Pall–Ex, the European palletised freight specialist has been celebrating 20 years in business with a year of events and initiatives which have been making a big difference to members, customers and charities across the UK. Pall-Ex launched its ‘20 Ways to Make a Difference’ campaign to coincide with the unveiling of the network’s new strapline – ‘Making the Difference.’ The campaign has involved some exciting new initiatives for members and customers, and staff donating time and resources to charity work.
But for all this, Pall-Ex remains firmly focused on achieving its business objectives and setting the highest possible standards of excellence. It’s a strategy that has paid off. Over the past two decades, Pall-Ex has grown from a primarily UK-based network into a marketleading player across multiple European territories, with over 350 members across Europe.
Hilary Devey CBE, Founder, CEO and Chairman of the Pall-Ex Group, took time out of her busy schedule to talk to Warehouse & Logistics News.
Warehouse & Logistics News – Hilary, for people who haven’t heard the story, how did you come to start Pall-Ex?
It all started when I overheard a conversation with a haulier back more than two decades ago. This client was saying it had taken nearly two weeks to deliver one pallet of freight from Cardiff to Carlisle because he had to wait for enough orders to come in to fill the lorry before it set off.
This to me sounded completely unacceptable, so I devised a method by which hauliers could be grouped by postcode. By delivering and collecting freight from a central hub, this would mean deliveries were done much faster.
WLN – What was it like in those days?
Back in the mid-90s there were those who said Pall-Ex wouldn’t even last 12 months, but 20 years later we’re still leading the charge from the front. On our first night back in 1996, the hub was just an old aircraft hangar, without electricity, running water or static toilets – not ideal for 40 lorry drivers! Since then, we’ve grown from delivering 117 pallets that first night to over 10,000 every single night.
WLN – What were the main stages in Pall-Ex’s development over the last 20 years?
Our first hub in Wymeswold, Leicestershire, and in the following year we moved to a bigger hub in Gotham, Nottinghamshire, boosting our ability to deliver 1,000 pallets a night. In our second year, we already had 50 members across the UK, and by the millennium, had bumped this up to 84 and had delivered 2 million pallets. 2003 saw our move to the purpose-built hub where we are currently stationed, in Ellistown, Leicestershire.
WLN – How has the company evolved over time?
2009 was arguably our biggest turning point, and saw our transformation from a domestic network into a competitive, international market leader in freight distribution across Europe. Pall-Ex Italia officially opened, followed by Spain & Portugal in 2010, Romania in 2011, France in 2012 and Benelux in 2015. Today, we have over 350 members across Europe, and are in discussions with new partners in Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Scandinavia.
WLN – Are there more women in logistics now than 20 years ago? Are things any easier for them these days than when you were getting Pall-Ex started? What would you say to women thinking of coming into the logistics business now?
When I started, logistics was a male-dominated sector. Today, we see many more women in the industry, and I think that’s in part due to the changing perception that there are more opportunities than simply lorry driving roles. Whether that’s in finance, operations, marketing, customer care – the list of career options in logistics is endless.
If I were to give any advice to someone looking for a career in logistics, I would say that it’s a hugely competitive industry and you need determination to succeed.
WLN – Who else is on the senior management team at Pall-Ex? What’s your style as a CEO – arms length or hands on?
I am indeed fully involved in the daily running of Pall-Ex. Even when I’m not in the office, I’m receiving reports, calls and emails on an hourly basis.
We’ve recently made a number of exciting new senior appointments, with Chris Holland joining as director of IT, Mark Steel taking the role of director of sales and marketing, and welcoming Adrian Bradley as director of operations.
Our group managing director, Kevin Buchanan, has been a real asset to Pall-Ex since he started in 2014. I know that with Kevin’s experience, sector knowledge and commitment to quality, I can focus on the strategy and vision of Pall-Ex for the coming years, while Kevin maintains the highest level of customer care to our members and corporate customers.
WLN – Where is your main UK hub? How does it compare with other pallet networks’ hubs?
The purpose built, central Pall-Ex hub is based in Ellistown, Leicestershire, and was the first nondrive- through hub model in the industry, providing greater overall security and a 100 per cent emissionfree and environmentally friendly location for goods such as foodstuffs and electronics.
WLN – Can you tell us about your European operations? How do they work?
Pall-Ex’s international success since 2009 is based on the premise that simply taking a concept that worked well in the UK, and emulating it in a different country, does not work.
We knew we needed to approach companies already established in its target territories to launch the Pall-Ex hub-and-spoke model with the support of a specialist bilingual team based in the UK.
So, we introduced the first European network in 2009 in Italy, with a master license agreement, meaning we can employ a considerate and respectful understanding of each of the countries’ industries and existing conditions.
WLN – The classic model for a pallet network is that a group of professional haulage companies work together as members to provide a cost effective, nationwide next day delivery. They collect and deliver palletised freight in their own zone and trunk it to a central hub to be transhipped and taken on. How do you differ from that model?
I was one of the pioneers of the hub and spoke model, and I know it works. We are continually investing in the network, improving services, infrastructure, technology and quality of customer care.
Our environmental policies are also robust. Pall-Ex is the only palletised freight network to hold UK-wide ISO 14001 accreditation across the entirety of its network, which has a large environmental focus.
WLN – Besides reducing the amount of lorries returning empty, how ‘green’ is Pall-Ex as an organisation?
Our fill rate is impressive, which hit 97.6 per cent in 2015 – 25 per cent above the national average indicated by the Association of Pallet Networks. Aside from that, our commitment to staying ‘green’ is strong. Within the central hub at Ellistown, Pall-Ex operates a fleet of forklift trucks powered by environmentally friendly compressed natural gas, helping to retain the emission-free interior.
The network remains unique in using a fleet of compressed natural gas fuelled forklift trucks, resulting in 40% less CO2 emissions than diesel fleets.
WLN – Can you give us an idea of the size and scale of the Pall-Ex operation as it is now – how many member companies are there, with how many vehicles? How many pallets go through your hub, over what time period?
We now have over one hundred members in the domestic UK network, and that means hundreds of vehicles working together to deliver 10,000 pallets every single night.
WLN – Are you looking for more members? What are the benefits of belonging to Pall-Ex, compared to other networks?
We are always looking for more of the UK’s most efficient and passionate hauliers to join Pall-Ex, and the benefits are plentiful.
As part of Pall-Ex, members expand their service area without expanding their fleet. This in turn raises their profile, attracts new customers, and allows them to offer new services to their existing customers including the use of Pall-Ex’s state of the art Track-and-Trace system.
WLN – Where do you see Pall-Ex going from here?
Going forwards, we will continue to tackle the industry-wide trend of price undercutting that was starting to take the pallet industry down the same route as the parcels sector. Tighter margins were squeezing hauliers and that went against everything Pall-Ex stands for.
We’ve both intentionally restricted volume growth and restructured our hub teams to focus on customer care. We also invested more in training and development, resulting in price increases and paving the way an industry-wide benchmark for quality.
Now we have established a centre of excellence here in the UK, we can now roll these quality standards out across the continent – this will be our main focus for 2017.
WLN – You’ve had a really remarkable career. Do you have any ambitions left?!
Of course! At Pall-Ex, there’s still more to do and reinvestment to increase quality remains an important part of our strategy for 2017 and beyond. But whatever challenges we see in the next 20 years, we will tackle them head on with the strength and collaboration that a network like ours can provide.
It’s impossible to predict the future, but I am certain that whatever happens, my priority will be sharing the success with our members.
Tel: 01530 23 9000