MTA 2021 winner Team

Jon Palmer, transport planner (second left), Suzy Gale, finance officer and Ian Uttley, director of Stagefreight, collect the trophy from Ian Mitchell, director of UK & Ireland of HIAB (second right) with presenter Alexander Armstrong (far left)

The year 2020 started out as events haulier Stagefreight’s strongest to date, with a string of new high-profile contracts and 22% year-on-year growth. Jobs from the likes of Sky, Opera North and Northern Ballet flooded in.

The firm was on target to achieve 36% growth in Q1, but then Covid-19 hit and the entire entertainment sector ground to a halt.

Not to be beaten, the business immediately turned its hand to general haulage – a sector it had little experience in and no reputation to rely on. The entire company, from office staff to drivers, pulled together to secure work.

Stagefreight’s strategy was to adapt to the new industry and grow its reputation. The firm focused initially on food logistics work, specifically supermarkets.

The whole business model, from in-house technology to staff skills, was reworked to facilitate the change. This included two days of specialist training for the firm’s 29 drivers to help them adapt to their new responsibilities.

In addition, Stagefreight bought in refrigerated trailers and electronic proof-of-delivery systems.

The hard work paid off – by May 2020 the business broke even and by the end of June everybody was back at work. Now 80% of work comes from returning haulage customers.

Stagefreight believes its team’s ‘can-do’ approach allowed the business to stay afloat during challenging times, and while it doesn’t expect a full return to events work until autumn 2021, it anticipates the general haulage operation will remain robust and continue to grow.

The company plans to expand its reefer fleet and look for additional warehouse capacity to support this new side of the operation.

The judges said: “An excellent example of turning a negative into a positive, and a really inclusive team approach. This was a really strong entry from a niche player that lost 100% of its work overnight.”

“We had to write all the conferences and events out of the diary and diversify into general haulage”

Jon Palmer, transport planner, Stagefreight