Castell Howell Foods is a family- owned company which has grown from humble beginnings to become Wales’ leading independent food service wholesaler. That success has been achieved by remaining true to the uncompromising desire to look after their customers, as well as attracting and retaining staff who live their values and by working with local suppliers who mirror their culture.

WG Davies is proud to work with Castell Howell Foods and so we were delighted to talk to Martin Jones (pictured right), son of Brian and Elizabeth Jones who established the company back in 1988. Back then 80% of their business was selling poultry to the Co-op, who at that time could buy locally for their meat counters. “It was a good business model that worked well,” Martin related, “until they moved to centralised procurement and we effectively lost most of our trade overnight, because we could not supply their stores nationally.”

“There was one full time employee working with my parents, he had a young family and he needed the job. That motivated my father to look for new outlets for his poultry. He tried butchers and restaurants and quickly realised he needed to offer more than just fresh chicken, so he sought out suppliers who could add to his offering – it was effectively a new start for the company.” At that time, Brian established the blueprint for customer service which still holds true today. “You could phone him any hour, day or night, and he would respond,”

Martin told us “a classic example was when Huw Jones, who ran the Travellers Rest on the outskirts of Carmarthen, phoned my father on a Friday night at about 7pm. He said he had a problem, he had just run out of scampi. My father responded with “No problem, when do you need them?” and Huw replied “Well they are just about to finish their starters!” Of course, my father jumped in the car with a box of scampi, passed it through the kitchen window and the customer to this day would not know what had happened behind the scenes”.

“My father grew the business from a base of loyal customers, who really saw the value in the service he offered and wanted to give him more business. We knew we could not compete on price but we could respond to our customers in a way that no one else could and that established the culture of the business that still exists today.”

Over time the business moved away from farming and into food services but then the next bump in the road was delivered by Booker Cash and Carry. “Many of the dried goods we supplied to our customers; flour, beans and soft drinks for example were bought from Bookers. They quite suddenly decided we were no longer a customer in their Carmarthen store, we were competition and they would no longer sell to us. Once we had peeled my father off the ceiling, he announced that we would open our own cash and carry, which he did in 1998.” And with that the offering went from 2,000 to 6,000 products.

Further investment followed such that today the company is head quartered in Cross Hands, employs c800 staff and turned over c£160m last year. Martin is quick to acknowledge, “The company has grown rapidly and that is due to the quality of the people we have in the business. We have people who want to look after the customer and that culture is and always will be key to our success.”

Martin grew up on the farm, he was just 10 years old when the company was established and he describes himself as “either a spectator or involved since then. My first job was washing the lorries on a Saturday morning and then, in the summer holidays, I would go out on the trucks as a driver’s mate.”

Following a gap year, funded by working the night shift, Martin came back to work full time and today he manages the transport side of the business. Castell Howell runs a mixed fleet of 170 heavy commercials and 35 light commercial vehicles, which deliver 90% of what is sold. “Lately we have chosen MAN,” Martin explained. “We took our first MAN vehicles in 2018 and we found them reliable and cost effective to run. Other than preventative maintenance, we did not spend any money on them and I say that with confidence because I have a P&L on every vehicle thanks to software developed for us by a local company, Vehocheck.”

The word “local” pops up repeatedly in our conversation, “We always try to support the communities we operate in,” Martin explains, “we explore local options for products and services, and when we find suppliers who look after us, we will remain loyal to them for as long as they are in business.”

Most of Castell Howell’s fleet maintenance is carried out by two independent, local garages, with WG Davies supporting with warranty back up, technical advice, diagnostics and parts as required. Unlike most of the companies interviewed for the newsletter the day to day contact with WG Davies is therefore minimal. “The MAN product has served us well,” Martin reports, ”but crucially the support when we have needed it from WG Davies has been there, it is a safety belt. People buy from people and Roger is a thoroughly nice person. More than that, what is reassuring is that in the rare times that we have asked them for help, they have helped. This is testament to the way they look after their customers, it shows that even if you haven’t got a regular presence in their work shop, they will still go out of their way to look after a customer.”

In that respect there is a perfect match between WG Davies and Castell Howell; both companies are totally committed to looking after their customers and both recognise that success comes from looking after loyal staff members, while building long term relationships with suppliers, that are both fair and respectful.

Customer Spotlight: Martin Jones, Director of Transport Operations at Castell Howell Foods