October/November/December 2020

The Irish connection

Harbour International Freight has a tradition of offering specialist trailer services to and from Ireland and the UK. Following continued development over the past decade they now provide a full freight forwarding service via their integrated European Network. They are based in 16 locations throughout the UK and Ireland, and GM Business Connect caught up with Steve Swinburn, UK General Manager at their head office in Eccles:

What services do you offer to/from Ireland or in the Irish market?
“We provide daily departures from our UK depots to our own depots in Dublin, Cork and Belfast covering the full range of Next Day and Standard services, from a carton to a full load and everything between, along with full ADR services.”

How would you view prospects in the Irish market now? How badly was it affected by Covid and is it recovering now?
“We have seen a dramatic pick up on volumes throughout the summer and in particularly September. We haven’t been hit too hard unlike some as we have a very broad customer base covering FMCG to Chemicals and manufacturing. So, with that range we have weathered the storm quite well. April was the hardest hit month with volumes decreasing around 30%.”

What effect do you think Covid will have on the Irish market going forward?
“It is going to continue to be something to watch and see. As the lockdown was lifting we saw consumers returning and freight volumes improving, however, with new restrictions in place it will make the run up to Christmas even more interesting – we will be watching to see if the usual seasonal upturn will be there.”

Did you/are you taking any measures with regards to Covid now?
“With the current spike in the UK Northwest and with our UK head office based in Manchester, it has been particularly challenging. We have followed all government advice and exceeded it, with a strong multiple daily cleaning regime of our facilities, and all drivers ensuring units and FLT are cleaned at the beginning and end of shifts including any driver changeovers at night.”

How important is your membership of the Pall-Ex pallet network?
“With the recent acquisition of the Pall-Ex network from Hilary Devey, and now Fortec, by the membership and management, we are now a leading shareholder member and able to play our part in key decisions and the direction of the network.  Volumes are increasing month by month network-wide, and Harbour in particular has experienced a 100% increase in volumes for the UK domestic market over the same time last year with 5 nightly trunks into both Northern and Central Hubs.”

What are your growth plans in the immediate future?
“We are currently mid-build on our new Dublin facility which will be 160,000 sq. ft when completed. It will be operational mid-2021, it is a €14 million investment on behalf of our group which will bring massive operational efficiencies and growth.  We are also looking at replacing our UK head office in Manchester will new larger facilities in Q4 of 2021 to enable us to service our growing customer base throughout the North and Midlands. To support the increase in volumes we are experiencing we’ve added additional vehicles to our haulage fleet in Manchester along with new vehicles in our Cork depot. This includes the recent purchase of some new Montracon double deck trailers.”

Have you been recruiting during the pandemic?
“We have recently in our Manchester depot recruited four new members of staff, and are currently looking to further add to that later this year and next. With Brexit looming this may increase further with Customs Clearance staff.”

Has there been any noticeable changes in the run up to leaving the EU?
“Building up enough goods for the supply chain to avoid any Customs impact has meant stockpiling of freight and goods in warehousing. This has resulted in pushing up demand for warehousing in the North, with some logistics providers doubling or tripling warehouse costs as demand is far out stripping supply. It is only the tip of the iceberg, with these costs inevitably being passed on at some point to the end consumer. In Felixstowe for example freight coming into the UK from China and beyond is currently facing a two week delay due to capacity and restrictions.”

What are your long term plans going forward?
“We have over the last 8 years increased our turnover in Manchester from £900,000 to £6 million, and we’re looking at the new decade with a similar objective for expanding. We are always on the lookout for growth opportunities, including any bolt on acquisitions to support our long-term business plans whether that be in the UK, Ireland or Europe.”

Find out more about Harbour International Freight – visit: www.harbourfreight.co.uk