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Background

Keble College is one of the largest of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford with 410 undergraduate and 250 graduate students. The College prides itself on the academic achievements of its students, and aims to offer a supportive environment in which learning can flourish. As such it is a vibrant community where students excel not only academically, but also in music, drama, and sport.

For 20 weeks of the year, once term time has concluded, the College changes its persona and the facilities are available to hire for commercial conferences and corporate events.  The majestic Grade-1 listed buildings convert into a fantastic facility that not only provides 245 ensuite bedrooms, but offers access to a tiered lecture theatre, a Victorian Gothic dining hall that seats 300, not to mention access to a fully equipped bar, beautifully tended grounds and additional meetings rooms, all on one single site.

The responsibility of managing the Domestic budgets, both as a learning college and a first class conference facility, falls to Nick French who is Keble College’s Domestic Bursar.   Within the last year, Nick has undertaken a review of the way procurement is managed for the College in key operational areas including food, laundry and cleaning products, in order to reduce overall spend, consolidate suppliers, while also looking at ways to improve overall visibility of exactly where and how budgets are being spent. 

Explains Nick: “We’re not just a college, as for approximately five months of the year, we run as a conference facility and hotel. With historic listed buildings comes the responsibility – and cost – to maintain them, therefore we need to be smart with how we manage our annual budgets in order to be able to reinvest money back into the college and the running of the buildings and wider facilities.” 

Review of procurement

It was in early 2015 that Nick embarked on a review of how procurement was handled – specifically for three areas; food, laundry and cleaning products.  Confirms Nick: “I wanted to identify savings, but not at the detriment of service or quality. I thought this might be a hard ask, however I was approached by Pelican Procurement and from the start I liked what I saw. There was no hard business sell and I was interested in finding out more about how they might be able to help me.”

Pelican is an expert in the procurement market, with over two decades of experience in helping organisations in a range of sectors manage their complete purchasing, supply chain, tendering, price negotiations, invoice management and more.

The first step was for Pelican to review existing processes and expenditure in order to determine what changes could be made, as Nick confirms: “After a couple of meetings, the team went through all our invoices, assessed our supply chain, ordering patterns and needs and looked to see where we could save money – and I am pleased to say they could. We then embarked on a complete tendering process to identify new contracts for our food, laundry and cleaning products. This was handled by Pelican from start to finish and the process was completely painless from my point of view.  After the tender process, the team presented their findings to me, the estate bursar and the chefs – it was easy to understand and the recommendations were very sensible.”

As part of the tendering process, Pelican was able to break the organisation down into manageable lots to assess the needs of each area – this included laundry, wholesale, fruit and vegetables, dairy, fish, fresh butchery and non-food.   While price was of course important for Keble College, service and quality of products was an important consideration.

Explains Nick: “Having gone out to a number of suppliers, we were able to identify a number of cost savings – in fact the highest was a collective saving of 20%, which would equate to over £90,000. We decided to opt for the second option however, as the suppliers were not only able to provide a cost saving of around 16% yet they could meet our strict SLAs regarding delivery timeframes and overall quality.”

The selected suppliers were Brakes for wholesale, Braziers Dairy, Linkclass for fruit and vegetables and two local firms for fish and meats, Haymans Fisheries and Aldens of Oxford Butchery.

Adds Nick: “A lot of companies will say you can save money however this will be achieved by enlisting national supplier miles away – we wanted suppliers in the local vicinity. We have to be responsible, as we have over 600 students who demand we act as ethically as possible. I respect that and am passionate about it. Plus, from a cost perspective, cheaper doesn’t always mean better. I need to be confident that what we order will be delivered in an effective way.  Price is not the only remit. It’s important to always consider the bigger picture.”

As far as laundry is concerned, there have also been savings achieved here.  When a large conference is underway, it can see in excess of 900 bed changes in a long weekend and therefore having a laundry partner that can deliver the service they need, and at a saving would be beneficial.  “This is actually a very important function at the college and so we were pleased to work with Pelican’s specialist in this field, Sue McMillan, who was able to handle the full retendering for laundry. We have been very pleased with the outcome, achieving an overall saving of 20% so far, with consistently high service levels,” enthuses Nick.

The advantages don’t stop there. Working with Pelican means they are able to utilise Pelican’s award-winning online system, Pi, which is a tool that is designed to deliver complete transparency over all purchasing matters, even down to being able to accurately cost individual menus and recipes, through to delivering immediate reports for auditing and management review purposes.

“Since we started we are still getting to grips with Pi, we can now track costs very easily,” said Nick. “It’s far more user friendly than other options I have looked at in the past.   The other advantage is that in the past, the catering team never had full visibility of purchasing. Now it is possible to log-on and track what is being spent and where; it also enables chefs to check the supplier list and see what products are on the approved lists, so they can be sure to keep within the parameters when ordering for recipes.” 

On top of this, the College is about to embark on the use of a new module of Pi – called Piranha – which is a menu costing tool. This enables Nick and his team to work out the exact cost of menus and recipes to the penny, per head, which is ideal when wanting to work out the costings for conferences or corporate banquets – it removes all the guess work and means we are able to charge the right ‘per head pricing’ to cover all of our costs, and make a profit that can be reinvested.”

Concludes Nick: “The team at Pelican are extremely proactive and completely on-the-ball.  They genuinely sit down and take the time to really get to know your organisation – they listened to us and importantly only provide advice that is best for us.  Their integrity and professionalism is to be commended.

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