UPN was established ten years ago and provides the most comprehensive range of palletised freight services for the UK and Europe. We deliver the most cost effective and efficient service, underpinned by the most advanced technology available.
Our web-based IT systems were developed in-house to provide visibility of all freight, tracking every pallet and consignment from collection to delivery. To ensure complete customer satisfaction, we developed the UK’s first successful real time signature capture system. It uses industry standard XDAs to provide a digital proof of delivery within seconds to the web and via email.
We deliver on-time for over 99.9 per cent of consignments and our network vehicles are run with the highest fill rates in the sector. The market push for austerity, together with the need to create a cleaner and greener world is driving up the demand for UPN, the UK’s most efficient network.
Warehouse & Logistics News – What does your job involve day to day? Has your role changed since last year?
The pallet sector presents many different challenges, so my job varies tremendously from day to day and from week to week. As a business, UPN works very closely with its members, to help resolve any issues and to ensure that the network continues to move forward together. Each member of the UPN board is responsible for managing a number of members. So, I have close strategic links with fifteen UPN members, and meet with them regularly to discuss new business ideas and help them find new ways to improve efficiency. As the network is spread across the country, it means a lot of travelling and can keep me away from home for long periods. In the last year, we have introduced a new team, who work closely with members to help them spread the word about the UPN approach in their local area. Today, we employ a telemarketing team at our HQ and a team of field based account managers, who work in partnership with sixteen depots at a time. The project has been well received and the shared cost model is proving itself and allows us to create new efficiencies that deliver real business benefits to UPN members and customers.
We developed and launched a new UPN brand in the last year, so I have spent a lot of time working with our marketing team to develop and roll out the new identity. I also work closely with our head of marketing, to ensure that our depots and kept in the loop with all the new ideas we develop. It is critical that our depots feel part of the planning process and can share their experiences and opinions as new strategies are implemented.
UPN has stood for quality since it was established a decade ago, though many larger customers were highly suspicious about the quality of a network service. Finally, after ten years spent refining the model and proving the quality and reliability, the message is sinking in. More and more large companies are approaching us and my role is to develop and manage these larger clients, working in partnership with our members. We now work with a number of key accounts, who partner with us as a network and use our depots to manage all their UK deliveries.
During 2011, we also developed and launched a new UPN website, which more closely reflects our business today. As part of the new branding process, we developed a new livery and announced a partnership with Stronghold. They produce all the branded curtains for our vehicles, as part of a co-operative program with our depots. This way, we ensure complete consistency and share the costs with our members. The partnership approach is what is attracting new members to join us from other networks, together with our approach to technology.
Whilst the recession has driven more work to our network, it has created many challenges for our members. This is why we focus on working with members to ensure that they are in great shape moving forward.
W&LN – 2011: how was it for you and UPN?
The year has been a challenging one for any haulier and UPN members are not exempt from the challenges the market presents. The year has been a highly productive one for us at UPN, following the successful relocation of our central hub nearly 12 months ago. We operate a highly efficient business, so increases in cost have not had a major effect on the performance of the business. The weakness of the pound has maybe had an impact on imports, but we have seen a corresponding rise in export business. So, whatever the economic climate, companies will still need efficient ways of transporting products to their customers. We invest heavily in new ways of reducing the administrative effort involved in the process. So whilst costs may increase, they can be offset through efficiency savings. This is not necessarily the case for members, who struggle to deal with increased fuel costs and increased legislation. That is why we work so closely with our members, helping them to develop new strategies to roll out, and maintain growth and protect their margins. The fact that our fill rates are the highest in the sector certainly helps our members and helps them to keep costs to a minimum, compared to hauliers operating on other networks. By helping them to protect their businesses we are helping ensuring their long term success.
Many of our members have been with UPN for ten years and we want work with them in another ten years. Stability in any network is important and it is critical to us.
Although our members have faced many challenges, the demand from hauliers to join the network has helped us to maintain growth. Through 2011, we have added new members in the UK and our network has grown by around ten percent in size. The advantages of joining a network is becoming clear to hauliers, as consignment sizes keep getting smaller and customers demand precision and visibility of freight. The technology we offer to customers and depots helps to deliver benefits that others find hard to compete against. So, whilst the challenges may be great, our network is ideally positioned to deal with them.
W&LN – What is your particular proposition for customers in the warehouse & logistics sector? Has that changed since last year?
We specialise in palletised freight and we offer the widest range of services in the sector. Our proposition is all about quality and supported by superb technology. We are all about delivering the best choice and value for customers, whilst also creating the best opportunity for members. Our Micro pallet service has grown quickly and this is a direct result of the recession, in my opinion. By offering a lower cost option for pallets up to 150kg in weight, we have created a new offering which has proven attractive to end users and it creates new market opportunities for our members, which is just as important.
