Michael Conroy has a bounce in his step as he shows MT a series of wall-mounted photos of the network’s development in Fradley before its move to Callister Way, its current home, in 2009.
And why shouldn’t he? Palletforce is a year and a half on from its £30m sale to Heath Zarin’s EmergeVest, which has provided financial firepower and a superhub, the metal skeleton of which is clear to see on our visit.
Its Burton on Trent facility – all 380,000ft² of it – is impressive but last year the pallet network revealed it would be adding a second 240,000ft² facility at a cost of £20m on an adjacent 38-acre site (the hubs will have a physical link once complete).
Conroy boasts it will be the largest drive-through facility in Europe once open, which initially conjures up the image of a cavernous facility serving up palletised burgers and fries.
But what the superhub will provide the network and its members is headroom for a different type of growth. The business already has quite the appetite and moved more than 3.3 million pallets last year, and will move its 30 millionth pallet at some point this year.
“We’re taking a long term view of what we want to do with the business,” said Conroy. “When this land became available it was a no-brainer for us, because we needed to expand.”
While pallet hubs are typically based around transit, Conroy said, with warehousing space in short supply locally and nationally, there is likely to be an opportunity to offer storage, at least initially while volume builds.
“We’re going to have an opportunity to be able to develop, and we’re talking to a number of people at the minute about having some form of storage transport operation that can also use part of that space. It would be nonsensical not to look at it,” said Conroy.
The facility will be, in part, in use within the next few weeks and the whole thing will be fully operational no later than this summer (its contractual completion date).
If the hub wasn’t enough to be going on with, we get the distinct impression Conroy might be planning something big, perhaps even the acquisition of a rival.
“The market needs consolidation. Whether we do something or not, it’s going to happen,” he said.
“We’re extremely well funded and supported. Commonsense says the sector needs it as well, so we can let it happen and watch, or we can lead it,” said Conroy.
Conroy said with hauliers in some postcodes already dual or triple running in other networks – albeit without the networks’ official blessings – the issue of duplication could be managed.
“You can learn more from other people’s failures than successes,” he said. “City Link and Target Express made £20m profit each – both very good operations – [and then] they merged and there was the Christmas disaster [administration in 2014].
“It is a risk and there are a lot of historical examples of consolidation not working,” said Conroy. “But that boils down to planning, execution and management. Our sector is crying out for consolidation.”