Taking the wheel
Since its inception, Clugston has been a business driven to service the needs of its clients. With this motivation, the company is exploring new horizons and quickly expanding to cross international borders under the guidance of the Clugston family’s third generation
Next year, Clugston turns 100. Back in 1922, when the founding father, JG Clugston, bought his first truck, the company specialized in transporting building materials. Now, the business that has survived two World Wars and continually supported the evolution of the built environment over the past century is becoming a pioneer in conquering industry challenges, while taking on exciting new ventures. Alistair Clugston, who serves as the Managing Director and CEO for the Scunthorpe-based company, discusses with Transport and Logistics International his plans for his great grandfather’s business as it explores different routes outside its homeland. “My grandfather LG Clugston took the group down the line of construction, as well as transport and road building, after he and his father pioneered the various uses of slag throughout his lifetime. Then he diversified into a group of 40 companies, and did everything from quarrying to asphalt plants, coating plants, scrap recovery, slag processing, skip hire, landfill sites, plant hire and haulage,” he begins.
Despite the company’s centennial history, Alistair’s journey with Clugston is much more recent, as it was only in January 2020 that he took the wheel. Invited by the HLD Group of Companies and Midos Group, he was able to invest in the business, merging his own expertise with that of his family’s, and bringing it to the level that his great grandfather once had high hopes for. “I had an exporting company that sent trucks and equipment all over the world and used the workshops here in Scunthorpe quite often for my vehicles’ pre-export checks and everything else. So, I saw the opportunity to grow and expand my profitable multi-million-pound turnover business in exporting, with the transport business here. With so many links to helping each other out in various sectors, I thought that it would be a great way of being able to support and strengthen both businesses. When I was given the opportunity to take over and work with the groups, the task was to bring in as many improvements as possible, despite not having vast amounts of experience running a transport business. From my perspective, I thought it would perfect to be part of a group and have a lesser percentage than I would if perhaps I tried to own it outright and do the entire transformation myself. My vision from then onwards was to train some of the personnel, while also incorporating myself into the role as well, and try to mould it back into a family business. The truth is, I threw myself into the deep-end to take over a transport business that had been losing money for the last 20 years,” he shares. The unfortunate reality is that as the business was beginning to regain its balance with Alistair’s oversight, March of 2020 brought with it a crisis that would send international markets into disarray.
Yet throughout the Covid-19 pandemic’s turbulence, the business managed to hold its own and adapt well to the unstable climate. “By hosting meetings on a regular basis, we survived the pandemic exceptionally well as a group. It was tough though, as it was for all businesses; we had about 90 percent of our staff on furlough at one point and although everybody obviously still depended heavily on the food industry, no one was driving, so there was no need for any of our fuel deliveries, which meant that for three or four months about 80 percent of the business was parked to the side. Due to government schemes that were available, the significant assistance of HLD Group of Companies and their management, I believe we pulled through as best as we could, and the moment that everything began to open up again slowly, we made sure to jump straight back in and pick up where we left off, which I think we did extremely well,” he shares, adding how proud he is of his team who were more than willing to support the company’s operations with outstanding abilities.
Although the business continues to operate under the same restrictions as it did when the UK was in the midst of the first wave of the Covid-19 crisis, Alistair is adamant that stringent measures will keep his team safe and the business succeeding. “Everyone’s temperature is checked when they come in, everyone wears masks, everyone has sanitizer on their desks; everything remains the same as though we were still at the peak of the pandemic, and we will continue with these measures until the virus is gone. I’m here to protect this group; I’m here to look after them, and I want them to come to work and feel that they are in the safest environment that we can provide. At the end of the day, this business cannot function without the Clugston team so I will do my utmost to ensure that their wellbeing is prioritized,” Alistair declares.
This modus operandi has stabilized the business and allowed it to set new goals for a long-term strategy, and in doing so, it has also allowed it to invest in strong partnerships that will only encourage Clugston International to grow. One such investment includes an exciting venture with Trans2 Logistics. As a result of its diversification – particularly as one of the most prominent product steel distributors in the UK – the business offers a massive portfolio of services to be able to support an extensive list of customers through bulk powder and food supply, as well as silo evacuations, which very few companies in the country are capable of doing. “So, when the HLD Group of Companies introduced the idea of acquiring Trans2 Logistics, I felt that we had the potential to bring together our expertise to support both companies. Obviously, there were a few concerns; taking another step forward is a huge risk, especially because we were still in a lockdown, but I was confident in the ability of my staff and my managers that this was exactly what we needed for the company to level up.
