FEM Celebrates 20th Anniversary

‘Can do’ approach fosters success and long-term relations with suppliers, distributors and staff. 

Jim Doherty left and Harry Hogan founded FEM in 1993July 4th 1993, a small office in Glasgow.  The phone rings.  Two men look at each other across the desk.  It rings again.  A hand picks up the receiver.  “Hello, this is FEM.  How can I help you?”  As it happens, it was the BT engineer, but it’s significant because it was the first ever call to Foodservice Equipment Marketing (FEM), which celebrates its twentieth anniversary in 2013.

Back then the company employed two people – the founders, Harry Hogan and Jim Doherty.  It looked after one brand, Vollrath.  It had 3,000 square feet of warehouse space.

Now FEM is one of the UK catering equipment industry’s leading importers, employing 26 staff, with a raft of market-leading brands in its portfolio, supplying products for next day delivery from its 35,000 square feet warehouse in East Kilbride.

The official anniversary being on July 4th ties in nicely with the fact that many of FEM’s partner manufacturers are US companies.  “Jim and I met at a CEDA conference in the early 90s,” says Harry.  “We launched FEM because we both saw a great opportunity: at that time most of the imported equipment came from Italy, but we knew there were plenty of excellent manufacturers based in the USA.  FEM was formed to import and distribute US products in the UK and Ireland.”

Harry and Jim have become one of the best known ‘double acts’ in the catering market, the key to their success being the partnership that exploits their different skills, Harry as managing director and Jim as sales director.

The pair forged their first deal at the NRA Show in Chicago in 1993, with Vollrath – a company FEM still represents.  In fact, one of the keys to FEM’s success is the company’s ability to form long-term relations with supply partners.  Vollrath was soon joined by Prince Castle, Manitowoc Ice and Hamilton Beach, all of whom are still working with FEM. More recently Cambro, Sirman and San Jamar have been added to the portfolio.

The company has similarly long relationships with distributors, customers and staff.  Loretta McDougall, Harry’s P.A., has been with him for 37 years!  Having worked with him at their previous company, she joined FEM shortly after the launch.  Many other key staff have been with the company for almost twenty years.

FEM’s product range has expanded organically over time.  It now encompasses just about every area of catering equipment, from volume storage to prime cooking, refrigeration and display, from the kitchen to front of house.  Alongside lines that are appropriate for any commercial kitchen – safety gloves, cutting boards, combi ovens – are specialist products such as salt and season portioners for quick service outlets and high volume, hot holding bins.

“The variety and breadth of the portfolio is one of the things that set us apart from other importers,” says Jim.  “We’ve got products from spoodles to smoker ovens.  I think the variety also reflects our ‘can do’ attitude, which filters through to everyone in the company.  All of us are willing to go the extra mile for our customers and our suppliers.  Harry is happy to muck in in the warehouse if a customer has a panic on at 4.30 on a Friday!”

Two years ago FEM began working with Alto-Shaam. “This is one of the biggest and most respected brands in the industry,” says Harry.  “The relationship underlines FEM’s position in the market in 2013.  The company’s product range has added a new dimension to our offering.”

Throughout the economic downturn, FEM has continued to grow.  Jim says the quality of the brands the company represents has been a factor.  “When every penny counts, a reputation for reliability and performance helps get the sale,” he says.

As for the future, FEM is continuing to invest in its infrastructure.  “We’ve recently recruited an executive chef, whose job is to support end users and help them exploit our products’ full potential,” says Harry.  “We’ve also expanded our sales and support team with a national accounts manager and a sales manager for our Irish customers.”

Things are very good on the supply side, too, adds Jim.  “These days, while we still keep our finger on the pulse in terms of innovative products and opportunities, manufacturers are as likely to approach us as we them.”

Although celebration is the order of the day, Harry has no doubt about the prime message from FEM for 2013.  “It’s a huge thank you,” he says.  “Thank you to our customers, our suppliers and our staff.  Roll on the next 20 years!”