The use of ice in Europe can be traced as far back to the days of ancient Rome. During winter, the Romans would bring it to Rome from the Alps, and then store it in underground ice houses until it was used in the summer… (ice history was explained in previous interview introductions)… but today, the EPIA is once again promoting the use of ice in Europe… We as members of the EPIA want to record the history we are making for future generations, and have implemented a program we call “Freeze Frame” to tell the stories of our members. Below is the latest official Freeze Frame interview with Polly Marr of THE ICE CO°.
(Interviewer) Would you tell me about your background and how you got involved with supplying equipment to the packaged ice industry?
(Polly) Before I talk about myself, I should provide some family background in order to put everything into perspective so that you can understand that my options were limitless while at the same time predetermined.
We must step back into history a bit to the 19th century. In 1870 my grandfather from many generations back, Joseph Marr bought his first fishing vessel. He had a vision and was determined to ensure a reliable supply of fish for his expanding fish processing business. He was soon to see the benefits of his approach and was able to profit from his control of supplies of fresh fish in a disorganized and volatile fish market. This was the period when the railway network was beginning to deliver fresh fish to areas of the country away from the coastline. This fueled a huge demand in sales for fresh fish, but fresh fish needed a lot of ice to keep it cool. Joseph again used imagination and provided ice to keep his product fresh during transport and thus became an active participant in this new and emerging market.
With the heady days of the local fishing fleets over, the crippling consequences of the “Icelandic cod wars” a hundred years later in the 1970’s, and the implementation of a stringent quota system, The J Marr Company looked to other markets that could make best use of their skills. Five generations on from Joseph Marr he might not recognise much of the family’s fishing heritage but he would recognize the entrepreneurial skills and enthusiasm for hard work that he used when he started the company.
With that background in mind, this is my life. I was born in Beverley near Hull which is in Yorkshire in the north of England. I grew up in a small village east of Hull and went to school in York (where the EPIA 2012 convention was held). I attended Queen Margeret’s School in EscrickPark near York for six years before college. As a young girl I could see myself enjoying the glamour of the silver screen as an actress. Having dreamt of a life on film sets and award ceremonies… (we can all dream), I decided to attend Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance. Rose Bruford is a leading British drama school, offering BA and MA degrees, based in Sidcup, Southeast London. I loved these three years in drama school and London. I even took some part-time jobs on the side to improve my acting skills whilst at Bruford. One of those jobs was working for a promotions company in London handing out leaflets in Leicester square trying to get tourists to go into vile and horrible clubs. I hated it and actually got asked to leave after being overheard telling some nice tourists that the club I was meant to encourage them to go to was rubbish and they’d have a much better time in Mayfair. Obviously I’m too honest and probably needed some method acting instruction.
I stayed in London for 2 more years after graduation in which I went to auditions alongside working for the family company as a sales representative for Ice Co London and Blue Keld springs. I really enjoyed my time working in London and I also enjoyed going to auditions.
As the months progressed there were a few cases in which my two jobs clashed. Did I go to the important meeting with a potential customer, or go to the audition? Well I chose the customer every time. After studying drama for 3 years and auditioning and acting for two more, I had to re-think whether I actually wanted to be an actress the rest of my life or embrace my family responsibility to work and do my part to continue the family business. Therefore I gave myself an ultimatum; embrace the historical family responsibility or create a new family personal accomplishment? A heady decision for a twenty-three year old. With the support of my family, I decided to give myself the opportunity to branch out and bloom on my own.
To give myself a fair chance to be an accomplished actress I attended one of the best acting schools in the U.S. The Lee Strasbourg film and theatre institute in New York City. The school is known for teaching and promoting the techniques of method acting. The school has many accomplished actor and actress alumni including Alec Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Matt Dillon, Kathy Griffin, Scarlett Johansson, Angelina Jolie, Sissy Spacek, and Uma Thurman. If Strasbourg helped them become famous, just possibly I will become as well known. For six months in NYC, I aspired to be of their caliber and with an extra three months to get some decent work after attending Strabourg, I was happy to return to the UK, move back to Yorkshire and focus on the rest of my life.
I’d given my acting career a fair chance and I was lucky enough to love the job at home and that is where I embraced my family responsibility and saw my future and where I have been ever since. I am coming into my 5th year back at the company, in reality I have been working there since I was 16 on and off in various factory and reception roles and have learned to love the industry, the company, and most of all the people I work with and meet on a daily basis.
(Interviewer) What role do you play in the day to day operation of your packaged ice business?
(Polly) When I returned full-time and fully focused on the ice business, I started of doing sales and then moved onto marketing. Today I am the Managing Director for THE ICE CO°, responsible for all sales and marketing in the UK. My day mainly consists of talking to everyone in the team, to know what is going on at all times as well as working very closely with our Board of Directors and my siblings who run the business alongside me. We each have individual roles: Phil is head of all production and engineering; and Belle is Managing Director of the whole of the J Marr group. She brings it altogether… the organised one.
(Interviewer) How many people do you employ during the busy season and during the “off season”?
(Polly) The J Marr group as a whole employs just over 250 people and the ice businesses currently have 60 employees across 4 factories and it climbs to around 80 in the summer, our peak season.
(Interviewer) What is the company’s management style?
