17/06/05 Portray of Hilary Devey
Walk into Pall-Ex’s Ellistown HQ and national hub and there is corporate branding everywhere. The brand has become the most recognised in the pallet network business. ROADWAY asks, What’s next? Peter Shakespeare reports
The profile of the Pall-Ex brand is the result of strategic PR and marketing. But behind the scenes one person's single-minded determination, vision, ideas and hours of hard work have strengthened the company and helped it prosper.
Pall-Ex was created - and is still owned - by Hilary Devey in 1996. Devey saw how the early pallet networks took off and using her considerable experience working for the likes of Tibbett & Britten and TNT, she set out to create a pallet network that would be number one. 'I do not consider the other pallet networks as competition!' Devey retorts when we ask her about why her network does it better.
Working from her £12 million purpose-built hub at Ellistown, Leicestershire, the managing director of the Pall-Ex Group has built a business that now incorporates nine brands - well, 10, because you must include Devey herself - and she is now taking her company into Europe.
These brands include Pall-Ex's first and core business, Pall-Ex UK. Devey says: 'The Pall-Ex Group is still growing in terms of volumes, services and members, but Pall-Ex UK will always be our core business. We are continually striving to help our members improve their businesses. For example, the way in which our network reduces overall mileages and times is proving a big help to them in managing working time.
'We have introduced Multi-Pal, which enables members to give discount for multi-pallet consignments and by October next year we will have in-cab POD scanning rolled out nationally. We will supply all the hardware, software and support to the hauliers and will be the first network to achieve this unilaterally across the country,' she says.
'Parcels have had a paperless system for 10 years - saving huge amounts of money in terms of administration, time and efficiency - and general haulage is way behind with its costly paper trail. Our industry is customer driven and general haulage customers want the same service that the parcels companies offer,' she adds.
Devey told us about other new ventures designed to increase business and improve service. Pall-Ex is proactive in securing hub contracts and it relies on its members to provide the road transport. Devey says: 'We are growing our logistics and warehousing operations. The hauliers benefit by getting the business delivering for us. We have just secured 40,000sq-ft of warehouse space to service a contract for welding company SAF, for example. We are getting more enquiries than ever and we aspire to grow this side of the business, therefore offering an even better proposition to members and new hauliers as part of an overall membership package,' she explains.
'Pall-Ex allows hauliers to grow their customer base and revenue levels without having to take the financial risk. We do it using our economies of scale, a powerful IT system and our central hub. And thanks to our economies of scale it means we have buying power and can help to procure trucks, tyres, trailers and fuel for our members, keeping their costs fixed and as low as possible,' she adds.
Another area Devey plans to develop and roll out to members is home delivery. 'We are looking at home delivery for white and brown goods. Four per cent of our volume is delivered to the door. Using our web-based POD system we intend to grow this service and the infrastructure is already in place,' she says.
The Pall-Ex operation extends into Europe. Devey explains: 'The European operation is going well. Pall-Ex can now offer next day or two-day delivery across all of Europe from Scandinavia to Turkey. We have a hub in Germany - operated by Hellmann - and we are looking at similar operations in other countries. We have a three-year business plan to roll the Pall-Ex brand out across Europe.'
We ask Hilary Devey what the key is to her success. 'Pall-Ex is still privately owned, unlike some of the other networks,' she says. 'We have a talented, dynamic and aggressive team driving this business forward. Pall-Ex is run to ensure it delivers the best quality of service on the market. We are at the forefront of IT and property development and our members are the cream of the UK haulage industry. This is not by accident but has been a strategic move on our part to ensure everything about Pall-Ex is the best,' she concludes.
At night the Ellistown hub becomes active with around 9000 pallets moving from truck to truck - via a fleet of 38 compressed natural gas-powered Hyster counterbalance trucks - and the various Pall-Ex services merge into a frenzy of collective activity that from an outsider's viewpoint seems impossible to manage. But the whole operation is tightly controlled and according to Pall-Ex runs like clockwork.
Much of the success of Pall-Ex is down to its massive investment in IT: 'After the hub our biggest single investment has been in IT. We have a room full of computers and servers running the whole operation. Everything from our website to POD, pallet tracking, load planning and scheduling arrivals and departures; plus there is a 24-hour IT help desk,' explains Chris Martin, Pall-Ex's marketing director.
'Our long-haul trunks from Scotland, the North of England and Ireland have two drivers and arrive first. They call us 10 minutes before arrival. Everything stops so they can be turned around within 59 minutes. We schedule mid-hauls next and we aim to turn them around within four hours and the locals will come in, drop a trailer and then can go off and do another job before returning to take their final trailer,' he says.
As we said at the beginning of this report the driving force behind the rise
of Pall-Ex is a single-minded determination to be number one. Pall-Ex's branding
claims that it is number one, and from our time spent with the mastermind behind
the company, woe betide anyone who disagrees.