Q Catering stops at nothing to go beyond the call of duty

Roger Snelling started out as a delivery driver, supplying cross-channel ferries. Now he’s managing director for Kent-based Q Catering, he’s aware of how important it is to get things right first time. “Ships sail if you miss. It’s all about great service and we pride ourselves on our service and contact with our customer,” he says.

This great service takes several forms. Although Q’s cut-off for ordering is 11pm, it’s not uncommon for the company to receive orders at 6am and still get them on the road. “If we take any orders past 11pm then it’s down to the duty manager as to whether we can fulfil it or not, although we hardly refuse anyone,” says Snelling.

Q Catering opened its doors in 2003 with a 5,000sq ft depot, selling ambient and chilled grocery. “We found that although we could give our customers a decent offering on our grocery lines, there was a huge demand for frozen,” he explains.

Q Catering factsWhen the company moved to its current 17,000sq ft depot in 2010, it began to invest in refrigeration and joined Fairway Foodservice.

“When we first moved here, we had two years of 30% growth. Fairway has helped out a lot on the frozen side and made our pricing far more competitive,” he says. Q Catering currently offers 900 frozen SKUs but intends to increase this in the coming months.

Although its growth gradually slowed down to 10%, the company had to invest a further £120,000 15 months ago on an additional storage facility nearby. “We filled up our main warehouse five years earlier than we expected to. Now the additional unit is full, too, and I’m contemplating taking the unit next door. With refrigeration, as soon as you build it, you fill it up,” he explains.

This year, he plans to invest in IT systems and people. Q Catering has recently redesigned its website and is now looking at introducing mobile-friendly online ordering.

The company is also planning to open for six extra hours a day, making it a 24‑hour operation. This means that it will be hiring five more people and promoting a couple of members of staff to senior positions.

Though leaflet promotions have traditionally gone out with the drivers, over the past nine months, Facebook, Twitter and email have become more important. “We get around 40 different promotions from Fairway that we can buy into per month. It’s meant we’ve had to rethink the style of leaflet and invest in more complex printers that can produce eight-page leaflets.”

With such a focus on service, staff are incredibly important to Q Catering. “Our customers say to us they like that they can talk to the same telesales person each time and carry on the conversation. We tend to give one representative out there to one telesales. Quite often our customers won’t talk to anyone else,” he explains.

Drivers are also seen as very important for Q. With driving becoming increasingly expensive to learn and with the more stringent ‘certificate of professional competence’ being introduced for drivers, getting good drivers takes high priority.

“Before we let a new driver out, they take a course with the other drivers so they can see how we do things. I tend to pay over the odds on drivers’ salaries because they are the face of the company. Decent drivers mean good service,” says Snelling.

Information about customers is gathered in a central database that a variety of people in the business can see. It contains customers’ preferences, such as which door delivery staff should use and where to leave certain items.

depot“Our customers certainly notice,” he says. “A school can ring us up and say: ‘He hasn’t left me my flour,’ and you get in touch with the driver and he says: ‘Tell them to look in the flour bin.’ It’s already been put away.”

Schools have played a big part in Q Catering’s success over the past six years and Snelling hopes that the move to 24 hours will be complete by the time the schools reopen in September, to further capitalise on this sector.

“Kent County Council was right at the forefront in allowing schools to make their own decisions and there’s a huge number of academies. We can talk to them individually and give them a service they’ve probably never experienced,” Snelling says.

Q Catering services a wide range of outlets and ensures it stocks well-known as well as value brands – usually Fairway’s own-label – to give customers a choice. The increased demand for gluten-free has also presented an opportunity to offer new products.

“These products tend to be just as good as the others, so before we’d do a Victoria sponge and a gluten-free one, for example; now, we just offer one that’s gluten-free.”   

Looking forward, Q Catering isn’t planning on expanding its operational area but the company is hoping to move more into meat and fresh produce to attract additional customers in Kent, East Sussex and Surrey.

Snelling says he is lucky to have a great team of passionate people who are willing to help it happen. “They do it for the love of it. They feel proud that the company offers this sort of service. Hopefully, they also all enjoy working here.”


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