Like many entrepreneurs before him, Chris Craggs’ decision to set up his own business came out of adversity, when the catering equipment company he worked for went bust.
Undaunted, Chris had just the right background to go for it himself. He’d started work washing dishes in hotels and catering establishments, progressing into hotel management, before moving into the equipment supply side. His extensive knowledge of the commercial kitchen business meant he knew the opportunity was there and decided to take the plunge.
Taking two colleagues with him, selling his house and buying as much of the catering equipment as he could from the receivers, he set up McFT.
From these small beginnings in 1992, McFT has grown to 103 people in the UK, with 40 in the Middle East.
More recent streamlining of the business, to just the maintenance of high-end catering kitchens, has led to an enviable client list that includes leading world-class educational establishments, airlines, corporate head offices and prestige car manufacturers, to name just a few.
In the first 10 years, an awareness that he could leave himself in hock to financial institutes meant Chris preferred to grow organically, without external input, at a rate he could control.
This self-sufficient growth has paid off. The business now turns over £10 million a year and is delivering astounding year-on-year growth of 25%.
Originally, being based in Berkshire was more by luck than intention. But recognising and maximising the location’s benefits wasn’t luck.
As Chris points out “The Thames Valley is a place where you can take things a lot further, even a seemingly mundane business. This is a prime location for growing a high-end quality service-based company.”
“We couldn’t be in a better area. London is the ultimate UK hub for our ideal client base, closely followed by the south-west quadrant that encompasses the Thames Valley, from M40 to M3. There isn’t the same depth [of our target audience] anywhere else.”
In the early days, Chris made the most of Business Link Thames Valley, which introduced him to the FD who would mentor Chris for the next 10 years.
“He was massively beneficial as a wise head and sounding board.”
Today, Chris is a member of the Maidenhead Chamber of Commerce, and whenever possible, attends Business United, a select group of business owners and managers.
Instead of networking, he invests in the future by taking groups of employees and interns to events at the Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship, run by University of Reading’s Henley Business School.
Chris believes that rather than seeking out a ‘talent pool’, businesses should do more to attract and retain young talent.
McFT’s outreach to schools, colleges and universities, in the UK, North America and the Netherlands, has led to a steady pipeline of young talent, while the catchment and location are both key elements of recruitment.
Once they’ve attracted great talent, their training, support, encouragement and ethos of nurturing people pays dividends and has seen McFT awarded Platinum Investors in People and receive a Princess Royal Training Award.
As a postscript, Chris was delighted to receive 97 applicants for their next intake of six trainees starting on the 1st June, this is for a company that’s hardly a household name, that spends very little on advertising, in the over-employed south-east.
Chris is right when he says,
“It CAN BE DONE in the Thames Valley!”