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Angels and demons: an interview with Derek Milner of Intransit

Dec 19, 2012
No business ever runs perfectly smooth. But sometimes, along the way, we meet people who help us in a totally selfless way without apparent reason. There are also times when it seems the odds are being stacked against us. Here Steve Jordan talks to Derek Milner from Intransit in Trowbridge about the ups and downs he’s had along the way - and some he’s still having.
Derek started his company as a bet.  He was working as an electrician fixing street lights.  Frustrated at being continually by-passed for promotion he bet his boss £5.00 that he could start his own business and make it successful.  The result was a roller-coaster that wouldn’t have been out of place at Alton Towers.

In 1997 Derek sold his car and bought a Transit van, a computer and some business cards.  He had no experience but his Dad had always told him that there must be some money in ‘moving stuff around for people’.  Derek started working hard to prove his father right.

Three months later he was still working full-time as an electrician but driving his van after hours.  But by then he had thought of the company name – Intransit – as all the ‘stuff’ he moved was in a Transit, and he began making a name for himself. “I always wanted to create a brand and be known locally,” he explained. 

 “It was very hard going,” Derek said. “One day I was about to pack it in when a shop rang and wanted me to do some home deliveries of flat-pack furniture. It worked well and I was soon earning £100/week and had a mate helping me.”  But the success wasn’t to last.  “They went bankrupt owning me about £1500. I thought … I can’t do this any more.”

Just as Derek had decided again to throw in the towel he took a phone call from a large furniture store who wanted him to deliver sofas. “I rang my mate and told him we were back in business.  The company is still a client of mine today.”

But he had still to do a household removal.  His break into that market came from another chance phone call from an elderly lady who had had a fire in her kitchen and wanted to move out. “I told her that we don’t really do household removals,” remembered Derek. “But she said, ‘well you do now’, and that was that.  She wouldn’t take no for an answer. I don’t know why she rang me or insisted that I do the work but I’m glad she did.  I still work for her family.”

Going full-time

Work picked up from that point on.  “All sorts happened and lots of people helped me.  I started marketing Intransit as a moving company (not light haulage) and I was getting busier.”  Derek explained that he had an office set up in an airing cupboard and was working around the clock. “I was learning so much so quickly.” Eventually having two jobs became too much and he left his job as an electrician.  “I never got my five quid though.”

Building the business

In 2004 he was approached by H J Knee department store in Trowbridge.  The company had some vehicles for sale including a 7.5 tonne lorry that Derek had his eye on. “I said that I couldn’t afford it but the boss there offered to let me pay half then and the rest a year later.  I don’t know why, he just wanted to give me a leg up.”  Derek took the offer, got a CPC (he already had an HGV licence) and took desk space in Knee’s office.

In 2005 Derek’s daughter was born so he had even more to work for.  He decided to make the company look more professional with its distinctive livery and, the following year, he joined the National Guild of Removers and Storers. “I considered joining the BAR but I thought it would be impossible,” explained Derek. “Instead I applied for and became a member of The Guild.”

The business continued to move on.  Derek bought a five-door Scania from Andrew Porter in 2007. “It was a bit of a shock to have something that big but it got us known even more.  It was then that I realised the importance of side doors, containers and containerised storage.  I then knew where I was headed.”

Illness and reconciliation

In 2008 illness struck.  Derek was diagnosed with a serious condition that required him to undergo a major operation on his hip.  It was about that time that Amy Lake joined him.  “She looked after the place while I was in hospital,” said Derek.  “It was then that I realised the importance of stepping back.  I was not a removal man any more, I was a man who ran a removal company. I had to wise up.”

Bucking the recession

Derek’s company continued to do well despite the recession.  By the end of 2009 he had 55 containers in his warehouse.  He moved to larger premises (11,000sq ft) in March 2011 expanding his storage to 180 containers.  The company now has seven containerised trucks and ten full-time employees.  He puts his success down to his local knowledge.  He was born and bred in the area and people know him as a local lad. “People like to use local companies.  They like the idea of a ‘Trowbridge guy come good’ and I guess I play on that.”

BAR and The Guild

Despite Derek thinking previously that he wasn’t good enough to join BAR, he did become a member 18 months ago.  Since joining he said that his experience of BAR has been excellent.  “I am proud to be a member of BAR along with the bigger companies,” Derek said. “I enjoy voicing my opinion at Area meetings and I now know there is always someone I can call on if I need some help or advice.  I also get customers ringing because they know we are BAR.”

Derek’s company’s membership of The Guild continued until 2010. Since leaving, the company has found itself in a legal battle.  The case has yet to come to court. Derek did not wish to go into detail about the case before the hearing however he did say that the whole situation had left him feeling “immensely disappointed”. 

The Mover will report on the result of the case when it is announced.


Left to right: Amy Lake, Derek Milner and Becky Morris.

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