Crest of a wave

Medina Foodservice has achieved rapid growth, doubling turnover in the last five years, but managing director Steve Ross insists he has been cautious not to overstretch its resources. “It’s been gradual growth, rather than getting loads of new customers in one go and risking letting them down,” he says.

Reliability is important for any delivered wholesaler, but it is crucial on the Isle of Wight where Medina is based, says Ross. “On the island everyone knows everyone else. Word of mouth is very strong, and that’s how we have won new Features > Business,” he explains.

The company can trace its roots back three generations to a butchers shop opened by Ross’s grandfather in 1947, and has been supplying meat to caterers for several decades, but it only became a full foodservice wholesaler in 2001. At this point the company bought a warehouse next door to its premises, to store ambient and non-food products, and changed its trading name from Medina Meats to Medina Foodservice to emphasise its wider remit.

Ross had worked in the business since leaving school in 1988, becoming a director in 1997, and his wife, Caroline, joined as accounts manager in 1998. The husband and wife team took over running the business when his parents retired in 2002.

Turnover in its first year as a foodservice wholesaler was around pound;2.5m and Ross says the company is on target to reach pound;5m this year. The business was boosted in January by the acquisition of the franchise to become New Forest Ice Cream distributors on the island, in a deal which included an existing depot.

“Buying the franchise introduced us to lots of new customers,” Ross says. “They were previously only buying ice cream from them, but now they are buying other items from us such as baguettes and cheese.” It has also enabled Medina to offer an enhanced range of luxury ice creams and desserts to its catering customers.

While the company can show steady year-on-year growth, business is seasonal with peaks during the summer and troughs in the winter. Schools, care homes and the island’s three prisons all provide steady year-round Features > Business, but Medina also deals with about half the island’s catering outlets, most of which rely on the holiday trade.

overnight orders

In January weekly turnover is about pound;36,000 to pound;46,000 a week, says Ross, but this can climb to more than pound;180,000 a week during the yachting regatta and the August bank holiday. To cope with the extra summer Features > Business, temporary office workers and four extra drivers take the total number of staff to more than 30. Extra transport is also required with three hired vans taking the total to 13.

A standard working week is Monday to Saturday, but during peak times in the summer the business operates on Sunday too and Ross’s day will start at 4am. The business also takes orders overnight with one of the telesales team starting work at midnight. “Chefs finish for the day and then phone through their orders for the next day,” says Ross. Up to 100 orders can be placed in a typical night.

Telesales is a vital part of the Features > Business, says Ross, and he has invested in state-of-art technology to support his team. When a customer rings in, the system will identify them from their phone number. When the call is answered their order card is displayed on screen, enabling telesales staff to see a customer’s previous orders. This can be important, says Ross, because chefs are often too busy to place orders themselves and give the list to someone else to make the call. “If the list simply says a box of cod, we can tell them when they last ordered it and how much,” he explains.

As a small company taking on the likes of 3663 and Brakes, in addition to many local competitors, Ross says one of the factors that has helped give Medina an edge is membership of Sterling Supergroup. The most obvious benefit is the purchasing power a buying group can offer, with better prices and overrider payments, he says, but there is much more to it than that.

“It is a very close group, almost like a family,” he says. “There are a lot of people all in the same business and you can discuss issues and share advice.” The telesales system is an example, he says, where he bought it after discussions with fellow member Castell Howell Foods.

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