Rupert Gatty: Keeping his cool

By Ged Henderson

01 Aug 2023

Rupert Gatty

Rupert Gatty is still getting used to his new business role and you get the distinct impression that he’s not finding all aspects of the transition particularly easy.

The founder of CoolKit, the UK’s largest specialist in temperature-controlled vans and winner of the medium business category in this year’s Red Rose Awards, is stepping away from the day- to-day management of the business to concentrate on strategic development.

And to enable that to happen, CoolKit has recently completed a restructuring of its executive team. Rupert, who has worked hard to recruit what he describes as “consummate professionals” to key roles, describes it as a “crucial, transformational step change” for the business.

However, he admits taking that step back is a personal challenge: “I’m still remonstrating with myself how to remove myself from certain processes. It’s a transition that is still ongoing and I worry that I might become too distant and not have an adequate handle on what’s going on.

“I’m on a journey. The less day-to-day issues there are to think about, the more clearly can I concentrate on strategy implementation and innovation. And it is really good to see people taking ownership of their particular domain. It will make us a stronger proposition.”

Rupert has promoted finance director Daniel Miller, who joined the business last year to oversee digital transformation and growth, to managing director.

Motor industry veteran Mike Scappaticci has arrived as sales director, joined by Matthew Kershaw, a highly experienced engineer and director of the influential Northern Automotive Alliance, as head of operations.

With an ambitious plan for growth, the first target for CoolKit’s team is to optimise manufacturing output to meet the increasing demand for its products – which include temperature-controlled van conversions and insulated box bodies, ready converted vans and portable refrigerators.

Chief executive Rupert, who launched the Burnley-based business in 2005, is massively enthused by the direction of travel. He says: “I’ve never been more excited about the prospects for the business. I feel we are on the springboard.”

He explains there wasn’t one single ‘light-bulb moment’ when he realised the need to bring in top level expertise to aid the growth journey he was embarking on.

Instead, he says: “I was always inclined to bring in people with more skills and more experience to try and help us and recognised the fact the whole business needed to be more accountable on all fronts moving forward. It can be really challenging but if you persevere you can find the right people.

“We are now at the stage where we have the opportunity to really accelerate, and we are making some really substantial decisions to facilitate that acceleration.”

Those decisions include deciding which major investments will enable doubling of production by early 2024 and exactly which products will most effectively target the expanding e-grocery sector and its transition to net zero.

CoolKit has that drive to net zero firmly in its sites. For some time now it has been developing a range of innovative conversions for electrically powered vehicles (EVs) by addressing the multiple challenges of payload, range and total cost of ownership (TCO).

The work includes collaboration with world-class vehicle manufacturers such as Ford and Stellantis. They have engaged with CoolKit at an engineering level to benefit from their specialisation. Sales of EV conversions for temperature-controlled deliveries are now up to around six per cent and growing steadily

The new management team has also devised a clear strategy to secure national customers with large light commercial vehicle (LCV) fleets, building upon the company’s traditional customer base of smaller fleet operators.

With a clear ESG agenda now defined, Rupert says the company has a clear focus on upskilling its workforce – with the added benefit of improving its versatility.

He adds that a new employee strategy has also been developed. It includes an employee  benefits scheme to build further on the existing offering that includes a four-day-working week and hybrid working where appropriate.

The scheme also provides healthcare and death-in-service cover for the benefit of employees’ families. There has also been a focus on capturing feedback from the workforce.

Rupert says: “It all means we have a much more attractive package when it comes to recruiting.

It’s not all about pound notes, sometimes people want something that is more value to their family and their wellbeing at large.”

He is proud of the fact the first four people he employed in the business at its very beginning, former billiard table makers, are still with the company, adding: “They are incredibly talented at what they do and the true stalwarts.”

He stresses that throughout all the changes CoolKit will continue to apply itself to solving the complex transportation challenges faced by companies in the pharmaceutical, foodservice, home delivery, sampling and courier industries.

Its products are designed to maintain precise, critical temperature control in transport – ensuring the safety and regulatory compliance of the customer’s payload.

The business announced record sales orders for 2022 of £21.8m, an increase of more than 48 per cent over 2021. That intake included orders for a record 361 fully converted new vans – making CoolKit a substantial dealer in new vans in its own right.

Shrewd forward planning addressing global supply chain shortages has seen CoolKit commit to stocking nearly 600 new vans in 2023, with models from all the major manufacturers in the pipeline to meet pent-up demand in the market.

It expects that its sales order intake for 2023 will exceed 2022’s figure, with orders totalling £14.5m already secured just halfway through the year.

Such has been the shortage of new stock that CoolKit has found for the first time it is receiving enquiries from major fleets and supply chain intermediaries such as fleet management and leasing companies, all keen to get their hands on additional new vehicle stock.

Rupert says: “Our markets saw a huge resurgence in activity post-Covid, especially within the foodservice and hospitality industries, which were decimated by the pandemic.

“Although we were impacted by the global supply chain challenges, we took a calculated risk to combat stock shortages. We were able to use the strong relationships we’ve built with suppliers to ensure we could obtain stock. The risk paid off and has resulted in this substantial growth in our order book.”

Setting up the business could be seen as another risk that has paid dividends. CoolKit emerged from the ashes of a failed company when Rupert, who was sales director, decided to go it alone at the age of 39. He took out a loan and re-mortgaged the family home.

He says: “The reality was I was unemployed at the time and I didn’t fancy working for anyone else again. I felt it was time to take responsibility for myself.”

Describing taking the plunge as “initially terrifying”, he adds: “There were setbacks along the way, and you need to learn quickly from failings – but above all else you must always leave your customer in no doubt that they made the right choice in choosing you, no matter what challenges are faced.”

That experience is now helping inspire the next generation. Rupert is entrepreneur in residence at the University of Central Lancashire, offering his support, business advice and mentorship.

As well as giving something back, he sees his relationship with higher education also providing “mutual insights and collaborative opportunities”.

Returning to the theme of his new role, Rupert talks about spending more time developing external relationships, strengthening ties with key customers and building the CoolKit brand.

He adds: “The new management structure we have put in place is all part of the appeal of the company.

“It is also about encouraging people to optimise their roles. And I’m learning not to step forward quite as often, letting others do so instead.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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