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Widdowson, the logistics and warehousing group, moves up into top gear

The Widdowson Group, with its head office in Glenfield and three other warehouse facilities in Leicestershire, has announced aggressive plans to grow the operation. For this financial year (1st April 2009 to 31st March 2010) the business has targeted a turnover of £22.4m with a net profit of £100,000. Meanwhile, the three year plan will see the company grow to £30m with a three percent bottom line £1m net profit.

Peter Stevenson, Widdowson’s managing director, takes up the story, "In November 2008 the management team embarked on a process to develop a strategy that would see the company thrive in a very tough market place. We knew we had to take costs out of the business and become more efficient. One of the first steps we made was to begin a search for a financial director with solid experience of the logistics and transport market.

"Getting the right person was not the work of a moment, but we have found our man, Arnaud Arhainx, who joined us earlier this year. As the first financial director in the Group’s history, Arnaud has his work cut out. Previously finance director and company secretary in the UK for Europe’s leading logistics and distribution business, Norbert Dentressangle, Arnaud has been able to hit the ground running and we are already seeing the benefits of having him on board."

Married with two children, Arnaud Arhainx, a 44 year old French national, has spent seven years in the UK working for Dentressangle. "It is a big challenge for me," explains Arhainx, "for the year ending 31st March 2009 Widdowson has reported a loss of half a million pounds on a turnover of £24.5m. My first priority was to look at every aspect of the business to see where we could make immediate improvements. The goal was to get the cost base down without impacting the high levels of service for which the business is renowned.

"The global economic downturn has forced almost every company to examine the way they do business and it is refreshing to come into a company that is so willing to change and move forward. For this financial year, we have taken a realistic approach and budgeted a fall in turnover of eight and a half percent, in line with the downturn in the market. Despite this, the £2m cost savings we have made give us a more flexible cost base and enable us to confidently fore a net profit of £100,000 for 2009/10."

The strategy implemented to deliver the growth plans and cost savings is wide ranging. It includes a reduction in the Widdowson fleet and better utilisation of vehicles. To achieve this, the company has made a significant investment in satellite tracking systems technology, enabling more efficient control of its fleet.

Further savings have been attained by way of renegotiation of supplier contracts right through the company. At the same time, there has been a management restructure, a reduction of the headcount and salary cuts throughout the business.

"It’s been an interesting challenge," explains John Hawksworth, commercial director for the company. "The most important factor was to get the entire team onside. To that end we have focused on keeping everybody involved and informed of the changes. To promote better working relations with the driving staff, for example, we have given union recognition and that is paying dividends.

"Traditionally, the Widdowson Group has developed through its core brands of transport and warehousing. And, whilst these divisions continue to support the growth of the business, the margins in both are being squeezed by increased competition and over supply in the market.

"As a consequence, our strategy is to diversify into other areas of logistics, principally contract packing and added value services where we can develop a niche operation with improved results. This will give us the ability to offer a totally integrated solution to our existing and prospective customers, whilst allowing us to further develop our core activities to support the added value operations.

"We have invested heavily in ing 50,000sq ft of warehousing on site in Glenfield to become a dedicated contract packing facility. To improve our visibility in this market we have joined the British Contract and Manufacturers Packing Association (BCMPA). In addition, we are currently undergoing assessment to the BRC (British Retail Consortium) standard to give us the ability to offer food based customers a quality service in this area too," concludes Hawksworth.

A further example of the company’s diversification is the agreement with IPP Logipal, the pallet rental and pallet pooling business. Widdowson has developed a pallet storage, inspection and repair facility for Logipal to handle two million pallets a year through the Glenfield depot.

Summing up, managing director Peter Stevenson says, "We’ve established a strong management team in the Group. The shareholders have invested in the business, the bank are fully behind us and we are now recruiting people who will add value to our business. Consequently we are looking forward to the future, confident that we have the right total package to achieve our goals."

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