Our proposition has not changed dramatically since last year, but our focus has moved more towards our members. They are our channel to market and it is critical that we work with them to ensure that they are operating as efficiently as possible and supporting growth. Most of our depots provide warehousing and storage services alongside the next day palletised freight services that the network delivers. Most of our depots have been investing heavily in their warehousing infrastructure and in IT systems to help them improve their services. There are more and more depots offering complete outsourced stock control services and value added services, like pick and pack and order fulfilment. So, the proposition for customers is growing up and down the value chain and moving beyond simple pallet deliveries into a complete supply chain solution, which includes the UPN offering. Our systems integrate closely with many of the IT systems depots use, so integrating UPN with their other services is a real option.
We have invested in developing greater transparency and improved management reporting, to help support our depots investment in total solutions. We have introduced a new online KPI reporting system, which allows users to track service levels in great detail. We are all about service, so it is important that we allow users to easily see just how well the network is performing. When a customer becomes more aware of how good a job we are doing, they tend to do more business with us. Many networks claim to deliver great service, but UPN depots and customers have the management information required to prove it.
W&LN – How has the pallet networks sector been performing in 2011? What do you see as the most important recent developments in the sector?
The network sector has continued to perform well, because the network approach is highly efficient. I have not seen any really important developments in the sector in recent times, apart from an increased focus on Europe. The focus on technology continues, but our systems and advanced real time technology still lead the way. By building a solid base and a scalable business model, we know that our future growth can be managed effectively as we continue to expand our market share and develop our European business.
W&LN – Have you moved into any new business areas during 2011?
Our Micro Pallet service has grown quickly, allowing us to enter a number of new markets, as it successfully bridges the gap between parcels and pallets. It is used by many depots to consolidate parcel freight and significantly reduce costs, whilst improving service. This is proving popular with sectors that regularly send time sensitive small consignments, particularly the print sector. Growth in online retailing and ebay has also helped to fuel its growth across a number of different business sectors.
The manufacturing sector in the UK has undergone some resurgence and we work closely with many in the manufacturing supply chain. Our approach and service levels are proving popular in this sector, as value for money is important but service is always critical. Since our hub relocation, we have reported our busiest night ever and our busiest week ever.
W&LN – Has your company grown in the last 12 months?
Yes, we have maintained double digit growth in volume terms. We do not measure our success through volume, but through quality. Our service levels have remained ahead of the sector, which is what really matters.
W&LN – Have you been investing in improving your premises, taking on more staff, upgrading your website, enhancing your IT etc in 2011?
I mentioned the new hub and the relocation, which formed our largest single investment of £500,000. But we have also made some major investments in IT, with the implementation of new servers and a new digital CCTV system, together with a new time and attendance systems across both sites. The company new has eight key IT servers in places to manage all online systems, including online manifesting, signature capture, depot management and the new management reporting tools. During the year, we also developed and launched a new website, which carries the new branding which was implemented last year. We took on new staff in telesales, field sales, customer services and IT roles. We also established a new compliance team based at the new hub. This new function has been established to help drive continuous improvement within every depot in the network. Over the next year, we will invest further in growing that function within the business.
W&LN – How are your existing products and services doing?
Demand for our services continues to grow. We have seen particular increases in two key services, namely the new timed economy service and our Micro Pallet service. As the recession continues to bite, we expect demand for our value offering to continue to grow.
W&LN – Have you launched any new products or services in 2011? What are they, and how are they performing?
We have launched a number of enhancements to the service through the year, including a new two metre height level on the half pallet service. This has driven growth in half pallet freight because it has opened doors to new sectors for bulky freight under the 600 kg weight level that other networks would charge as a full pallet. This has proven a powerful differentiator that has helped us to attract new members. Our new Micro pallet has performed well, growing at around 30 per cent in volume terms and now accounting for ten per cent of all network traffic. UPN also launched a new economy timed service, allowing customers to specify a specific delivery time with an economy service. This is proving popular, as it delivers the maximum value for money and the minimum fuss for customers that require tight delivery windows. We also developed a new online booking system used by customers to book consignments with their local depot online. It has been well received by depots and customers, as it saves time and money, whilst reducing the opportunity for errors. Our focus on depot support was also vital to our success in 2011. By expanding our co-operative approach to marketing, we have attracted many new customers who did not appreciate the benefits a network can offer. By offering enhanced levels of business support to depots, they can focus their attention on service, which is their core competence.
W&LN – What’s been your company’s single biggest achievement in business this year?
I think the greatest achievement was the opening of our new hub and the relocation from our previous base at Melton Mowbray. The move provided us with the extra capacity for growth and also reduced road miles travelled by at least 180,000 per annum. The move took place overnight and there was no disruption to our 99.9 per cent success rate when it happened. The management team and the members certainly proved how capable they are during that project.
