New winner Lowe is steering the ship through change
Diversification is driving growth in the refrigeration company, powered by prudent acquisition and technical investment
When Rachel McCausland took the helm of Lowe Refrigeration last year, the company looked very different to the one she had first joined in 2008.
At that time, the Lisburn-based company was primarily a refrigeration rental company, serving the exhibitions industry, but since then the business has diversified greatly, pushing into more industries and long-term rentals.
“I think exhibitions make up now 10 per cent of our turnover and when I came into the business in 2008 it was 90 per cent. We’re events-focused, retail-focused, and it’s not just short-term rental, but we’ve got quite extensive long-term rent streams,” the chief executive said.
All the while the company has extended its geographic footprint and grown through mergers and acquisitions (M&A), adding more technology functions to its repertoire.
“The business looks so different today than it did back in 2008,” McCausland said.
It is with all this change in mind that she thought it would be an opportune time to engage with the Ireland’s Best Managed Companies programme.
“I thought it was a good chance for us to get a view on how things were progressing,” McCausland said.
She had been aware of the programme for some time and felt it could provide validation of changes that had taken place at the company and that all of its strategic objectives were aligned.
“You do all these things and have all these measurements and strategic initiatives that you run, but actually getting them all down on paper throughout the programme process has benefited the business. It gives good visibility in certain areas.”
One of the core advantages of the programme, she said, was the one-on-one workshops with mentors, which benefited several members of the senior management.
“Everyone had an input into the process and what was surprising for us was the amount of investment that came from Deloitte and from the programme, in terms of the expertise that was available to us and the people in the room from Deloitte,” McCausland said.
“That was really encouraging, to see that there was that level of support and the one-on-one workshops in particular. We really made the most of that, getting the right level of feedback and support.”
More to manage
The company’s diversification of revenue brings with it many more moving parts in the company to manage. Aligning these different streams into one mindset can be a challenge for any company.
“Every organisation is unique. We’re highly diversified with lots of different work streams and lots of different markets and jurisdictions across the world. We rent to retailers in the US, and we rent to retailers across the UK and Ireland, but you deal with it very differently in those markets,” she said.
“We came out of a challenging time during Covid, like most businesses, and things are progressing well for us. It’s just good to get all that down on paper and have that kind of consolidated view.”
Such a view, she said, has helped Lowe take stock of its business lines old and new.
One of the newer revenue sources involves investment in technology, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve the operations of its refrigeration systems.
In 2021, Lowe acquired Spherica, a UK-based tech firm, that was absorbed into its LoweConex business unit. LoweConex builds and operates technology for real-time monitoring of assets like refrigerators to optimise their performance. The likes of supermarket retailers and fuel forecourts use the tech to get the most out of their investment and to reduce energy costs.
Change is constant, McCausland said, and the support of Deloitte through the Ireland’s Best Managed Companies programme has helped in managing both the old and the new as well as growing the workforce globally. The company currently has 400 employees.
“As the business grows and scales, we’re continually driving quite considerable growth. Those strategic objectives need to continue to evolve and change and align to what you need to achieve because the business looks different from last year and the year before.”
The US remains a key market for Lowe. It has been active there since 1990, but has recently ramped up that presence by opening a new facility in Texas less than a year ago. Closer to home, it has also recently opened a new facility in Spain.
McCausland encouraged other companies in a similar situation to consider taking part in the programme.
Open minded participation
“Make the most of the programme, the experts and the people that are involved, and be open minded to make the most out of being able to collaborate throughout the process, and also enter it whenever you feel that you’re ready to,” she said.
“Every business is on its own journey, and you can get a lot out of the programme, but it’s also what you’re able to put into it.”