Century Logistics – Supporting Growth with Logistics

Century Logistics is a family-owned business that has been trading for 24 years. In that time the company has built itself a reputation as a progressive logistics business, offering warehouse solutions with a range of added-value services.

“Of course, all logistics firms offer that,” admits Stuart Ager, Managing Director of Century Logistics. “But what makes us different is that most logistics firms basically only offer warehousing and transport, while we offer services from product repairs, Customer Services to Quality Assurance.”

Having previously worked for DHL, Stuart joined Century Logistics just over four years ago, and in that time he has found much about the company to admire.

“From a personal perspective, it’s a fantastic opportunity. I’ve worked for 20 years in logistics, and it is great being able to pick out the good bits of a corporate company and put them into an SME-type business like this,” Stuart says. “I’ve seen first-hand the difference we can make.”

While the corporate strategies Stuart adapts to Century can help, he is also keen not to lose the people-orientated approach at the core of the business.

“We partner with our customers, many of whom are with us for over 15 years,” Stuart tells us. “Our unique selling point is the way we work with our customers, the service we can offer. We can provide pick-and-pack, e-commerce, IT services. What makes us special is the solutions we provide and how we work in partnership with customers to simplify their lives.”

This might sound like an awful lot of jargon and marketing spiel, but for Stuart, it means a lot more than that.

“The fundamental difference is you can see these ideas practised in the workplace. The values are evident on the shop floor and that’s one of the key differences between us and larger logistics companies,” Stuart explains.

A Perfect Storm

Of course, over the last couple of years logistics has been in the news more than perhaps ever before, with everything from Covid, to Brexit, to the Evergreen getting stuck in the Suez Canal. There is no shortage of challenges, but at the same time, Century Logistics’ customers are undergoing a period of incredible growth.

“Our customers are growing at a fantastic rate. They’re growing so quickly that it presents a number of challenges and opportunities to adapt,” Stuart says. “If you think about the last two years, it has been a perfect storm. We have had Brexit, the pandemic, our company has faced challenges, but ones no different to everyone else. But we’ve got through that and made changes that we might not have made as quickly otherwise.”

Those challenges are primarily around space. Century Logistics is aware that suppliers and customers alike are clearly finding it harder, and everyone is being squeezed by current conditions, so Century is adapting to that new environment.

“Everything’s been accelerated,” Stuart tells us. “We had to make changes within a couple of weeks, laying out different shift patterns. Everything had to change overnight. We didn’t look at one or two things, we had to look at everything, staff, management, a top to bottom review.”

The results have been positive, and Century Logistics is now on a far stronger footing.

“We’ve got over everything, that’s the pleasing thing,” Stuart reflects. “We got through the most difficult two years we’ll ever face.”

Labour Shortage? What Labour Shortage?

Of course, one of the leading stories around the logistics sector, and a common complaint from those doing business within it, has been the labour shortage. Stuart sees things differently, however.

“Everyone in logistics will tell you that people are impossible to come by right now. That’s not true,” he says simply. “We’re still finding people and have employed 30-40 people so far since the start of the pandemic. Everyone thinks there’s a shortage of lorry drivers and people in the warehouse sector but we’re not finding that.”

That is not to say that Century Logistics has been investing heavily in its recruitment processes recently. Far from it, as continuing growth makes recruitment a necessity.

“Our referral scheme has been popular. We’ve had a lot of recommendations. We use two or three key agency suppliers. Word of mouth is very powerful,” Stuart explains. “Pay is a factor, but we also offer a lot more, from free tea and coffee, to supporting people and making this an attractive place to work. We have had to put more resources into recruitment, increasing the headcount on our HR team. That would have happened anyway as we have had to grow the business, but maybe not as quickly. First and foremost, people are attracted by our name and reputation. That has enabled us to stay one step ahead of local competition.”

The most powerful recruitment tool Century Logistics has at its disposal, however, is the positive experience of the company’s current employees.

As Stuart explains, “We’ve worked very closely with our 200 employees. We had our Christmas party on Friday. We know everyone by name.”

Century also offers a clear career path for new recruits, with the kind of long-term stability that is rare in today’s employment market.

“We’ve looked at and used our succession plan. Our pipeline for the next 12 to 18 months has had to be ready much sooner,” Stuart admits. “We have implemented development and induction plans, mitigating that list, and working on the training and development side of the business. Whatever happens, we’re not compromising our training and development program.”

At the same time, the challenges of the last two years have meant the responsibility Century Logistics has to its staff has been at an all-time high.

“We’ve had to work closer than ever together, whether it’s arranging transport to get people to work, or more one-to-one meetings,” points out Stuart. “Between 30 and 40% of our workforce are non-UK residents so they haven’t been home. So, you have to be closer because their problems don’t just stop when they come into work.”

Overall, talking with Stuart, the thing that comes across most is his excitement for what is happening around the sector right now.

“Our customers are in the middle of a sweet spot. Their businesses are growing faster than I’ve seen customers grow in 20 years of logistics. We’ve also got new start-ups coming into the UK,” Stuart says. “The key thing for us is to continue our own growth at a sensible rate, taking on more warehouse space, but also the right warehouse space. We want to support the growth in our customers and continue to develop our business, with 6 million square feet of new warehousing along the A14 corridor.”

Indeed, Century Logistics is more in demand than ever.

“We’ve just taken on a 7,000-pallet warehouse, and it has been filled before the racking was up,” points out Stuart. “Up until the end of Q1 and into Q2 next year, that warehouse is filled. Which is great news, but it also means we need more space. We need to acquire that in harmony with the growth of our team because you can’t grow a business without people. We’ll continue doing what we do well while working to future-proof the company.”

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