W&LN – What was your personal favourite business moment in 2011?
There are two events that have given me the greatest pleasure. The first was when we set a new record for throughput, when we had the busiest night ever and maintained peak service levels. I also really enjoyed our Annual Conference, where we had the chance to celebrate our tenth anniversary and present awards to the many depots that have worked so hard throughout the year to deliver fantastic service. Delivering first class travel for palletised freight is hard work and our depots go the extra mile to make it happen.
W&LN – If your company had to go through 2011 again, what would you do differently?
I am not sure I would do anything differently, on a personal level. I am not the kind of person that spends time thinking about what has happened, as I focus on what the future holds.
W&LN – Do you operate in any other countries besides the UK? How are you getting on there? Have you gone into any new countries in 2011?
Europe is not the bread and butter of our business. We know the UK incredibly well and we are focused on our core competences. However, our customers and depots operate across Europe and further afield. To ensure that we continue to meet their needs, we have partnered with Signet International, which is responsible for delivering services through the network into and out of Europe. Signet operates services across 24 European countries and has been operating for over 25 years. It won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category and recently achieved AEO certification with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
W&LN – Have you won any awards in 2011, or been accredited to any new industry standards during this time?
Our focus is on delivering the best service, rather than on winning awards. We work for our members and for our customers, who tell us how well we are performing relative to the others. Our brand new online reporting tools enable members and customers to easily measure the quality of service, which is how we measure our success.
W&LN – Which industry sectors are your customers in? What applications do people use your products/services for?
We work across all sectors, wherever there is a demand for high quality deliveries or collections of palletised freight.
W&LN – Do you sell your products direct or through distributors? Has that strategy changed in the last year?
Our depots are the key channel to market for our range of services. Our role is to work in partnership with them, not to work against them. Today, there are more large businesses approaching us to discuss dealing directly with them. We are happy to look at their requirements, but only in partnership with our depots. It would be impossible to run a network professionally if we were to start competing with our members.
W&LN – Can you name any of your major projects in the last 12 months, and talk about what you have done for them?
The development of the new hub and the relocation of the hub was the biggest project. We also introduced a number of new initiatives, including barcode scanning technology and paperless consignments. In the year, we have successfully stripped over half a million pieces of paper out of the operation and aim to be the UK’s first paperless network.
The UPN board and members have all worked in synergy to ensure that every project was delivered on time and to budget, whilst ensuring that we have retained our position as the quality leader. There are a host of other projects we have delivered throughout the year, which have contributed to our continued success.
W&LN – How does your forward order book compare with a year ago? What about the waiting list for your (products) compare with a year ago?
We do not manage a forward order book, due to the nature of a network operation. However, we do manage a list of hauliers that are keen to find an opportunity to join the network. I can tell you that the waiting list of hauliers that want to join UPN is longer than it has ever been. This is because the sector is growing and more and more hauliers are becoming aware of the business benefits that UPN can deliver. With another three depots opening in January, our network will be bigger than ever in 2012 and we look forward to celebrating a new record for network growth.
W&LN – Which trade shows did you exhibit at in 2011? How were they?
We did not invest in trade shows during 2011. Our marketing focus has been on other activities where we can show our members a greater return on investment, like our new depot business development team.
W&LN – As the Christmas period is traditionally the busiest time of year for the UK warehousing and logistics industry, what challenges has your company been facing?
The new hub has doubled our capacity, so we can easily manage the inevitable surges in volume that occur in our sector. Last year, the weather presented some serious challenges to the sector, but we made contingency plans and the service levels were not affected in the slightest.
W&LN – As a company, what are your new year’s resolutions for 2012?
To stop making New Year’s resolutions!! We make new resolutions throughout the year, so why fuss about New Year?
W&LN – What are your plans for 2012?
Overall, we plan to maintain our position as the quality leader. We still believe that quality is the key and we will not sacrifice quality in a push for volume growth. We do not discuss detailed plans, but I can tell you that we have some exciting new technology we are working on that will further enhance our green credentials. We are also working on new web based reporting tools, which will give greater transparency of freight and service levels to customers.
Early in 2012, we will be unveiling a new system that allows end users to easily shop online for our services, using new web technology. This will automate many processes, make us easier to deal with and deliver further gains in efficiency.
W&LN – Where do you see your company in three years’ time?
I see it continuing to set new standards in the sector for quality of service, supported by some amazing new technology developments and a completely paperless network.
W&LN – And finally, what would you like Father Christmas to bring your company in 2012?
If he could reduce the cost of fuel by at least 20 per cent, then that would be a lovely gift for our depots and for the haulage sector, in general.
United Pallet Network
Tel: 0844 833 0300