“I’ve always wanted to get involved in heavy haulage again; that was what my family did many years ago, which unfortunately became another area that we moved away from. I have always had an interest in going back into that, and Trans2 Logistics has a small department that did heavy haulage. Added to that, it also has a reasonably strong hold in the modular and chassis markets, which is a bit more niche. With this information, I went and signed a five-year agreement with Bankside Patterson, who are one of the largest chassis manufacturers in the United Kingdom, and who was delighted that Clugston decided to get involved and take over Trans2. We then changed its name to Clugston Special Movements, because that encompasses the entirety of the improvements that we’ve made with the business and I think everyone is over the moon that we have joined forces,” he explains.
Alistair is thrilled that Clugston Special Movements has gone from a customer to its first major partner and is looking forward to exclusively building a long-term relationship that will expand both industry experts. “What a great platform to grow into that modular market!” he exclaims. “We always hoped to see ourselves going into that market again. Since that investment, we have had many calls from other sectors associated with that industry and are asking us to quote work for future projects with them, which is fantastic to hear, because it’s these sorts of developments that make the risks worth it.”
Running in tandem with these milestones, Alistair has even bigger goals for his family’s business, most of which include expansions across international waters. “At the moment, we’re opening an office in Belfast, and I’ve just taken on someone who’s spent the last 30-odd years working for one of the biggest transport companies in Ireland to lead that team. Above that, we would like to see additional expansions on that side of the UK, eventually having our own workshops, yard, and facilities out there as well. Then, thinking even further down the line, Clugston International definitely sees itself opening offices in Africa. I see so many opportunities in that avenue and I think we would do well to get involved in distribution, logistics, and part supplies on that side of the world. This business has a melting pot of industry knowledge that I feel would do brilliantly to share with as many companies as possible. There are groups in Africa and other places around the world that don’t just need the four wheels of a truck, they need the support and knowledge that we specialize in. For example, we are working closely with many of them now to help them grow their fleets with regards to their part supplies, simply by doing periodic six-week checks. It’s a small adjustment, however, not many experts would think about this as an operation offering. We found that if we engage with these businesses and spread it out over about a year, clients are able to reduce their maintenance cost by approximately 40 percent. So, we’re helping people without taking money back, but by giving them extra assistance. In the past, we’ve had workshop managers from companies in Zambia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe come over to the UK, stay and work with us in our workshops, learn what we do and take that knowledge back home with them. The next thing we know, we receive an order from those countries for another 15 trucks, so that’s a great achievement for us; to know that we’re helping people as much as we can,” Alistair shares.
In light of its goals to expand its operations and continue to support additional businesses, Clugston International is also striving to invest in its employees and the infrastructure required to sustain its ambitious future. “Our growth is so important right now.
Like so many other people, we’ve had to look at the reality of the world right now and our drivers’ pay. Accordingly, we are in a strong position to be recruiting more drivers and give a substantial increase in the salaries across the company. Now that we’re back to business as usual, our team is giving back 110 percent of their efforts and our loyal work force continues to go the extra mile to help the company, which is how we are able to see ourselves continuing to grow.
“Another area that we are looking after is of course our fleet. When I joined, we were at about 62 trucks under our roof and now we’re nearly up to 90, we’ve got 20 brand new tractor units arriving now, as well as 50 new trombone trailers, six brand new Feldbinder Powder Tankers, and more on order for next year,” he informs us. “We are also investing up to £1 million in building a state-of-the-art trailer maintenance bay 47workshop as well as a two-storey Renault Truck Workshop Reception area which continues our relationship as an R2 Renault UK franchise.”
Alistair’s leadership throughout each obstacle seems to have served the business well. His expertise and years of industry wisdom is helping set Clugston Distribution in good stead to continue to grow in its partnerships, and, as a result, the dependability of its name. “Like I said, we’re determined to expand into other areas of the country and open new workshops, yards, and distribution facilities other than Scunthorpe, Driffield, Teesside and Hull. Above that, we’ve been offered impressive amounts of opportunities with other companies, and we are assessing the merits of all those prospects, and I am very much looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead. I like diversification, but I also feel that, especially in this day and age when making money in transport isn’t easy, it’s really important to provide our clients with as many services as possible. The relationships that we invest in are crucial to what we do and I am excited for what lies ahead for this business,” he ends. The last few years have c early brought on their fair share of challenges for Clugston Distribution. However, after biting the bullet, the company has continued to flourish. By utilizing investment opportunities and playing to its industry strengths, Alistair and his team are well on their way to seeing the business surge through another 100-year legacy.
Clugston Distribution Services Ltd
Services: Bulk distribution and warehousing providers