Meachers Global Logistics – A Diamond Anniversary
We learn how in 60 years Meachers Global Logistics went from a “tin hut” to an international logistics business.
Meachers Global Logistics began life as FR Meacher & Sons, a coal business founded in the 1940s by one Fred Meacher and his children who joined the business when they returned from national service. Realising that coal was a seasonal trade, Fred began expanding on the transport side of the business, which eventually became Meachers Transport Ltd.
“It was around this time, at the beginning of the sixties, that the company’s current CEO, Bob Terris, joined the firm.
“We had a small site, with a tin hut for an office, but we gradually acquired a few businesses, including a major one in Southampton,” Terris recalls. “The site backed onto the Southampton Docks, making it an ideal location to develop the transport side of our business. By 1976 I became a director of the company, and by 1979 we had acquired warehouses at Southampton Airport.”
1979 was also when the manufacturing plant opposite Meachers’ Southampton Docks location was further developed by Pirelli General, to serve a contract for submarine cables. The plant was ideally suited to get those cables to the docks, but one obstacle stood in their way. That obstacle was Meachers Transport Ltd.
“The only way to get those lengths into the ships moored behind our premises were over our premises,” Terris recalls. “We had a 99-year lease, so if they put the gantry over it that would have blighted the development. We did not want to devalue the site. They offered us rent but it was not enough. They offered us alternative locations at Eastleigh and that didn’t suit us.”
Eventually, Pirelli made an offer Meachers could not refuse and offered to buy the whole company, and this time Meachers accepted. In 1981 Pirelli Global acquired the lease and business, placing Terris in charge on Pirelli’s behalf.
“They agreed budgets and we hit their targets every year,” Terris says.
Far more than simply a convenient route to the waterside, however, Pirelli would soon discover that in Meachers it had a valuable resource.
“When they opened a new factory in South Wales, we had expertise they didn’t have, proving ourselves to be useful,” Terris recalls. “We then started buying up other companies that provided services to Pirelli. We bought the KL Commercials, a Truck Franchise, and Oast Agencies, a freight forwarding company. We could then provide a one-stop-shop for movement of goods worldwide.”
The company rebranded as Meachers Global Logistics in 2009.
60 Years of Great Service
Today Meachers Global Logistics controls half a million square feet of warehouses, a fleet of 85 vehicles, and an international freight-forwarding business that competes on quality.
“We are really good at what we do. The only way we can demand the prices we do is to deliver top-class service,” Terris says. “We have a good record. I always say if you do it right the first time, you only have to do it once.”
In 2018 Meachers celebrated its 60th anniversary, and in that time it has built itself a strong reputation. It boasts a service record with no driver offences or defective vehicles and an average age of two to two-and-a-half years across its fleet.
“All our premises are in tiptop conditions. We have our own IT department, and we are financially sound. If anyone does a search on us, the accounts stack up,” Terris points out.
Throughout it all, Terris has been guided by two key pieces of advice his father gave to him.
“Never expect anything for nothing and treat people the way you want to be treated,” Terris says. “We have faced our share of economic issues, and when we do my approach is to cut and cut deep because when your cash is gone you are stuck. It has worked for us, and we apply it every time.”
It is this attention to the details and the balance book that has made Meachers Global Logistics a success.
“In the early days, it was a real cutthroat business. In the old days of the industry, a lot of people did not know what their costs were,” Terris recalls. “They would just find what someone else was charging and undercut them. We know to the penny what our costs are and if we cannot make a profit on that basis, we won’t take the business. We have walked away from some big contracts that way.”
When Terris joined Meachers in 1962 the company had a turnover of £30,000 a year. This year the company has a turnover of £56 million.
“We’ve overcome every single problem we’ve ever had and the way we do it is a consistent way of dealing with things and a culture running through the business,” Terris tells us.
The Next Generation
The company’s leadership is made up of people who have joined the company in less senior positions and worked through the business, and the company continues to give young people opportunities to develop their skills.
“We have a personal development scheme. We have a diverse workforce. Many women work in the company, mainly on admin, some in operations,” Terris points out. “They start as data input clerks, one is now an accountant, and one is our health safety and compliance manager. We pay for their training. We have had ex-drivers who have gone into the traffic office and ended up as transport manager, then heading special projects. They can’t always work long at those high positions, so we accommodate them elsewhere, bringing other people up through the business.”
While many companies boast about their internal training and development programs, Terris insists that these are not the whole picture when it comes to employee development.
“It is not just about what you pay but the way you treat people and the hours they work. I have given away about 50 long service gold watches, and that’s for a reason,” he says. “It’s how you treat people that encourages people to stay. Lots of people think that if you give training that’s the end of it, but that’s the start. You need to reward that training, or they will go somewhere else, and you have wasted their time and yours.”
It is fair to say that Terris has earned his own long-service watch, but he plans to stick around for a little while longer yet.
“I am 78 now. I still come in every day and will continue to do that. I have handed over a lot of the day-to-day running of the business, but people bounce things off me and as long as I can make a positive contribution, I’ll keep doing it- I don’t think I’ll need anyone to tell me when it’s time to go,” he says. “Continuity for the business is established with my eldest son, a chartered accountant and managing director, my other son’s an engineer, and the other directors are in their early 50s, so over the next ten years, succession is already there. When I was 62, I put this structure in place on the basis that if I didn’t do it right, I would have time to get it right. But I haven’t had to.”