Sunday, February 8, 2004

McHale's Catering boosts
its profits by streamlining


Enterprise insight

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

McHales
Chuck McHale, owner and president of McHale's Catering and Event Specialist's, and his wife, Jan, oversee catering inside The Gardens of Park Hills banquet hall. "From 1998 to 2002," McHale says, "we doubled our sales but cut the number of events we did in half."
(Ernest Coleman/The Cincinnati Enquirer)
PARK HILLS - Three generations of McHales have shared a love of the food business as well as an entrepreneurial bent.

Charles McHale Sr. established a grocery store, M&W Market, in Covington during the 1950s. His son, Charlie McHale, honed his butchering skills at the Toledo School of Meat Cutting and in 1965 opened Junior's Food Market in Covington. Not surprisingly, his store featured freshly cut meats. Two years later, Charlie moved his market to a new building, established a second location in Florence and renamed his enterprise McHale's Meats.

By 1976, Charlie's business included a store in Fort Wright and a deli and catering operation. Ten years later, McHale's Meats logged $7 million in sales - but lost its driving force when Charlie McHale died. His wife delegated the management of the business to their son, Chuck, but increasing competition and consolidation in grocery retailing caused them to sell McHale's to Remke Markets in 1990.

Ten months later, Chuck McHale bought back the Florence market and took a fresh look at its prospects.

CATERING TO NORTHERN KENTUCKY

McHale's Catering & Event Specialists' sales have grown between 20 percent and 30 percent annually; Chuck McHale expects that sales in 2004 will continue to grow. During the recent economic slowdown, corporate business slowed but was offset by an increase in social bookings.

McHale estimates that weddings make up about 65 percent of his company's dollar volume, but no more than 50 percent of its events. The wedding receptions the company handles average 230 guests and can cost anywhere from $4,000 to more than $15,000. McHale's prices its events as a package, with no "to be determined" costs.

The company employs 15 people full time and 75 part time.

McHale's is at 1622 Dixie Highway, Park Hills. Information: 442-7776 or www.kycater.com.  

Jenny Callison

"There was so much increased competition - not only from Meijer and Kroger and Thriftway, but from little butcher shops," he said. "There were three butcher shops in the immediate area. I knew that to survive, we needed to do something more. I decided to put more emphasis on our catering."

Although he had no intention of quitting food retailing, Chuck couldn't help but notice the numbers as the balance shifted.

"Our growth was better, our profits were better, and our staffing was easier," he said. "In catering, you know two weeks in advance how many people you will need. In retail, you open your store at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. and have to staff it regardless of how many customers come in."

By 1995, it was obvious to Chuck McHale in what direction he wanted to go. McHale's was selected as one of three caterers by The Point Pavilion in Covington, and after working with The Point for about a year, McHale knew he was on the right track. But he had to move his company beyond off-premises catering if he wanted sales to take off. And he had to broaden his company's capabilities from standard event catering to distinctive food and surroundings.

The turning point came three years later, when McHale's sold its store and moved its catering operations to a commercial kitchen in Wilder that enabled the company to prepare food for more than 3,000.

Then he learned of an indoor sports complex in Wilder that wanted to add a banquet facility. By getting involved at the project's start, he was able to upgrade the facility's design and amenities so it could attract formal affairs in addition to sports dinners. The new Marquise Banquet & Conference Center opened in May 1999, and McHale's sales soared.

"That facility just exploded," he said. "Because of its location, it became a very popular corporate event location. From the first, it operated above projections. In the past three years, we have averaged 210 events per year there."

With the early success of The Marquise, the company entered a period of rapid development. In February 2002, it took over management of The Point Pavilion and renovated it to increase the banquet center's appeal. Last May, McHale's bought Wood Brothers Smokehouse and Grill and Town & Country Banquet Center in Park Hills and began redeveloping the complex as The Gardens of Park Hills.

In June, McHale's became the exclusive caterer for the new Sapphire Room banquet facility in downtown Covington. One month after McHale's unveiled the first increment of The Gardens in September, the company was selected as one of three caterers to serve the Drees Pavilion at Devou Memorial Outlook.

"We're really streamlining our business," McHale said. "From 1998 to 2002, we doubled our sales but cut the number of events we did in half. By being more selective, we've freed up a lot of time to develop other facilities."

The company's sales have benefited from a redesign of its Web site two years ago, said Jenny McHale Schneider, Chuck's sister.

"It's made life so much easier for our sales staff and our customers," she said. "We used to send out a brochure after an inquiry. Now people can click on the site and see what we have to offer."

The Web site is interactive, with a video, a calendar that shows available dates and a calculator that helps customers determine the cost of an event. Chuck McHale thinks that his company lands many wedding receptions because brides like the information available on its Web site.

But most of all, McHale and Schneider think, the company's success is due to its people and its follow-up.

"I believe that our growth is a result of our constant drive to meet the customer's needs and ensure that the event is done exactly the way the host wants it done," McHale said. "That extends from our office staff to our set-up staff and kitchen staff."

"We have worked with Chuck McHale for four years," said Jamie Bowling, director of human resources for The Fischer Group. "They have always gone out of their way for us. They continually follow up to make sure that our event was nice, and to ask what they could have done better.

"They take a lot of pride in their staff, and they have very little turnover, so we get to interact with the same folks, and we know them by name."

E-mail jcallison@zoomtown.com.




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