Marie Boyer, managing director of the European freight forwarder France Line International Transport Ltd, known as France Line, discusses the post-Brexit realities for her independent business which specialises in cross channel road freight services between the UK and France. “With a few fortunate examples, the first few months of 2021 have been exceptionally tough on UK manufacturers and freight forwarders. What we have found crucial to our success is the way we have adapted and re-evaluated our organisations and found new ways to keep trading on profitably despite so many factors working against us. For us at France Line, this resourcefulness has been paying off for ourselves and our customers.”
Honest, realistic advice and customs solutions
“There is no denying that the first quarter of 2021 was challenging, especially January when every EU market, including France, was disrupted due to the introduction of new customs procedures and European trade became more complex. However, we have fared better than many in our industry, principally due to us having warned our customers that a free trade deal would not mean they could continue as normal. Training in the new regulations has been extremely important for us to help our customers prepare for them. Of course, our figures in volume and turnover were down on the previous year, but we had a good quarter overall, and as of writing, everything is trending upwards. Since then we have seen some further improvements in quarter two. Yes the UK’s trade with Europe is down, but we are staying positive as new customers from different sectors of industries are coming on board mainly for our full load and express services.
“On the one hand, some of our traffic and volume are down as many EU importers are replacing their British suppliers with suppliers from within the EU due to the complexity and expense of the new additional customs processes. On the other hand, we are winning new business, for both exports and imports, though mainly for exports to France and the EU. We’re finding this is due to giving honest, realistic advice and customs solutions – and the feedback from our new customers is extremely positive. We have also picked up some new business due to a number of competitors reducing their services or struggling to trade with France and Europe, and us having good trailer capacity, as well as the understanding of the data required by customs for these trailers to move without issues. In addition a number of old customers have been returning, businesses who had used cheaper competitors, but have come back to us because the hassle-free transport and customs solutions we deliver is worth the price we charge.”
Help with the new normal
“Whilst some of our customers handle the customs themselves via their own agent and only book transport with us, our customs services are popular, especially with customers with smaller volumes who are struggling to get access to customs agents, many of whom are not taking on new clients. We actually prefer to handle all the customs directly ourselves if we can, so that we are in control of everything – we find this works better. Having a good network of UK, French and European customs agents and having a very good relationship with them has also crucial – they have been very cooperative and been there to help us and our customers when we needed it. In fact, it is the relationships that we nurture that has seen us outperform our competitors. We have worked alongside both our customers and our hauliers and drivers to explain the new customs rules and data requirements, and helped them to implement new working practices. This hand-holding service has become a key differentiator for us.
“Unsurprisingly, there are still many shippers confused by Incoterms and rules of origins, something which we do think is likely to last until later on in the year, but we are working closely with any new prospect to help them overcome these obstacles, especially for France which has been our specialist market since France Line’s inception 41 years ago, and still remains our main market today. Exports to and imports from the other Western and Eastern European countries we service are still being developed in relation to new customs regulations, and this will be an area of increased attention for us in the next few months. Our aim is to carry on identifying our customers’ needs, adapting to meet these, and carrying on moving onwards and upwards.”