Sun | Sep 15, 2019

Start-up finds niche in benchmarking

Published:Friday | February 1, 2019 | 12:27 AMAvia Collinder/Business Reporter

CB Group has taken under its wing a start-up company named Benchmark Quality Management Solutions Limited, run by past employee Dr Velton Gooden, who says he is bringing to the table quality management systems of an international quality – at a price that local companies can afford.

And while Jamaica and the Caribbean are Benchmark’s first market, Gooden’s medium-term goal is to do projects “anywhere in the world”.

As to the cost differential: “This is a big deal. Having worked with international agencies for so many years, we know how expensive these services can be. In fact, for the vast majority of exporters they are absolutely unaffordable,” said Gooden, the CEO and founder of Benchmark QMS.

“For the type of services we are offering, international consultants are usually required, for whom airfare and accommodation are included in costs. For our local, certified practitioners, the discount can be as much as 30 to 40 per cent,” he said.

The CB Group, which is Jamaica’s second-largest poultry operation owned by the Hendrickson family, has no investment in Benchmark QMS, but has indirect relationships with the company. Gooden says the shareholders in Benchmark include himself as founder and CEO, and an investment group represented by Matthew Lyn, who is also Benchmark’s chairman.

Lyn is a member of the Hendrickson clan – his mother is Lori Ann Hendrickson Lyn – and chief operating officer of CB Group, which produces meat products for the local and export market.

Prior responsibilities

Gooden is the former head of quality at CB Group, where he pioneered what the poultry company calls the SAFE Food Movement that has resulted in national quality awards for CB, as well as more than 50 internationally recognised certifications for all its locations and business lines, including certifications in HACCP, ISO 9001, GMP and most recently, Global GAP.

He first joined CB in February 2000 as operations manager for the Copperwood plant in Lucea, but left to start an agro-processing company in December 2002. He was back on board at CB in July 2008 up until his new business foray.

After overhauling CB’s in-house systems to meet exporting requirements, Gooden has launched out to do the same for other local companies. Benchmark registered in late 2017, and became operational in early 2018.

“We had two main drivers,” he told the Financial Gleaner.

“Firstly, we saw how much of a difference the adoption of a world-class quality management system made to the CB Group’s overall operations. In less than 10 years, they went from zero exports to consistently exporting to over a dozen countries, and that made us think about what effect similar systems would have on other Jamaican companies.”

The second consideration was the fate of smaller companies which are in danger of losing markets, and were without the funding to upgrade to the high standards of international benchmarks.

“When we learnt that many of our current small and medium-size exporters were – and still are– at risk of losing their ability to export without the relevant certifications for their export markets, we realised what effect that would have on the country and thought we really could be of assistance to fellow Jamaican companies,” said Gooden.

“When we started getting calls from other companies just to get ‘advice’, we knew the time was right,” he said.

Benchmark’s operations are being rolled out in phases. The services currently on offer include consultations, audits, training and certification management, particularly for agro-processing operations.

Analytical services will be rolled out and expanded over the next two to three years.

Benchmark’s start-up investment was spent on branding, the Benchmarkqms app, website development and other digital assets, training and certification of members of the Benchmark team, office retrofitting and construction.

The total investment was not disclosed, but it amounted to tens of millions in local currency, said Gooden, who is projecting to that he would hit break-even in the first year of operation.

“We have invested quite a bit in our people, in our online platform and our custom-built app, but we prefer not to share any other information at this time,” he said.

One of a kind

The business is designed to scale up or down, depending on the number of orders, which are tracked with the support of the custom-built app.

“The Benchmarkqms app is one-of-a-kind. It allows Benchmark to publish projects or aspects of projects for which its clients have expressed an interest. The skills required and the time to complete these projects will also be published,” he said. “The Benchmark platform is designed to store and manage documented food safety, quality management and related systems documentation and records. Each client may opt to store documented information on the platform, which they can access through their account credentials,” he said.

The app also allows clients to pay for services rendered.

With a working team of six, Gooden says the business is modelled on “efficient use of technology” and the engagement of qualified, pre-approved freelancers across the Caribbean. He is in the process of recruiting more of those freelance consultants across the region in the areas of food production, quality management, environmental and occupational health and safety.

Benchmark is currently operating out of temporary space, but will move into its own leased offices at 80 Lady Musgrave Road, Kingston, in about six weeks, when renovations are due to be completed.

In the two years that Gooden has been building the company, Benchmark has concurrently been growing its client list, which includes companies like Maxfield Bakery & Pastries Limited, The Meat Experts, which was recently acquired by junior stock market company Everything Fresh Limited, Epican Medicinals and the CB Group, among others – and as the CEO tells it, the process so far has been “relatively smooth”, with few challenges.

“It took us a little longer than we wanted to get to market. In this time, however, we have been building out our client base and already providing services, while at the same time organising all of the back-of-house operations, recruiting, branding, and training,” Gooden said.

In the short to medium term, Gooden and his team will be focusing on building out Benchmark’s freelance network, raising the company’s public profile, which began with a formal launch of Benchmark QMS earlier this month, and growing its client base.

Over the medium term, the company also aims to sell its services to an international clientele.

“We see the ability to provide our services anywhere in the world. So we are strategically working towards that goal,” Gooden said.