Castell Howell Foods Excellent customer service driving depot’s growth

Matt Lewis is a Director at Castell Howell, a member of the Caterforce buying group, and runs its Cross Hands depot in Carmarthenshire, Wales. Castell Howell is one of the UK’s leading independent food wholesalers and is named after the farm, north of Carmarthen.

Originally farming cows and chickens, the company became registered in 1988 and started selling fresh chicken and frozen produce to local businesses before opening a freezer warehouse in Pensarn, Carmarthen in 1993. Expansion continued and Castell Howell now has five satellite depots in Cross Hands, Merthyr Tydfil, Avonmouth, Chirk and Blaenau Ffestiniog. It hit a £130m turnover in 2018 and extended its Cross Hands headquarters to 100,000 square feet last year.

Matt Lewis spoke to Wholesale Manager.

Where you based?

I’m predominantly based in Cross Hands, our head office and main distribution centre. From here we cover all of Wales and the border counties and also have five satellite depots which I regularly travel to.

How long have you been in this job?

I’ve been at Castell Howell for 15 years. During this time, the company has grown from £32.7m to £126m in 2018. When I started, we had four depots, so I’ve seen significant change and it’s been an exciting time.

Prior to this, I spent 10 years at Brakes in various management roles. I was part of the senior management team at the Highbridge RDC, managed the Swindon satellite operation and was involved in project work at the Chilled NDC in Grantham.

How do you spend a typical working day?

My day starts with a morning meeting with our Operational and Supply Chain Management team. We review our plans on a daily basis and then throughout the day I’m overseeing the execution of the plan across the business. We also review our KPI performance each day to ensure customer expectations are met and exceeded.

How long has this depot been here?

Our Cross Hands depot in Carmarthenshire has been here since August 2007. Originally it was 50,000 sq ft, today it’s 100,000 sq ft following an extension in 2018. The work included expanding our loading bay area and adding six new bays, enabling efficiencies in loading our fleet of over 100 lorries for their daily deliveries. Cross Hands is also our head office and our distribution, warehouse, telesales, accounts, sales and marketing teams all work from here.

How many staff do you have and who are the key people on your team?

We currently employ over 650 people in total. On a day to day basis I work closely with our days warehouse team, led by John Robertson and Nicky Bowen, our nights manager Andy Beare, our supply chain manager Mike McMahon and distribution manager Simon Lillington. As I work across all aspects of the company however and regularly visit our satellite depots, I work with a number of different people on a daily basis.

What is your weekly turnover? How does this compare to a year ago?

We currently take around £2.5 million per week, an annual growth of around 10%. We’ve increased this by continually improving customer service and expanding our delivery network. We always strive to provide excellent service levels, and this gives us strong organic growth. We’re seeing rising customer numbers and ensuring repeat custom. We have also seen results in turnover following our depot expansion.

How would you describe your business?

We are a family run business that is predominantly foodservice. We have a cash and carry business and have manufacturing sites producing bespoke items for our foodservice business. As we are a local business and based rurally, supplying regional produce is a core value. The business also has a unique culture that sets us aside from the competition.

Do you sell cigarettes and tobacco, crisps and snacks, confectionery, canned grocery, chilled grocery, frozen, microwave snacks, wines and spirits? We sell all of these apart from tobacco products. Our product range contains over 12,000 lines so there’s not many categories we don’t cover.

What’s your fastest growing category?

Our fastest growing category is ambient and chilled foodservice. This covers a huge number of products for our core customer base so it’s unsurprising. Consumers are more food-savvy than ever so fresh chilled food is growing faster in demand than frozen.

Do you buy direct from suppliers?

We buy direct from suppliers, particularly because of our focus on local produce. We invest around £10,000,000 in Welsh suppliers and manufacturers and due to our proximity to these and our knowledge of the industry locally, it makes sense for us to buy direct.

How much say do you have over products you stock?

We have full involvement in the products we take. We meet regularly with sales and purchasing and work together to discuss strategy for the listing and delisting of all stock items. This way, we ensure our product ranges reflect our customer needs and we understand these best.

How do you take payments in the depot?

We take both cash and card payments. I don’t think any business can solely work with just cash nowadays.

Do you take orders online/by phone app?

We take orders both online and via an app available on iOS and Android. We’ve really developed our abilities for digital ordering over the years, in line with the technology available and it’s an important area we will keep enhancing.

It’s imperative that our online and app ordering is simple, effective and extremely user-friendly. Our customers are busy, and we want to make this element of their job as easy as possible whilst still ensuring excellent customer service and full view of our suppliers and products. Importantly, our app also allows customers to easily and quickly check product ingredients and allergens, in addition to being an ordering tool.

Which days is the depot open? What are your trading hours?

The depot is open seven days a week, 364 days a year, as we’re only closed on Christmas Day.

What geographical area do you cover?

We cover all of Wales, the West Country and the South West of England from our five depots.

Who are your customers?

We cover the entire foodservice industry including restaurants, pubs, caterers and public sector including hospitals and schools.

Do you have forklift trucks?

We have more than 20 forklift trucks and we have a number of trained staff to operate them.

What Wholesale IT do you have?

We have an advanced ERP (enterprise resource planning) system that is our main tool across all our business functions. On top of this we have voice pick software, scan intake and, for our delivery vehicles, we have onboard CCTV, fuel management and vehicle tracking.