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The original Maxi Mover - low floor 3.5T Luton van sales

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Busting the recession

Feb 08, 2012
According to Rob Lane, Exeter-based director of removals firm Britannia Lanes, looking for new opportunities has helped the company grow its way out of the recession.

When the recession arrived, his company went from its best financial year to its worst in 12 months. “The impact on the removals industry was swift and devastating, as the housing market slumped,” he said. “We had vehicles and staff sitting around doing nothing. It was tough, but we had to make staff redundant and sell surplus vehicles.”

Rob said that his revenues fell back to where they were a decade earlier, and prices fell back even further as firms competed for what little business there was. “It has been a tough time, and some established firms have not survived. But rather than cut costs, sit back and wait for the situation to improve, we realised we had to look for opportunities to grow our way out of the downturn.”

The company was founded in 1974 in Cornwall by Rob’s parents Mike and Sylvia.  It’s still a family business with Rob and his wife Emma running Exeter; Rob’s brother Mark, his wife Julie and their daughter Sarah, running Truro; and his sister, Maria, and her husband Angus,  running the operations in Bridgewater and Bristol. It’s network across the Westcountry includes a fleet of about 40 vehicles and more than 90 staff.

Being masters of their own destiny means that they can move quickly to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. “The move to Exeter came about after land values had fallen back due to the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s, giving us the opportunity to acquire a site we otherwise would not have been able to afford,” explained Rob. We've done the same this time, taking advantage of the downturn, with our move to Bristol. What we have found is that when times are hard you have to be positive, review your own business and see what opportunities there are to widen your services and find areas of growth. It gives a positive sign to your customers that you are expanding and it is also good for the management team to have projects to get their teeth into.”

A major decision in recent years has been to create new revenue streams to replace the reduction in the company’s core business. “We have offered self storage facilities at our Cornwall site for many years, and five years ago I was considering adding it to Exeter. When the recession hit it became clear we had to act quickly to get our revenue streams back, so we moved 200 containers into the newly built Merrit House building across the road from our Marsh Barton depot. We put in a self store structure on three floors giving us 15,000 sq ft of rental units – this required an investment of £250,000.”

Like any business venture, it takes about three years to see a return, but the company is now seeing the rewards. This has led to further business, with self-drive van hire. “We were referring customers to local hire firms, then decided we should offer the service ourselves. We launched in Exeter last August with one Luton van. Now we have four and a 7.5 tonne lorry and have just taken delivery of our second panel van, investing a total in excess of around £150,000. It is providing a positive revenue stream which is already showing a significant return on the investment. Encouraged by its success, we are working on plans to expand our hire offering to include minibuses, motorhomes and cars.”

Another recent initiative is the company’s Business and Home Shred service. “We started the service for householders who were worried about avoiding identity theft by securely disposing of their sensitive documents, and are now expanding the service to businesses. I can see that area growing to become a good separate stream of revenue.”

Rob said that this has meant that the company is moving on from removals to become 'Britannia Lanes Services'.  “We are not just moving, storing and shipping, but adding services relevant to our business which are needed by our customers. And we have done it all with the same number of staff.”

Now the business is back to the level we were at five years ago. “I'm pleased to say we have been able to re-employ those who were made redundant, and have just won a major long-term contract that is keeping two road-trains and four staff occupied full-time. What we have learned is that when hard times arrive, you have got to go out there and look for business – and adapt what you do to find ways to survive and grow.”

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