With the pallet network sector continuing to report healthy levels of growth for the first three quarters, 2010 is turning out to be a better year than expected for many.  However, challenges still exist for the sector, which continues to develop rapidly both in terms of network membership and advancing technology.

The UK’s pallet networks have adopted a range of different operating models, and recent investment across the sector has seen many raise the bar significantly in terms of service offering, quality and technical sophistication. So what makes one pallet network stand out from the rest?

The ownership ethos

The answer is the ownership structure. From inception, Palletline has been owned and managed by the companies who combine their resources and expertise to provide the service. Each of the participating Member Companies is a shareholder in Palletline Plc, with a financial, professional and personal interest in the quality of the service provided by the organisation.

This approach to ownership – believed to be unique in the field of distribution systems – has made an important contribution to the continued growth and development of Palletline. In short, the organisation is driven by the changing needs of its Member Companies and their customers. Whilst profitability remains a vital issue, Palletline has successfully invested for change, creating a modern, forward-thinking co-operative well equipped to meet the demands of its evolving markets.

Into the future

Palletline was the original pioneer of the sector back in 1992. With UK industry exiting from recession, reducing order sizes and growing demand for JIT deliveries were bringing about a significant shift in focus within the distribution industry. By successfully combining their strengths and facilities, Palletline’s founder Member Companies were able to offer their customers a true nationwide service – at competitive rates and providing advanced levels of performance and reliability.

Recent developments have seen Palletline embark on and complete a three year investment programme. This began with the acquisition of a new hub to enable efficient and safe working practices, and culminated in the development and implementation of sophisticated sector leading IT systems now effectively increasing efficiency and value to the benefit of both Member Companies and their customers.

Investment for Performance – the Customer Angle

In addition to the identifiable benefits for Member Companies, Palletline’s recent investment in network-wide IT compatibility and system advances has also created significant service enhancements for customers across the UK and beyond.

With all Member Companies now communicating via a central portal, Palletline’s track and trace systems provide full transparency, giving customers the confidence to know that consignments are exactly where they should be.

Date-stamped digital signature capture gives real time proof of delivery, available instantly online where required, playing a vital role in speeding up invoicing and improving cash flow.

Leading the field in the pallet network sector, Palletline’s innovative automated Service Failure Identification System reports on service issues, providing real time alerts on delivery problems. This allows Member Companies to communicate proactively with customers and agree practical action plans to combat those instances where unavoidable issues such as traffic or breakdown may prevent a delivery being made on time.

Ownership benefits

Robert Rushworth, MD of Bradford-based Expect Distribution, was one of the founder members of Palletline back in 1992, and has seen his Palletline traffic increase from just a few consignments a week to a total now averaging 800 pallets a night. He recognises the vital role Palletline has played in the growth of his business, which moved two years ago to prestigious purpose-built 100,000ft2 premises.

“Membership of Palletline has always been about much more than just moving pallets,” he explained. “Even in the early days, the focus was on developing a network that delivered real value. Now we have over 70 members, constituting a thriving and professional national network where we co-operate to make sure we meet the needs of our own and our partners’ customers right across the board.”

The ownership structure of Palletline, explains Robert, makes all the difference. “We have a real say in the future and development of our network. Quarterly regional meetings enable us to air opinions, make requests and perhaps most importantly, share best practice. It’s in the interest of each member company to provide the very best service for customers across the network – and that occasionally means making decisions for the good of the system, rather than for individual benefit. With our ownership structure, that becomes an achievable target.”

Regional operational workshops planned and chaired by Palletline also cover a multitude of topics, from sales training seminars through to use of new technology and even management and HR issues. The introduction last year of the Palletline Academy, with a remit to develop and strengthen the technical and practical skills of all those engaged in the delivery of Palletline services, has seen identifiable benefits.

These include greater consistency of performance right across the network, resulting in defined levels of attainment across a range of service provision. Recent training has included effective claims handling, professional business development, customer services and freight scanning.

“Other networks dictate policy. At Palletline, all Member Companies have the opportunity to play a role in defining future strategies. Listening to a wide range of viewpoints and measured arguments for or against certain issues also enables us to identify the real potential benefits of change, even where this may impact adversely on one company, and to see the overall advantages and positive angles for our customers.”

Market Harborough-based Stephen Sanderson Transport Ltd joined Palletline in 2001, and has seen significant levels of growth in all areas of the business. “We had previously been members of an alternative pallet network, and actively sought out Palletline because of the ownership structure and the quality ethos,” stated Business Development Manager Ed Sanderson. “Our knowledge of the sector had convinced us of the importance of playing a role in the decision-making process in terms of our own satisfaction with the end result.”

Palletline’s co-operative approach to the development of its Member Companies has also proved valuable for Stephen Sanderson Transport. “We have benefited greatly from the business development opportunities provided to us by Palletline as an integral part of our membership,” confirmed Ed. “Input from the management team and co-operation with our fellow Member Companies through regional meetings and seminars has proved more than useful in helping us to grow our business.”

For Ed, one of the essential differentiating factors with Palletline is the spirit of the network. “There is a real culture based around achieving the high levels of service we aim for with our own customers for other users of the Palletline network,” he explained. “I can expect the same levels of support from other Member Companies as I get from my own colleagues – and that’s a pretty powerful thing when it’s extended right across the network, nationwide.”

Meeting the Challenges

Ultimately, money counts, and today’s fast-moving distribution market is increasingly challenging businesses to adopt more efficient and cost-effective processes in order to meet and exceed rising customer expectations.

Over the past two decades, Palletline has grown and successfully developed into a highly professional distribution system. Today, the network plays a vital role in the logistics solutions of many of the country’s key manufacturers, distributors and retailers, transporting an infinite variety of goods in line with demanding production and supply requirements.

Palletline PLC   Tel: 0121 767 6870   www.palletline.com

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