Steel firm finds niche in unique kitchen solutions

Labourers work in a steel factory in Siliguri, India. In Kenya, Sheffield Steel Limited uses cutting edge technology to offer solutions that save clients time and money. REUTERS
Labourers work in a steel factory in Siliguri, India. In Kenya, Sheffield Steel Limited uses cutting edge technology to offer solutions that save clients time and money. REUTERS 

It would be logical to assume that an engineer in the business of building commercial kitchens would focus on the nuts and bolts of the equipment.

But Suresh Kanotra, the managing director of Sheffield Steel Limited, a Top 100 SME, says he always starts with the menu.

“Our job is not just to provide a piece of equipment that a client asks for, that’s what a trader does,” he says. “We start from getting a full understanding of what the business is in order to figure our why the equipment is needed and in the process identify additional needs we can serve.”

Understanding the business of clients or potential clients has become the competitive edge that has provided Sheffield Steel with the impetus that has seen the company make it to the roll of honour for Kenya’s fastest growing small and medium sized businesses the Top 100 Club.

Mr Kanotra’s company bills itself as providing all-round solutions to entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry including kitchens, restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

A typical example is a client who came from India seeking a machine to steam sweet corn.

“We turned that basic idea into millions of shillings of business for him by allowing him to think big and see the huge potential in the street food market,” says Mar Kanotra. “Selling food on the streets in hygienic, attractive settings is big business in many countries around the world and our customer realised that he could bring it here and target potential consumers who are uncomfortable eating in kiosks.”

Sheffield uses cutting edge technology to offer solutions that save clients time and money.

“Our competitive edge is that we look at the simple operation of cooking in a totally different way and using our engineering knowledge find solutions that save our clients money,” says Mr Kanotra.

That could come in the form of reducing the number of cooks needed in a commercial kitchen or even saving the amount of energy consumed in there.

Sheffield represents a number of international brands such as Tedesco, Everest, Berjaya, Pratica, Rancilio, Commenda and CookMaster in Kenya.

To illustrate the importance of having the right equipment, Mr Kanotra uses the example of a simple gas burner heating a pan of water.
“Most people do not realise that as the burner throws out the flame most of the heat generated is lost to the atmosphere and only 10-12 per cent actually heats the water in the pan,” he says. “Now imagine if there was technology that could ensure that all the heat transmitted from the burner is heating the pan. This does not only produce faster heating but also increase the profits because it cuts the energy costs giving the entrepreneur that opportunity to pass the benefits down to the customers in the form of right pricing.”

Mr Kanotra says his organisation believes that any institution thatproduces 200 meals or more per day qualifies for a technology that saves on cooking costs.

He first started off as a consultant before opting to start his own company with a business partner in 2004, starting off with five employees.

That number has since grown to 60 most of who are below 30 years of age. “We pick our talent raw and concentrate in nurturing those who are hardworking and show a hunger to grow in the job,” says Mr Konatra.

“We train them ourselves as there is no local college producing technicians who are proficient in stainless steel technology.”
Last year in a challenging environment that was mainly characterised by slow economic growth, Sheffield grew its turnover to Sh184 million and expects to hit the Sh200 million mark this year.

Sheffield also produces a wide range of stainless steel fabrications on order at its factory in Nairobi. These include railings, panelling, lighting fixtures, door handles, outdoor sculptures, reception counters and steel furniture.

Its latest product is a custom-made mobile kitchen with Kenchic as one of the first takers. Kenchic showcased the kitchen which costs between Sh500,000 and Sh5 million at the ASK Nairobi showground where it was a big hit.

The company has recently expanded into the region by setting up a branch in Uganda. “Being in the service industry we have to open full fledged branches as opposed to having agencies.

The problem with agents is that they tend to be traders without service support which is what we’re about. We have to be physically present in the market so that we can replicate our culture there,” says Mr Kanotra.

In preparation for further expansion across Africa the company has doubled its factory size from 15,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet.

Mr Kanotra says that the biggest challenges for the business are culture and infrastructure. “It is expensive to operate in Kenya. For us to become a truly global company we need excellent people with skills and this is not a problem but the poor infrastructure, corruption and bureaucracy at the port contribute significantly to the costs of doing business.”