Pall-Ex Group back on road to success one year after sale

Management at one of the UK’s biggest haulage networks said the business was on the right track – a year after coming under new ownership and despite the lockdown. Twelve months ago Pall-Ex was sold by ex-Dragon’s Den star Hilary Devey to a combination of its members and management team. Managing director Kevin Buchanan, who was MD of the north west Leicestershire business under Ms Devey, took the biggest stake and is now overseeing operations as its chief executive.

The GBP85 million turnover business, which is headquartered at Ellistown, near Coalville, Leicestershire, runs networks in eight European countries, operating in 26 nations all together. It is planning further oversees expansion, while back home it has been building its business-to-consumer operations as more and more people shop online. The group uses its members to move pallets for one another.

Most of its UK freight passes through its central Leicestershire hub, and it has similar hub and spoke operations in its member countries. Mr Buchanan said the logistics giant had welcomed new hauliers and recorded a 20 per cent increase in shareholder membership enquiries compared to the previous year. It now has over 80 shareholder members and is still growing.

The roster of 15 new members during the last 12 months includes John Thresher Transport based in Bristol, Secure Transport Solutions in Glasgow and Swansea-based Halls Brothers to name but a few. Pall-Ex Group has also underlined its position as sector leader, acquiring the assets and goodwill of both the Fortec Distribution Network and Cranleigh Distribution Services Limited, while also making a raft of senior management appointments across the group.

The entrepreneur who created a business empire from scratch

Hilary Devey is a Leicestershire treasure. Not only is she a high achieving businesswoman and entrepreneur, she is also a national celebrity having appeared on Secret Millionaire, Dragons’ Den and Channel 4 series The Intern.

She gained a wealth of experience in the distribution sector, having worked at Littlewoods followed by Tibbett and Britten, and Scorpio – part of the United Carrier network. She then spent seven years in the retail distribution sector at TNT before leaving to set up her own business. Before she launched Pall-Ex, it was difficult to transport small consignments of palletised freight quickly and cost-effectively.

Hilary quickly spotted this needed addressing and was responsible for revolutionising distribution in this country by developing a business model that would overcome this. While setting up Pall-Ex she encountered many hardships. Bankers refused to back her proposed venture and she was forced to sell her house and downgrade her car to fund its start up.

Many would have given up but single mother Hilary persisted, knowing that her idea simply had to work. In the first year of trading, she put employees’ wages first and that Christmas she couldn’t even cover the cost of a festive dinner for her and her son. After months of searching, Hilary managed to find her first premises and, in November 1996, Pall-Ex was born.

Despite the pandemic, it has achieved a freight volume increase of 11 per cent, compared to a sector average of -1.1 per cent recorded by the Association of Pallet Networks (APN). It put that down to a six-figure investment in technology, which it plans to build on in the next 12 months. Its MyNexus system provides sector-leading tracking and visibility, vastly improving the user experience for the B2C market, where the majority of growth has been achieved.

The increase has contributed to another key Pall-Ex UK milestone, as October saw the team move the 20 millionth domestic pallet through its central Leicestershire hub. Mr Buchanan said: “We are proud of everything we have accomplished during our first 12 months as a management and member-owned partnership. “It hasn’t been the year that we anticipated, but despite all the challenges we have faced as a sector, Pall-Ex has successfully negotiated this difficult period for the benefit of our network.

“We have established ourselves as the network of choice for hauliers and underlined our position as the number one network for quality by maintaining steady growth within the B2C market. “As a group, we have also seen growth in mainland Europe, with two of our partners relocating to larger central hubs as well as introducing a chilled pallet distribution service that will disrupt the market in Iberia. “The Pall-Ex Group already moves more than 20,000 per day within the European operations.

Over the next 12 months we anticipate further growth within the B2C market and plan to drive our European growth into new territories “We have demonstrated that Pall-Ex is the network that supports and champions independent hauliers through growth, technology and sector challenges. “Pall-Ex and Fortec celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2021 and we are confident that this milestone will add further fuel to our organisation’s success.

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank our UK network members and European Partners for their hard work and dedication over the last year.”

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