Trucking to the top
Considering our feature on innovative operators, we thought we’d bring you the story of Sligo Haulage & Distribution – Ireland’s top regional transport operator. JARLATH SWEENEY reports.
During our booming economic period, transport companies were so busy that few took the time to continually work on their overall business strategy. One particular operator, based in the North West of Ireland, remained conscious of this fact and consequently was able to come out of the recession stronger than ever.
Sligo Haulage & Distribution, headed up by Stephen Mullen, kept abreast on all aspects of the multi-faceted elements that make up road haulage and distribution, making improvements as deemed necessary.
The collective efforts of Mullen and his staff have not gone unnoticed, as in recent years numerous awards have made their way to the company, not least a Civic Reception hosted by Sligo County Council; a first for a company in this industry.
Mullen and his family can be justifiably proud of this honour, along with the other accolades, such as winning the Fleet Transport Awards in the Best Regional Haulier category three times.
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has also taken notice of the way Mullen runs his business, from daily work safety procedures to vehicle maintenance and adherence to various acts of legislation.
A case study on Sligo Haulage & Distribution, undertaken by the HSA, is near completion. It will be used as a bromide for other companies to follow. Mullen is not afraid to implement change and says he looks forward to hearing from the HSA after its audit and will follow any recommendations.
The company was established in 1998 by Mullen, having served his apprenticeship with another renowned Sligo-based haulier, John McGarry. Today, over 30 staff are employed in various roles and ensure that the 16-strong vehicle fleet (plus 28 trailers) are kept on the road and running.
The company operates out of a
2 200 m2 warehouse at the Industrial Estate in Tubbercurry, from where haulage and distribution services are provided in counties Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim and Longford.
Included in that portfolio is container haulage and groupage distribution. This facility also houses the North West depot for TNT Express. A special overnight service for local customers with overseas branches is also provided.
Being local or regional has been the key to continuous success for Sligo Haulage and the numerous awards have helped too, according to Mullen. “Many companies have approached us to cater for their specific needs because we have been recognised as a high-quality service provider in our area.”
In describing his company as the best national transport operator in the North West, Mullen smiles and remarks that he does indeed market his company nationwide, and finds that networking within the industry remains one of the most profitable ways to advertise in the haulage business. As a hands-on operator, he continually works on the business relationship with customers, while also looking to broaden his customer base.
Recent investment in upgrading the warehousing facility is reaping rewards, following enquiries from blue-chip companies seeking storage solutions in the area. Dovetailing that development is achieving new business from existing customers.
Increasing operating and running costs are the biggest obstacles and challenges to profitability and Mullen, as a member of the Irish Road Haulage Association, was one of the campaigners in the successful lobbying of the Irish government to introduce an Essential Fuel User Rebate in 2011.
Mullen is particularly pleased with the returns from the three new 3,5-t Mercedes-Benz Sprinters. Likewise, a close eye will be kept on the two new Euro-6 DAF XF tractor units, to extract the maximum efficiency from his mixed line-up of vehicles from Volvo, Scania, DAF and Mercedes-Benz. Mullen realises that investing in a telematics system will pay dividends and assist with maintenance schedules.
Two new Montracon Skeletal trailers are on their way too, fitted with BPW axles and drum brakes; components that Mullen insists on for their reliability and durability. Mullen outsources repairs and maintenance and it is working well, with preventative maintenance being one of his philosophies.
Mullen supports the Road Safety Authority’s clampdown on rogue operators through its Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness Roadside Checks. On the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC), Mullen feels that it has brought change in how the transport industry is perceived and helps drivers better understand new legislation. “Overall, the Driver CPC has been a progressive step,” he states.
When purchasing new vehicles, Mullen looks at the fuel economy figures as well as the driver comforts and safety items fitted. “These items are essential as they cut down on driver fatigue and support our safe driving policy,” he says. Price, too, is an important aspect, as he considers the vehicles as investments in his business and this takes in the residual value of the brand after their first life is done.
How the vehicle looks and is presented on the road is the X-factor for Mullen. The vibrant yellow coloured livery expresses a presence, energy and professionalism that the company portrays. Truck enthusiasts will admire his immaculately kept trucks and vans. It is no surprise, therefore, that the industry recognises and acknowledges good practice in this way.
Conscious of the fact that he won’t be running the business forever, Mullen has laid down the foundations for one of his two sons to take over the mantle. Currently Gareth (21) is studying a business degree at Sligo Institute of Technology and works in the firm whenever he can. Keith (18) can also be seen busy around the yard.
Both Gareth and Keith turn their hands to many tasks within the business, from washing down the vehicles, to carrying out a special delivery in one of the vans over in the United Kingdom. This augurs well for the future of the business and ensures that the hard work and commitment that Mullen has put into the business will continue.
As regular readers of FOCUS know, this magazine has been appointed an associate member of the International Truck of the Year (IToY)! FOCUS is the sole South African magazine to have joined this prestigious body. One of the advantages of this association is access to exclusive articles, specially written for FOCUS by ITOY jury members. This is one such article.