gary-bale-managing-director-ci-logisticsLeicester-based CI Logistics has made itself a name for over 30 years for its bespoke, fully integrated solutions for handling and storage of packages, materials and garments. The conveyors and other equipment featured in CI Logistics’ solutions include overhead conveyors, floor conveyors, garment hanging and storage solutions, mezzanine floors and vehicle loading machinery, all made to order.

Led by Gary Bale, Managing Director, CI Logistics goes on winning major customer contracts in a range of sectors including fashion, drinks, engineering and manufacturing. Similarly it continues to keep pace with developments in the way industry uses materials handling equipment, and recently launched a new website, to serve as the company’s communications hub, with an easy to navigate design and accessible sections on the company’s major product areas. CI Logistics also details its achievements in a regular email newsletter and ‘proof of the pudding’ case studies. Gary Bale spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.

Warehouse & Logistics News – To set the scene, Gary, when did CI Logistics as it is now come into being?

The original company Conveyors International had been going for 17 years when Portec Rail Products UK, a subsidiary of Portec Rail Products Inc, bought it in 1999. I took over as MD of Portec Rail Products UK two years later, in 2001, having spent 17 years with Conveyors International, starting on the engineering side. In 2003 Portec Rail bought the well-known garment handling company, Quodeck, and in 2006, Kaybe Conveyors, the warehouse, logistics and vehicle loading business.

Having done this, we realised that Portec Rail isn’t a well-known name here in the UK and so in 2005 created CI Logistics as the umbrella identity for the group in Britain, though Portec Rail Products UK remains the parent company.

WLN – CI Logistics used to be organised into three divisions. What is the strategy now?

The strategy going forward is to promote the business as one identity, and have the different parts working together on customer solutions. Hence we’ve brought in the new website, presenting not three individual companies but a single organisation. It shows the breadth we offer to our customers across many industries: we can go into a company, and if they ask us to tender for mezzanine floors, say, we can tender for conveyors too. We can offer cross-fertilisation of ideas within the group, and a one-stop service few others can match.

WLN – What difference does it make having a US parent company?

garment-storage-three-levels-high-for-200000-garments-at-dimensions-clothingHaving served on the Portec board and built relationships with their senior team over many years, I can vouch that they’ve given me their total trust and support. They’ve been an absolute rock over the years, willing to support us in good and bad times, especially during the recent recession.

WLN – What does your job entail?

As MD of CI Logistics, I’m in charge of the day to day strategy of growing the business.

WLN – Who else is in the management team besides you?

Peter Draper is Engineering Manager, Paul Moore is Software Controls Manager and Glyn Hings is Production Manager.

WLN – Are you personally involved these days with developing solutions for customers?

Yes I am, very much so. I have a wealth of knowledge and experience in the industry to offer our team, on both the sales and engineering sides. I started in engineering, then became general manager and ran all the divisions, so I can assist in every aspect. I love being part of the decision-making process for solutions for larger projects.

WLN – How big is CI Logistics in turnover and staff?

CI Logistics has 25 employees in Leicester, and field sales people around the UK. Last year the recession was, shall we say, interesting; it presented challenges which made us re-examine every aspect of our business. For 2010, business is looking very promising. We have secured a £2.2m contract in the first quarter and have several other major prospects looking likely during the rest of the year.

WLN – Which countries do you operate in besides the UK?

Outside the UK, we have very good agents in Scandinavia, the USA, France and Dubai. We’re working closely with the UK Trade & Investment on an OMIS report for Spain and are looking to export there. On the same premise we’re looking at opportunities in Bulgaria, with Leicester Chamber of Commerce. We’re also active in Brazil, again through agents, and are looking to develop in three or four other countries, aided by the weak pound.

WLN – Your headquarters is in Leicester. What operations happen there?

It’s the base for our engineering and design. We also have a manufacturing facility. Our solutions tend to be tailor-made, with modular sections.

WLN – What effect has much of UK garment manufacturing going overseas in recent years had on your business?

linpac-allibert-auto-pallet-dispensers-feed-three-sizes-of-pallets-to-assembly-areaGarment making going abroad opens doors for storage and distribution businesses. They need to store complete distribution lines for next season, so it’s a massive opportunity for us.

WLN – What proportion of your solutions business comes from the UK garment industry?

Leicester is still renowned for the garment industry, and garment handling currently represents 30% of our business. The other 70% comes from some very diverse sectors, such as paint finishing, parcel and package, vehicle loading and e-fulfilment.

WLN – Which of these are your fastest growing industry sectors?

The big growth areas are paint finishing, including powder coatings for metals; automotive assembly lines, such as Aston Martin and Bentley; heavy industry, including Caterpillar, JCB and Cummins diesel engines. The thought behind this apparent variation was to find industries we could cross over into, so we always have a good mix of business.

We have a range of different tailor-made items in our portfolio – overhead conveyors, floor conveyors, garment handling and storage, mezzanine floors and vehicle loading. These are our main product groups: we supply them as part of extremely complex, top-level projects involving very special engineering. As an example, we can provide an assembly line to take engines or generators from a basic block to completion and testing in-line, or the assembly of earthmovers from chassis to drive off and test.

WLN – What proportion of your business is conveyors?

Some 65% – a more or less constant figure – is conveyors of various kinds, overhead, floor and specialised.

