CI Logistics, one of the major exhibitors at this month’s Totally Logistics North Show, is celebrating 30 years in the materials handling and storage systems business by winning over £5m of new contracts in the first seven months of 2012. These major projects, which include an assignment for Welsh Slate and further expansion of Clipper Logistics’ UK DC, confirm 2012 as an outstanding year for the company.
CI Logistics is at the forefront of technology when it comes to integrating robotics into materials handling operations. Their automated solution for Diageo’s Cambus, Clackmannanshire whisky cask-making operation reduces manual handling by 90%, leaving the coopers free to focus on their craft skills.
Leicester-based CI isn’t just a UK success; it has also chalked up a major contract win in Dubai in conjunction with Dexion Integrated Systems to supply a garment handling and transportation solution for a large third party logistics warehouse and DC, and is now looking to appoint more overseas distributors alongside its export partners in Scandinavia, North America and the Middle East. Gary Bale, MD of CI Logistics, spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.
Warehouse & Logistics News – Gary, we last spoke in April 2011. What’s been happening in the company since then?
The business has seen substantial growth in our main product areas, making this a record year. Looking to the future, everything is pointing in the right direction for further growth. We’re strongly placed, with a great marketing plan in place and good brand awareness.
WLN – If we can backtrack for a moment, you joined CI Logistics back in the early 1980s. How has the business changed since those days?
When the business was formed in 1982, it was originally called Conveyors International. Back then the focus of the business was overhead conveyors. Our offering now also comprises floor conveyor systems, belt conveyors and garment handling systems, after our purchase of Quodeck in December 2002, and end of line conveyors and vehicle loading systems, after our purchase of Kaybe Conveyors in 2007. By increasing our product range, we’ve given ourselves greater scope in the sectors of industry that we can supply: before that, our main focus was paint finishing and assembly operations in white goods production, and now, as well as continuing to serve the manufacturing industry, we’re increasingly active in retail, e-commerce, parcels and packaging.
Yes, the opportunities are still there for talented people. We’re always looking for good people of all ages, including school leavers and graduates. Every year we bring in a college leaver or university graduate, and offer them a placement for 12 months.
WLN – When did you change the company name to CI Logistics, and why?
We decided to change our name to CI Logistics in 2008, because after buying Quodeck and Kaybe Conveyors we felt we were confusing people by having three different names. We decided on one umbrella name, CI Logistics, to give us a focus and make it clear that we do more than purely provide conveyors, and are a one-stop shop total solution provider.
WLN – How big is CI Logistics now?
We’re on a growth curve and looking to turn over more than £7m this year, up 60% on 2011. In terms of staff we have 35 people working for us in Leicester.
WLN – Who owns CI Logistics?
CI Logistics’ owner is the American company L.B. Foster Inc, which is listed on the NASDAQ. They acquired our previous parent company, Portec Rail, in 2011, and are very supportive.
WLN – As MD, what does your role involve these days? Do you personally get involved with client projects?
I’m more focused on developing the strategy of the business and looking for organic growth, together with finding good bolt-on acquisitions and developing new product lines. I’m less involved with the everyday running than I was, but I still like to be part of the team and sit in on production and sales meetings.
WLN – Who else is in the senior management team besides you?
Our senior management team comprises Peter Draper, Engineering Manager; Paul Moore, Controls Manager; Adrian Pryce, Sales Manager; and Glyn Hings, Product Manager. Supporting them are Rob Greatorex, our Purchasing Manager and Deepti Rughani, our Accountant.
The biggest one is a very large project for a new DC at Stockton-on-Tees, which is run by Clipper Logistics for George at ASDA, and is all about garment handling. We’ve also won a lot of business with Caterpillar UK, at Desford in Leicestershire and Stockton-on-Tees. We are also nearing completion on major projects with Dunlop Motorsport and Welsh Slate.
WLN – What do you forecast the final turnover figure for 2012 to be? Is this a record for the company?
We’re forecasting our turnover this year to reach £7.4m, which will be a record for the business in its 30-year history.
WLN – Who are your longstanding clients?
Our longstanding clients include Caterpillar, River Island (formerly Chelsea Girl), FedEx, on the distribution side, Calendar Club, Edinburgh Woollen Mills, Dimensions Corporatewear, Halfords and Honda of the UK Manufacturing in Swindon.
