An interview with Allports Group as the company makes inroads into the UK moving industry, by Steve Jordan
It was a wet day with snow forecast when I trundled up the M6 to visit Mark Sanders, Managing Director of Allports Group and his Sales Manager, Mark Hilton. But the welcome was warm as they explained a little more about their EasiLoader, 3.5 tonne van, designed specifically for the moving industry.
The EasiLoader entered the moving market back in 2013 and, since then, has seen good sales. However, I was interested to find out a little more about what makes the vehicle different and how Allports sees the market for LCVs in view of current market changes.
Allports is currently owned by Mark and his brother Paul. The company can trace its history back to 1876 when previous generations started a horse-drawn taxi and haulage company. In 1959, when Paul and Mark’s father and grandfather believed the transport industry in the UK would be nationalised, they set up a garage business. 2008 saw the company become the main dealer for Renault Trucks in Staffordshire. The company now turns over around £40 million a year, employs 130 people, sells over 700 vehicles a year and has an extensive hire fleet. It operates from four locations: the head office in Lichfield, depots in Stoke on Trent and Telford, and a vehicle maintenance unit in Birmingham. Its workshop and parts service provides 24-hour cover, six days a week.
The EasiLoader does not require an ‘O’ Licence, and the company claims they are economic to run and to purchase. All are supplied fully sign written and ready to go. Although the company provides vehicles to buy, lease, contract hire or rent, Mark believes that outright purchase is the best way for these vehicles. “Vehicles are very reliable nowadays so there are not the risks there once were.” He said at buying is the most economic way, especially when linked to an effective finance package, and the most flexible because you are not restricted to mileage and can sell them at any time. VAT can be deferred to fit in with your payment period and you get full capital allowance. “I can see very few circumstances when we would advise people to rent rather than buy,” he said
The vehicles are supplied with a high equipment specification as standard including: 145 bhp engine, six-speed gearbox, cruise control, satellite navigation, integrated blue tooth, auto wipers and lights and a 105-litre fuel tank. Options include a 170bhp engine, air conditioning, rear air suspension and a reversing camera. The standard body provides 22.62m3 capacity, which is very handy for handling lots of leggy furniture, but drivers do need to take care, as with any 3.5 tonne GVW vehicle, that they don’t overload it with general household goods.
Of course, there is no shortage of specialist 3.5-tonne vans available for movers to choose and it would be wrong of me to recommend any. That said, it appears that they all have individual characteristics that companies may find of benefit for their own business. To draw a distinction I asked Mark Hilton what he felt set his service and product apart from the rest. “The main difference is we are a Renault Trucks dealership so we have a special relationship with the Renault dealership network around the country,” he said. “The difference might not be obvious but when something crops up that’s out of the ordinary that’s when you need the right kind of help. I think we are best placed to do that.”
What cannot be denied is that both Marks are excited about the future as a few market factors seem to be stacking up in their favour. The rise of the Clean Air Zones (CAZ), for example they believe will give them a double opportunity as some people switch to smaller vehicles to avoid the charges and to Euro 6D engines which all the Renault Master chassis will carry from September this year. “We do believe that Euro 6 will drive a higher demand for LCVs as the CAZ develops,” said Mark Sanders. “Some people might change a vehicle a little earlier than they otherwise would. Also, the resale values of Euro 6 compared with Euro 5 will be better.”
That said Mark is not sure whether all the hype about the CAZs is justified long term. “The Euro 6D engine is a very clean vehicle,” he said. “I don’t think the motor industry has done a very good job in promoting how far the technology has come.” He also said that the costs of setting up a CAZ in a city is considerable and he’s not sure they can be justified in all but the major conurbations. Southampton, for example, has recently scrapped its plans for a CAZ.
Another factor that is driving customers towards smaller vehicles is the shortage of HGV drivers; there’s currently a deficit of around 50,000 drivers in the UK and some 250,000 in the five major countries of the EU. “These smaller vehicles can also be used to train new drivers on the job allowing them to progress to large HGVs later,” he said.
As for the electric market, Renault has provided a fully electric chassis however Mark Sanders is not sure the time is yet right for operators to make the switch. “My personal view is it’s too early for most companies to benefit other than for low mileage inner city locations. The range is too low and the infrastructure isn’t there yet for charging.” He does, however, believe that technology will move on quickly and, when it does, he will embrace it to drive productivity for his customers.
Allports has recently joined the British Association of Removers (BAR). “We think we are only scratching the surface of the UK moving industry so joining BAR will give us increased insight and understanding of the market and gain greater credibility in the industry,” he said. “We know that this is a people industry and the more contacts we have the better we will be able to target our service to meet their needs.”
- Mark Sanders (right) and Mark Hilton.
- The EasyLoader