(Polly) Charles and Bridget (my parents), Belle, Phil and I are the owners so we as a family along with the BoD do all the decision making. However Dad has taken a step back and is now semi-retired. Phil, Belle and I are the sixth generation (company founded in 1860) and we run the business together and if we can’t decide something it goes to the BoD vote.
Instead of people saying ask Belle, Phil or Polly we have a nickname: G6 (6th Generation). So this term is used on a daily basis… “Check it with G6… or One of G6 needs to sign.” It makes it a bit simpler.
(Interviewer) What is the typical work week? (number of hours/day and days/week start work at what time, normally end at what time, break during lunch for how long, etc.)
(Polly) We all work as long as it takes to get the job done, but this does vary with long and busy summer working weeks, then slowing down to normal hours in the winter months. I believe it is healthy to have an outside life aside from work so we do tend to stick to normal working hours where possible and then have chance to spend time with family and friends. You know what they say about “all work and no play” making Jack a dull boy, well the same can be said of Jill.
Outside of work I am a very keen horse rider and ride every weekend. I also like to do charity challenges. Last year I raised over £11,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support by riding a racehorse in a real race at York. There were 12 of us doing it in front a crowd of 30,000 people. A lot of people from the packaged ice industry sponsored me so if those of you that contributed and are reading this, thank you very much again for your kind and generous donations. As for this years’ charity challenge I am helping a friend who is biking 300 miles in 3 days, I won’t be riding myself but instead throwing a fundraising party to raise money for Yorkshire Air ambulance in memory of a dear friend.
(Interviewer) What is most enjoyable and least enjoyable about your ice business during the year?
(Polly) The most enjoyable: would be when customers praise us, (everyone loves praise) making big decisions for the future and planning where are we going to be and how to prepare for it in 2 years, 3 years or 5 years etc. into the future to make sure there is a 7th generation for J Marr Ltd.
The least enjoyable: the UK’s rubbish and totally inaccurate weather predictions and customers buying patterns reflecting this.
(Interviewer) What major challenges and problems did you face? How did you handle them?
(Polly) The event businesses are probably the most challenging, logistically and organisationally. For example music festivals in the summer, who always seem to order completely at the last minute, and are the most unorganised bunch of people I’ve ever dealt with. However, they do seem relatively easier to deal with now after the high stress and ever changing requirements associated with supplying the right kind and amount of ice at the right time and precise location for the Summer Olympics. And of course the obvious one of accurately forecasting the weather!
(Interviewer) What have you learned from your mistakes?
(Polly) Personally, I’ve learnt not to be afraid to make mistakes. If you are, then you never end up doing anything for fear of failure. Most mistakes can be corrected quickly and easily if you pay attention to your operation. I try to remember the old saying, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.
(Interviewer) What was the biggest accomplishment / failure since you have been managing THE ICE CO°?
(Polly) My personal accomplishment is winning the London Olympics ice contract. I can’t think of a specific failure since any mistakes seem to be corrected before getting out of hand. Like all other Icemen and Icewomen, one of the most important challenges is recruiting and retaining good staff. A mistake in the choice of personnel can have dire consequences to any business and this area must be watched and nurtured carefully. It is so important to have a good team and to make sure you look after them to correct, reward, and recognise them properly! Your personnel are what your company becomes known for to your customers and the community.
(Interviewer) What was the biggest accomplishment this past year?
(Polly) Winning the Tesco‘Best impulse supplier’ award 2013
(Interviewer) What are things your company has done recently to show how it values its employees and/or customers?
(Polly) We make a large calendar every year and all of our customers receive one of these. Our employees get free turkeys at Christmas. These small things are but tokens of how we treat our customers and employees. Mostly we provide a work environment and reputation both customers and employees can be proud to be a part of.
(Interviewer) What are the organization’s/company’s strengths and weaknesses compared to its competition?
(Polly) Great service and value for money products.
(Interviewer) What is the organization’s plan for the next five years? (Grow within your market, expand your market, or branch into new ventures, HOW?)
(Polly) Now that would be telling. But innovation is certainly a branch.
(Interviewer) What are the various ways employees communicate with one another to carry out their work?
(Polly) Shouting to one another down a long corridor. Speaking face to face, on the phone and emails.
(Interviewer) Are you HACCP certified? If so, when did you decide to do it and what issues did you have to overcome?
(Polly) We first completed a HACCP Study in 2001 and then were audited and certified by the European Food Safety Inspection Service (EFSIS) to be complaint with the technical standard of inspection for companies supplying retailer-branded food products. More recently we have been audited as complaint to the level of the Global Food Standard of British Retailer Consortium (BRC). BRC certification meets the GFSI compliance requirements for suppliers to major retailers, brand owners and manufacturers, and is especially suited for companies exporting to Europe.
The biggest issues we found during our compliance process was that people (our employees) don’t like change! We often overheard in the hallways and on the production floor; “Oh we have never had to do that before, etc., etc.” We retained a third party company to assist us with our staff’s mind set and to guide us through the various steps. This made the process work for us and now we have our own in-house Technical Manager looking after our group.
At this time Polly is still living in a flat in the center of York. To stay sane she rides (horse name) on weekends and enjoys family adventures.