The Cartwright Group has been based in Altrincham, Cheshire, since 1952, and while the core of the business is still designing and manufacturing on average 80 trailers and rigid bodies a week it now has many more strings to its bow.

Its Rentals division has almost 6,500 trailers available for rent; Finance Sales can provide a variety of funding options; Used Sales refurbishes and sells around 800 used trailers each year; Parts & Spares sells repair and maintenance parts; Conversions builds bespoke specialist vehicles such as blue light and site welfare units; and Fleet Services offers centrally managed R&M services through Cartwright’s network of preferred maintenance providers.

Cartwright’s sales and commercial director Graham Usher (pictured below) says the company is able to look after a customer’s trailer throughout its whole life.

“We're not only looking at year one,” he says. “We can take it to year 11 and 12 and look at the profit streams that run through that process. We can give it a first life, a second life and even a third life because we've got everything inhouse.

“I don't think there's another manufacturer that can offer that in its entirety. We are the truly one-stop-shop. Because we build it for a 12-year life cycle and in often cases longer, we build it right.”

Graham Usher Sales & Commercial Director Cartwright

Cartwright Fleet Services (CFS) manages over 12,000 trucks and trailers, and Usher says his two and a half years with logistics firm Buffaload gives him an insight into operating equipment.

“I understand the operational demands with the complexities of keeping the fleet running and compliant 24/7,” he says. “Couple this with meeting timed deliveries, it’s a really demanding environment. With Your Fleet Live, customers can log in via the web and get complete visibility of their fleet 24/7.”

The services side of the business is a useful buffer against the vagaries of trailer building, which after a boom in 2016 is showing signs of a slowdown in 2017. The Cartwright Group recorded sales of £125 million in the year to March 2016, up 25% on 2015, which was itself a record year. It expects turnover to have stabilised at £128 million in the year to March 2017, though profits will again be up on the previous year.

Usher says: “Our growth is from all sectors, which is very promising. Manufacturing, Fleet Services and Rentals have all grown. Rentals growing will inevitably lead to growth in Fleet Services, because it needs maintenance, and manufacturing due to the fact that it needs new equipment. Those three business elements are heavily entwined.

“All of our businesses are growing but the hardest one currently is manufacturing. That said on the back of the two or three years of the exceptional growth we have had, our order book is still strong.”

The established UK trailer builders were joined in 2014 by new entrant Tiger Trailers. Usher says: “I'm not aware that we've lost any customer but some customers have wanted to de-risk their business by exploring other opportunities.

Cartwright Rentals

“I would say that would have happened anyway, irrespective of any management changes because I think that's now the natural business model. For the amount of opportunities that you could say we've lost, we've created more and the figures support that.”

Cartwright has expanded its product range, developing new curtainsided and reefer trailers in recent years. “When we go to a customer and they ask what do we build, it's probably easier to say what we don't build,” says Usher. “I just say ‘we don't do tankers, we don't do tippers, pretty much everything else is on the agenda. What do you want?’”


The challenge is to reach more potential customers to tell them of the full range of products and services Cartwright offers “because we've been hiding our light under a bushel for too long”.

He continues: “We believe Cartwright offers fantastic value for money. Our customers say our quality is outstanding and our products are built to last. We have the added advantage of being able to provide funding, maintenance and rental.”

One product that Usher has high hopes for is Cartwright’s new refrigerated double-deck trailers with a hydraulic moving deck.

Cartwright fridge doubledeck

“I've been around double-decks for the last 20 years and my belief is that the fridge double-decks with four rams that we're making now are the best on the market,” he says. “The market for those will be 300 or 400 every year and growing.

“Last year we were consistently making 20 to 30 per week, and we are categorically the largest double-deck manufacturer in the UK. The fridge double-deck market will follow the ambient as operators seek to reduce their costs. The most obvious way to do it is to utilise the space. That's what the ambient operators have done. It's a very logical step forward.”

The company has added a significant number of fridge double-decks to its rental fleet as demand for these once specialised vehicles grows while Fleet Services is looking after 3,600 double-decks nationwide. It has also put some rigid trucks into the rental fleet to meet a demand from specific customers.


Usher is aware of the danger of a return to the bad old days when the trailer rental market was grossly over-supplied with too many trailers chasing too little business, and rates fell through the floor.

“Our rentals division has low overheads for the amount of business it does in comparison to our competitors,” he says. “We focus on getting the equipment specification right, selecting the customer and providing the right service levels.

“The diversity of specifications we can put into the rental fleet other suppliers would shy away from, but we know we can maintain it, we know it's going to last and we know there's a market out there. If it was purely based on 4.2-metre curtainsiders or boxes then we might have a problem, but we're not there by a long way.”

For a manufacturer with a rentals division, the temptation must be there to keep the production lines busy and soak up excess production in the rental fleet if sales slow down.

“We don't just build for the sake of building,” insists Usher. “We've been in the very fortunate situation where we build for customer demand. We've also got equipment coming back off lease into the refurbishment programme and then those trailers go into Rentals.

“The business model isn't centred on Rentals providing the factory with lots of new orders.”

Apprentices still the bedrock

At the 2016 MT Awards, Cartwright Group picked up the Apprenticeship of the Year award for what the judging panel called its “significant investment” in its apprenticeship model, which they said “underpins the culture of the organisation”.

Since then the company has won a slew of other awards for its apprenticeships but MD Mark Cartwright says: “The awards are really just the icing on the cake. The real award is the success of the programme itself.”

“It's a necessity,” he goes on. “Because we need to build a sustainable business and in order to do that we need to be bringing in new blood.”

carwrtight apprentices

Any successful apprenticeship programme starts with recruiting the right raw material, as many young people are uncertain of their future career path and may sign up for an apprenticeship out of curiosity or because they have few other options.

“We've got our own dedicated recruiter now,” says Cartwright. “A lot of time and effort goes in to that selection process to get the right person, because you do invest a lot of time and money and you don't want to get it wrong. We are trying to create that career path for people to go on beyond the apprenticeship.”

The apprentice intake this year will be between 30 and 40 spread across the whole business.

“There are some in planning, procurement and accounts, and maybe one or two in engineering,” he says. “There are apprentices at Cartwright Conversions in Doncaster and we are looking to get them into Fleet Services in Leeds and Aldridge as well, so it’s not just purely in manufacturing.”