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Interview: Stephen Gray

Feb 03, 2012
An interview with Steve Jordan.

Stephen Gray is managing director of Anglo Pacific in London, one of the UK’s largest international movers specialising in migrant destinations. Steve Jordan from The Mover, met him at his London NW10 office to ask him about the migration shipping industry and about how he runs his business.

How have things changed in the migrant business in the last few years?

Over the 33 years we’ve been in business we’ve seen a lot of changes and have had to adapt quickly as the market has shifted. Over the last few years the visa requirements for entry into most migrant destinations have become tougher. Five years ago it was a fairly safe bet that if you were a qualified trades person you could get in; now there is a much greater focus on job skills matching requirements for the local market.

Fees for visas and medical tests have all increased in recent years, there’s also an English test to be passed. It takes longer to process applications too which I suspect discourages some people. 

There is no doubt that the financial advantage of emigrating has been eroded over the years.  The improved lifestyle people may be able to expect has to be balanced against rising house prices in Australia and New Zealand. Right now people in the UK are finding it hard to sell their houses so, with everything considered, their net migration wealth has altered.

Customers are also much better informed than before because of the Internet.  They can all tell you what’s right and what’s wrong!

In what ways has the company developed from its migrant roots?

Anglo Pacific is now much more than a migrant shipper.  We have thriving baggage and mini-moves departments that have consistently achieved or beaten targets over the last five years. We have a successful fine art department that handles antiques, art, new furniture and has many valuable contacts who require specialist shipping services. Our trade department is well known and works closely with many smaller move companies to support them and provide a seamless door to door international service to their own clients. We also enjoy a thriving market in helping long-stay Australasians when they return home.  We are fortunate in having a very low turnover of staff so our people are able to help us develop the business and enjoy the rewards of their hard work.

It’s a very competitive market, so how do you differentiate yourself? 

The only thing you can do is try to make your service offering different but everybody is very price-aware. Where we benefit is that on groupage work we can guarantee the frequency to all the major ports in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Canada.

When you say ‘guarantee’ what exactly do you mean?

On our baggage business for our own private customers we offer a money back guarantee. If we don’t get the shipment there in the specified time we give them their money back. On the non-baggage groupage we can guarantee the frequency because we load for those ports every week. We don’t have a 4-5 week consolidation period as do many companies.

Do you think there’s an opportunity to provide a ‘relo’ style service to migrants that would increase your service offering?

There probably is but a lot of customers feel they can do these things themselves through the Internet.  The power of forums gives them direct feedback on what is available at destination and the quality. The proper migrant people don’t expect to have their hands held as much as some corporate clients.

So how do you expand the service offering to migrants?

We always offer a professional service and invest in the quality of packing materials, the skills of our packing crews and we maintain the frequency of consolidated containers.  We are very much aware of the power of the Internet for feedback.  We accept the positive comments with good grace and, if we do get any negative comments, we react quickly to put things right.

How important are electronic enquiries for you?

The importance of search engines, compared to print media, is growing rapidly as people have the ability to sit in the comfort of their own homes, conduct extensive research and review experience of previous customers before inviting you to quote.  It’s all part of our ‘instant’ world.  For this reason we find it necessary to filter out the good enquiries and react quickly, preferably providing a quotation on the same day.

Do you think customers will ever accept you quoting estimated figures and adjusting the final figure based on what is collected?

Yes, and we do that for some small jobs now.  But it revolves around what can be collected in a day.  If the extra pushes it into another day you start to run up big bills that would be unacceptable.  I don’t think we’ll ever get to a stage where nothing is surveyed. I don’t think the customers are ready for that yet.

Do you ever buy enquiries from brokers?

Yes we have done but the results have been mixed for us.  Experience has show that some of the enquiries can be very good but many are not.  The trick is to learn how to sort out the good from the not so good.  You also need to select who you use very carefully too.

Will your company be going for the new overseas Standard BS 8564:2011

Probably not as we believe the FIDI/FAIM standard that we already hold will cover this.  We have always been big supporters of the FIDI standard and the benefit it brings.  We support the introduction of BS 8564:2011 and are sure that companies that currently do not hold an overseas standard will benefit greatly from adopting it.

Do you think that IMMI is still as relevant now that most people pay by credit card?

I think IMMI, or some scheme like it, is critical during this time of economic uncertainty. If a customer is parting with £3-£4,000 they want to know that some organisation has responsibility for making sure the shipment is delivered. I think the global financial crisis has made everyone more aware of the need to be careful and, in a way, might have played into our hands in that respect. But I think most members of the moving public, and some movers, know very little about what IMMI provides.

Why do you think the number of overseas visitors at the BAR conference has gone down over the last few years.

I have spoken to a lot of overseas companies about this. The cost of travel and time away from the office are big factors especially as many companies are experiencing difficult market conditions.  The BAR conference also has to compete with some other conferences that are specifically dedicated to international moving. The business content at the BAR conference is not always relevant to overseas visitors.

If there was something at the conference that was organised specifically for overseas visitors I think more of them would come.

How do you motivate people?

We choose good people and pay them well. But we also help them to set clear goals for themselves and work with them to help them be successful. We run a lot of social events during the year – pig roasts and boat trips during the summer – and our Christmas party is sacrosanct. It’s the one time of the year we have the chance to let everyone have a good time.  We try hard to create a good working environment in which everyone has access to the senior management team. The place still has a family feel to it. We treat people like adults. For example we have not banned Facebook; that’s the way the current generation communicates.  We have TVs around showing the sales figures which concentrates everyone’s minds, but when the rugby World Cup was on we watched the rugby.  Nobody abuses it, so it works for everyone. We emphasise team success.

What’s your social media policy?

Everyone can access social media from their desks.  The rule is you only use it during breaks.  We promote responsible use and there is considerable peer pressure not to abuse the privilege. The business also has its own Facebook page.  We have a huge education job to do to make sure we make the best use of social media and don’t suffer from abuse from people within or outside the organisation.

What would be your advice to a company just starting out doing overseas moving?

Build long-term relationships with your agents.  Work just as hard at getting inbound business as you do at getting outbound.  Invest in training your people out on the road and in the office:  You can haemorrhage just as much money if you do the administration badly as you can by breaking the furniture.

Biography: Stephen Gray

Stephen Gray is the Managing Director of Anglo Pacific.  His company ships around 2,000 TEUs a year of household goods for its private and trade customers making it one of the largest migrant shippers in the UK. 

Stephen began life in the moving industry as a management trainee with Pickfords in 1988 and, over the following eight years specialised in transforming under-performing branches. He left the company in 1997 to move to Robinsons of Abingdon where he ran the branch for five years before taking on the responsibility for the whole of the company’s branch network.

After a brief spell with AGS he joined Anglo Pacific as general manager in September 2007 and two years later became its managing director.


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