WLN – Do you supply your equipment to other integrators, to complement their materials handling solutions?

We have done in the past, to larger integrators such as Siemens Dematic. We’ve worked with them over a number of years, and are happy to help where we can.

WLN – You also make control systems for your machinery. Can you tell us about that?

an-overhead-conveyor-system-in-jcb-heavy-productsWe do all our own software, a strategic point when putting turnkey projects together. Subcontracting software means you can lose control of the commissioning process. We have conveyor software experts in-house, under our total control, and have no issues going forward; if you subcontract, it’s a case of whether they can support you when needed.

WLN – Can your control systems control other manufacturers’ conveyors and other equipment?

Yes, they can: we’d have no problem either taking on a project where we supply controls and a small proportion of conveyors, or supplying the controls on their own. We’re totally versatile.

WLN – In these straitened times, what different finance options do you offer customers to help them benefit from their new equipment and to spread the cost over time?

We offer contract hire and lease options, and work with finance brokers to secure finance for customers.

WLN – Tell us about your new-look web site. What are its major features and benefits?

The web site presents the three divisions as one company under the corporate identity ‘CI Logistics, Conveying Innovation’.

The new site is a step change: it gives an immediate visual impression of the unified business and is a credit to Alan Myers at our marketing and PR agency, Leapfrog Marketing, who developed it. It’s very easy to navigate and drill down through the product range to what you want to look at. It’s very user friendly, with great photos. You can also ‘Ask The Expert’ – for which my face is up there as the figurehead! – and get a response within four hours. To get the message across, we’re supporting the new web site with a Google Adwords campaign.

WLN – Can people get outline quotations on line from you now?

Yes, they can – alongside the details of the given types of product is a link to request a quote. We undertake to respond within 24 hours, and upon the enquirer providing the relevant details we will quote fully in seven days.

WLN – Can you tell us about some of the major contracts you have carried out recently? Have you written these up as case studies? Are they on the web site?

We have various case studies on the web site, all projects carried out in the last two years. The list includes a pallet handling floor scheme for Linpac Allibert’s UK operation: a complete distribution warehouse for Jane Norman, the fashion retailer, including conveyors, mezzanine floors and platforms, racking, garment handling and floor conveyors; a storage facility for 5 million garments for Dimensions, a corporate clothing business: a gas bottle painting and handling plant for BOC: and a new plant for JCB.

WLN – What information does the email newsletter contain? Who do you send it to? How often do you publish it?

We publish the e-zine bi-monthly, and send it to all our existing customers, including people in engineering, purchasing and senior decision makers. The database has been growing in the last few months, as have the hits on the website. The e-zine audience is mainly UK, but as our overseas agencies expand we’ll probably need to translate it.

WLN – How do you go about devising a solution for a client? How long does it take to produce a fully costed solution?

Typically we’re either working with a company whose project engineers have a plant layout being developed, or providing something specific to take a product from A to B, so the process can vary massively.

Our internal sales people take the call: if the enquiry is for a project of a specific size, requiring particular expertise, we send out a technical sales rep to pick up the information and discuss a possible solution with the customer and bring it into the office. From there to quotation and presentation could take within a week, or four weeks for bigger projects.

WLN – Do you like to involve clients in the modelling and simulation process?

Yes we do, 100%. Recently we’ve worked very closely with a large company, simulating a production line. It took 18 months, and led to the £2.2m order I mentioned.

WLN – Roughly how long does it take to implement an approved solution? How long to see a return on investment?

Major contracts can take up to 12 months to implement, but we can turn modular equipment round in four weeks. To get board approval for CAPEX programmes in the current climate, solutions need to show a return for the customer within 12-24 months, which ours do.

WLN – How green are your solutions? Do they help customers reduce their carbon footprint?

Our solutions are very green. We help customers resolve the major Health & Safety issues. We incorporate high spec, low energy inverters and drivers, and we advise customers about the grants available from the Carbon Trust for people buying ‘green’ motors like these.

WLN – What UK/EU industry standards are your solutions made to? Are you part of any industry bodies involved in developing these standards?

We are ISO9001.2008 accredited, and have been working to the ISO standard for the past 16 years. We are also accredited to the ‘Tick-It’ software standard. All our products carry the CE mark and meet the EU machinery directive. We’re members of AMSHA and the CILT.

WLN – What are the biggest external factors affecting demand for your solutions at this time?

The biggest problem across industry generally is the lack of funding for CAPEX, which has been cut in all sectors. It’s a matter of getting confidence back in the new tax year and after the Election.

WLN – How badly affected have you been by the recession?

The recession’s meant there hasn’t been the same volume of demand for goods as before, so the usual level of modification and upgrades hasn’t happened. Eventually as demand picks up again, maintenance will be required once more. Meanwhile companies should have regular maintenance and six-monthly service contracts in place: if they’ve had the same conveyors for over five years, they need to come and talk to us, to see if they’re still up to the job.

WLN – Do you think the recession is over now?

We’re certainly coming out of it, and we’re hoping that the UK economy will pick up in the third quarter.

WLN – Finally, where do you see CI Logistics going from here?

We’re very confident for the future. We have a business plan in place and a strategy focus to develop over the next three years and we have the substantial backing of our parent company to make acquisitions if needed.

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