WLN – Can you tell us about your work for them?
We have been carrying out projects for these clients in distribution centres, factories, retail sites and automotive plants.
WLN – What proportion of your business is overseas? Is it direct, or through agents?
About 5% of our business is currently overseas, through agents. Scandinavia is a major market, particularly the wood industry. We have agents in place in North America and UAE, and are currently targeting partner companies to represent us in Brazil and Thailand, which we see as key overseas markets that we need to develop as a priority.
WLN – You recently carried out a major contract in Dubai in conjunction with Dexion Integrated Systems. How did that come about?
We have been working for the largest 3PL operation in the UAE, part of the Alshaya Group, on a DC serving various retail outlets throughout the Middle East, due to go live by the end of 2012. The project came in through our agents in UAE.
Our system was linked to the four-tier garment storage system Dexion has installed at this location. In total we have supplied 12 km of overhead monorail featuring Tectrac, a manual transport system using trolleys, which facilitates the rapid movement of garments. We have also put in place a further 1.5 km of powered overhead conveyor to transfer garments up and down the multi-level installation and around the perimeter for long distance transportation. We have also installed a Slictrac rail system in the garment processing area, to provide individual shop sortation rails, and enable the fast throughput of garments to the packing areas.
WLN – You mentioned Tectrac and Slictrac. Are these systems that you have developed here in the UK?
Yes, they are. Tectrac is our own design. We also developed Slictrac specifically for this project. Slictrac moves garments on hangers, whereas Tectrac carries them on trolleys a metre long, in trains of ten.
WLN – Where does your engineering and design happen?
It all happens here in the UK. We have a strong engineering team led by Peter Draper, working out of Leicester.
WLN – Have you won any other major overseas contracts recently?
We have won a prestigious project in Norway for a manufacturer of doors and windows for use in residential housing.
WLN – Are you looking for more overseas distributors?
Yes, we are. One of our strategic points is to develop our overseas infrastructure, and expand in the international market. While our core business in the home market continues to thrive through our established field sales force, there is growing interest in our ranges outside the UK. In recent years our overseas sales have been gaining momentum through the good partnerships we have established in Scandinavia, North America and the Middle East. As part of our ongoing strategy to penetrate new markets, we are now actively seeking distributors to expand our international operations.
WLN – What sort of companies are you looking for as partners?
Ideally our overseas partners will already be involved in the materials handling market and will share our passion for quality products that have been designed by engineers for high performance and reliability.
We are a local Leicestershire business with a loyal, hardworking and very knowledgeable group of people, who know the UK materials handling industry extremely well.
WLN – What sets CI apart from other materials handling system suppliers?
We’re a one-stop shop, able to deliver solutions in a range of materials handling technologies to customers in a wide range of industries. We have total in-house control of our mechanical and electrical design, and our software engineers have total control of every project from concept to handover.
WLN – We don’t hear enough good news about British manufacturing. What is your advice to the Government, and to other manufacturers about making this sector more competitive?
The Government must allow UK SMEs access to proper investment and give them the chance to grow. They should also encourage UK manufacturers to buy British instead of looking overseas.
WLN – You’re exhibiting at Totally Logistics Link North this month. What will you be doing at the show?
We will be promoting the diversity of our solutions, and will have experts on hand to showcase the many different ways in which CI Logistics can help companies shorten production times and use their factory space to its full potential.
WLN – What have you been doing as a company during 2012 to celebrate your thirtieth anniversary?
After our outstanding first quarter we celebrated at a local hotel. We also had 12 guys from CI Logistics doing a parachute jump for charity, which the company supported with a matching donation. Glyn Hings, our Production Manager, who was one of the original employees, completed 30 years in the business in 2012, and I presented him with a watch. It’ll be my turn for a 30 year watch soon!
CI Logistics is a first class business that can handle almost any materials handling challenge. We have always shown good organic growth, and with the financial backing from our parent company we have the resources to develop the business further via acquisition, and strengthen our existing position as a total materials handling solutions provider. I’ve seen the company expand over the years, and I can vouch there’s still plenty of scope for further expansion. I have a strategic plan in place that we’re working to, and as part of the plan I can reveal that we’ll be investing in the business and looking for an acquisition in 2013.
Tel: 0116 276 1691