a bespoke service. Lastly, there are our ancillary products, such as cones and signage.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing operators now?
I would imagine the biggest challenges would be the revaluation of currency, paying the living wage and a potentially limited pool of staff in the future - the same challenges we face, really. Our resource issue has led to us accelerating a plan to mechanise our manufacturing depot in Ireland, which means that we will need to employ fewer staff.

Disposable income will continue to be squeezed and operators will feel the pinch. We will endeavour to keep our prices steady, but they are everyday, essential items. The savings with our products come with proper training, more efficient usage and an awareness of the use of water and electricity. Operators should always review the number of products they are using too, and we can advise them on this.

What is Zenith's role in the industry?
Our mantra is 'Because Hygiene Matters', so we are involved in all sectors of hospitality. Our role is to ensure that everyone involved in this industry understands how important hygiene is. It's like spreading the gospel, but people still don't take it seriously enough. It's legislated that every operation must have hygiene products, but that's not always checked.

The companies I admire look after their customers and this includes taking hygiene matters seriously. They are BaxterStorey, which is in such a strong position now; Stonegate Pub Company, which has great leadership and has grown enormously; Nando's, which we have supported since its very first restaurant; and the Kaye family [the founders of Prezzo], who are amazing restaurateurs.

The future of Zenith Hygiene Global private investment firm Bain Capital Private Equity (owner of cleaning and hygiene supplier Diversey) has reached an
agreement on the terms of a recommended final cash offer for Zenith Hygiene Group, with completion anticipated to take place during Q1 of 2018, subject to customary anti-trust clearance.

Ringo Francis is excited to join Diversey and be part of a group benefiting from Bain Capital's integrated global platform and bold growth plans for Diversey,
and believes that all customers will benefit from the combination of both companies' innovations and application expertise.

Michel Plantevin, managing director of Bain Capital, said at the time of the announcement: "We are committed to growing Diversey's geographic reach and the addition of Zenith Hygiene would be a first valuable step towards creating a world-class provider of cleaning and hygiene solutions."

Ilham Kadri, president and chief executive of Diversey, added: "I am excited by the opportunity to build Diversey's local scale in the UK and Ireland with the acquisition of Zenith Hygiene. This combination, with the backing of Bain Capital, would create significant scale and help us serve a broader base of customers in key markets around the world."

Did you know?
•Ringo Francis has spent 30 years in the hospitality sector and his first company, Francis Chemicals, was sold to Diversey.
•Zenith Hygiene has 521 employees and 10 depots.
•Francis is a board director for Springboard UK and a trustee of Hospitality Action.

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