- When fire broke out at Deliwraps, this family-run supplier to the independent food industry was determined to make turn a disaster into an opportunity
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Are you prepared for disaster? What would you do if your business was flooded out or ruined by subsidence? Disasters can and do strike and it’s important that you have contingency plans and, of course, make sure your insurance policy is up to the job.
One speciality food industry supplier which hasn’t let a small thing like a fire get in the way of business is Deliwraps, suppliers of purpose-made wrapping for cheese, meat, fish, sandwiches and other sorts of wrap to independent food retail businesses. Sales and marketing executive Jonathan Howitt describes how the morning of Saturday 9th May 2015 got off to a decidedly bad start.
“The phone rang at 6am and my wife took the call,” Jonathan says. “She said, ‘You need to get down to the factory. The business is on fire.’ Your heart sinks when you get a message like that, but I drove down to the factory, where my dad and my uncle already were, the fire having started around 4am.”
Deliwraps had been making its dedicated wrapping on an industrial estate in Grantham, Lincolnshire for 30 years, although the company itself is older. Housed in a brick building with offices across the front and a two storey warehouse and factory at the rear, the interior walls and roof were asbestos-lined but this didn’t stop the flames which were producing the pall of black smoke Jonathan saw as he crossed the police cordon that morning. Jonathan thinks that as many as six fire engines may have attended the blaze.
“It didn’t look as bad as it actually was,” Jonathan says. “You could clearly see there was a fire going on. There was a lot of smoke rising out the top of the building. One of the fire trucks had got the boom out and two guys were on top of this, looking down, trying to damp the roof down with the hose to give themselves more access to extinguish the fire. The majority of the fire appeared to be contained in one of the corners of the building, kept there by the prevailing wind. Although there was a lot of activity in one area of the building, the rest looked to be okay.”
This proved to be wishful thinking. “Hot spots kept igniting,” Jonathan says, “it was three days before it was safe enough to go in and we were able to survey the extent of the damage.” What Jonathan and the Deliwraps team saw was a scene of complete devastation. “We lost everything,” he says, “the entire manufacturing facility, one of our warehouses, all the machines, all the samples, all of our printing plates, the inks, everything. The only thing to survive were the offices, which were protected by two fire doors, which did their job.” Not quite everything. It was ironic, he says, that despite the warehouse being filled with rolls of combustible paper, being packed too tightly to burn, the rolls were only “singed at the edges.”
Despite such dispiriting scenes, “throwing in the towel was the last thing which would have happened,” Jonathan says. “We were already thinking of what needed to be done to carry on while the building was still burning.” This family firm “saw the fire as an opportunity,” Jonathan says. “One step back, two steps forward.”
“Since the fire,” he says, “we have been involved in damage limitation and doing some fire-fighting of our own in order to keep things going. We have been expediting planning and building and finding a temporary place to shoehorn the temporary machinery into. It was never on the cards to roll over.” The fire has in fact provided opportunities for the firm “to refocus, regroup and look at rebuilding,” Jonathan says.
“In the first three months we have got printing, sheeting and guillotining back in house. 80-90% of what we do on a daily basis is now under our control again.” Rebuilding is planned to start soon, with plans in place for a single-storey building to house the replaced machinery. This machinery, Jonathan says, “will allow us to offer better quality and also sharpen up what we are doing and run slightly faster, so we can bring down lead times. The new press has a different printing-plate system which is cheaper as well, so we can pass that cost on. All in all, we have become a lot more streamlined and efficient.”
This upbeat attitude is shared by the rest of the Deliwraps team. With new and improved plant, better warehousing and BRC accreditation on the cards, the future for this key supplier to the independent food industry is, Jonathan says, “looking a lot more solid. We will be able to offer the same high standards of a service, with a higher standard of product quality.”
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