Crash led to winning start

Southern Hospitality, New Zealand's largest hospitality and food service equipment supply company, was last night named the supreme winner of the 2012 Westpac Otago Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards.

The awards were announced at a black tie function at the University of Otago attended by more than 240 people.

In 1989, business colleagues Roger Fewtrell and Hyam Hart were facing the loss of their jobs as the sharemarket crash was taking its toll and the company they were working for was closing its Dunedin branch.

Convinced they could set up their own company and deliver products to the hospitality industry, they approached a bank, and with a loan, three staff and a used green van, Southern Hospitality was born.

Within 12 months, the company turned over its first $1 million.

In 1996, a major competitor in Christchurch made three staff redundant, so Mr Fewtrell employed those staff and opened a second branch in 2001. That was followed by a branch in Queenstown, after which the focus turned to Auckland where, in 2002, the Parnell branch opened with 16 staff.

By 2005, there were branches in Nelson and Tauranga.

In the company's submission to the chamber judging panel, Mr Fewtrell said one key to success had been the policy of employing sales staff with hospitality industry experience who were able to offer experienced-based total supply solutions to the diverse customer base.

In 2008, sales of $60 million were recorded and by 2010, with 14 branches, Southern Hospitality was firmly established as New Zealand's leading hospitality supply company.

Deliveries were often hampered by supply delays. The solution was purchasing an interest in a stainless steel manufacturing company in Christchurch. Two years later, Southern Hospitality took an interest in a stainless steel company in Auckland, followed by one in Wellington.

"This enables the company to deliver large projects on time and at a competitive price," Mr Fewtrell said.

Last year, Southern Hospitality also bought into a joinery business providing cabinetry and custom-built joinery.

Awards convener Ali Copeman said the standard of entries was "extremely high" this year.

The awards are held every two years.

"We need to be congratulating ourselves and celebrating our success."

It was encouraging to see some of the larger companies re-entering and winning awards this year, she said.

The Otago awards received more nominations and final entries than both the Auckland and Wellington business awards competitions.

Otago chamber chief executive John Christie said the judges had a difficult time short-listing the finalists because of the high standards of entries.

"The entrants were put through a rigorous process before they were short-listed."

Mr Christie likened the process to a job application, where a CV was presented followed by an interview process to confirm the details and experience.

Mrs Copeman said the decision-making process was robust and there were some strong arguments made during the selection process.

"These awards are about celebrating success across Otago. We get surprised each time by companies we think we know, but at a second look, they are doing so much more," she said.

-dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz

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