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. They even developed a way to make ice in North Africa where they would literally shield water in straw-lined pits (reflect the suns rays with their polished fighting shields) during the day. At night the temperature would fall low enough to freeze water. Pretty ingenious! Since those days many hundreds of years ago, the use of ice in Europe seemed to fall out of fashion, but today, the EPIA is once again promoting the use of ice in Europe. We, as modern day Icemen and Icewomen, are forging the way to making packaged ice an everyday commodity used by all. 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 Mark Allan of Keith Walking Floor. Mark is one of our supplier member sales representatives and the first supplier member to be interviewed.
(Interviewer) Would you tell me about your background and how you got involved with supplying equipment to the packaged ice industry?
(Mark) I was born in Fraserburgh, Scotland and subsequently moved to Huddersfield, Yorkshire England where my father is from. Huddersfield is a large market town about halfway between Leeds and Manchester. In the 2001 Census it was the 10th largest town in the UK and with a total resident population of 146 234. I am told that there has been a settlement in the area for over 4000 years, but that was way before my father lived there.
The town is well known for being the birthplace of rugby league. Rugby was first played in the town in 1848 and the Huddersfield Athletic Club, he direct progenitors of the original Huddersfield Giants, was formed in 1864, played its first competitive rugby game in 1866. Hudderfield changed the way that rugby is viewed today. A separate form of rugby goes back to 1895 when the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU) broke away from the established Rugby Football Union (RFU) to administer its own separate competition. Although many factors played a part in the split, including the success of working class northern teams, the main division was caused by the RFU decision to enforce the amateur principle of the sport, preventing “broken time payments” to players who had taken time off work to play rugby. Northern teams typically had more working class players (coal miners, mill workers etc.) who could not afford to play without compensation from admission fees, in contrast to affluent southern teams who had other sources of income to sustain the amateur principle. In 1895, a decree by the RFU banning the playing of rugby at grounds where entrance fees were charged led to twenty-two clubs meeting at the George Hotel, Huddersfield on 29 August 1895 and forming the NRFU. Within fifteen years of that first meeting in Huddersfield, more than 200 RFU clubs had left to join the rugby revolution that changed the tenor and quality of organized sports. As you can imagine Rugby and also Soccer is very important in the town where I grew up.
I attended MoorEndHigh School in Huddersfield and then like most young men in this area of the UK, left school to work as an apprentice. I chose to apprentice as an engineer for a local engineering firm called Hopkinson valve a major international supplier specializing in valves, actuators and controls. A few years after completing my apprenticeship I wanted a change of career and so I enrolled at HuddersfieldUniversity to study Mechanical Engineering. This was a good decision, not only is The University in the top 10 in England for teaching excellence and it is ranked in the top 10 nationally for undergraduate and postgraduate employability.
After university my wife and I (fiancée at the time) travelled throughout
Southeast Asia and Australia with a view to working in New Zealand. By
chance I came across an ad with a local employment agency looking for a
mechanical engineer to join their team, having earned real world experience as an apprentice engineer and recently graduated with my 1st class honours engineering degree, I was eager to put my new skills into practice. I was interviewed and offered the position.
I was enjoying working as a technical engineer for an engineering consultancy. They specialized in road transport in New Zealand. As it happens my employer was the NZ agent for KEITH® WALKING FLOOR®.
KEITH® provides a variety of solutions for handling bulk materials. The unique reciprocating slat design provides horizontal loading and unloading of nearly any bulk material or cargo and there products work well in the packaged ice industry.
I was often called upon to help on the technical side of sales and my employer asked me if I would like to sell the WALKING FLOOR® products splitting my time between the existing engineering role and sales.
This is really where it all began and how I now work for KEITH® selling their product with one of their many specialties being the KEITH® storage, metering and conveying Ice bin.
(Interviewer) What roles do you play now at Keith Walking Floor?
(Mark) My main role for KEITH® is sales, which includes supporting the products out in the field, trouble shooting issues and providing technical solutions and advice. My territory is UK and Ireland.
(Interviewer) What is the company’s management style?
(Mark) KEITH Mfg. Co. is a family business with the second and third generation continuing the high standards established by Keith Foster. The company continues to maintain a family like relationship with all employees.
(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)
(Mark) My role involves lots of travel and long days! Really there is no set time, you start and finish at whatever time to get the work done.
(Interviewer) What is most enjoyable and least enjoyable about work during the year?
(Mark) I really enjoy the sales side of my role by working directly with my customer one-on-one and providing the best possible service for the customer. On the least enjoyable side: sometimes our bins are kept in cold rooms at about minus 10° C for quality control, so it is very cold and you have to wrap up well. Here in the UK we are just not used to working in these low temperatures. For example the warmest month of the year is July when it might average 20° C and the coldest is February at 0° C. Minus 10° C is too cold for me to be comfortable.
(Interviewer) What major challenges and problems did you face? How did you handle them?
(Mark) What I have learned from past mistakes is try not to make the same mistakes again.
(Interviewer) What was the biggest accomplishment this past year?
(Mark) I like to look at my overall time with KEITH® and I get a great sense of satisfaction knowing that business in the UK has grown steadily over the last 9 years with this year 2013 on target to surpass all records so far. I am proud of that and the company also appreciates my accomplishments.
(Interviewer) What are things your company has done recently to show how it values its employees and/or customers?
(Mark) KEITH® is a family owned business with a global presence with facilities and representatives spread around all major continents. Having a closer working relationship with the owners can be much more rewarding than working for a large Plc.
(Interviewer) What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses compared to its competition?
(Mark) I don’t want to give away any company secrets, but I believe that KEITH’s strengths are innovation, reliability and customer service.
(Interviewer) What is the organization’s plan for the next five years?)
(Mark) If I look over the past 9 years of my time working for KEITH® Mfg Co. the plan really is to grow by expanding into new markets. The product is so versatile and with KEITH® Mfg Co. always looking to innovate KEITH® Mfg. Co. never stands still!!
(Interviewer) What are the various ways employees communicate with one another to carry out their work?
(Mark) Generally through email and telephone.
(Interviewer) Is there anything else you would like to add?
(Mark) It is important to maintain a high level of customer support to be able to continually have the confidence of my customers. I want to be a “go-to” person for my customers and be able to share the innovation and goodwill of KEITH® WALKING FLOOR®.
At this time Mark is still living in Huddersfield with his wife Amanda and 3 children aged 5, 2 and 10 months. As you can imagine their family lives are very busy looking after 3 young children. Amanda has recently joined the KEITH® team on a part time basis and is assisting him with admin work and she has been a great help. To stay sane they enjoy family adventures that include camping, walking, and cycling. Amanda is training regularly for a 10km run and their oldest, Jayden, is currently training for the 1.5km fun run.