The UK’s continuing economic malaise is creating new business opportunities for pallet networks as own-account operators look to slim down their vehicle fleets, according to the boss of Pall-Ex.

Pall-Ex MD Adrian Russell told MT that a number of national own-account fleets had contracted as the UK’s economy continued to stumble along.

“You have got a situation where certain retailers and groups have literally closed down their transport operations,” said Russell, who added that the trend towards smaller consignments was also helping the pallet networks.

“We are [also] getting tenders that are hybrids. There will be a core of dedicated fleet with a network facility around it. Before [the recession] these guys wanted all their own branches from Aberdeen to Truro, now they will concentrate on a core,” he said.

The traditional nervousness of own-account operators about using a pallet network because products are handled a number of times, increasing the chance of damage, had been tackled by investment in technology. “The whole sector has matured in terms of IT, track and trace, and handling techniques,” said Russell.

Pall-Ex’s Retail Plus+ service, launched about three years ago specifically for retailers looking to reduce their fleets, has been one beneficiary of this trend and now makes up more than 5% of network turnover.

Pall-Ex members deliver direct from suppliers or from retailers’ regional DCs to, typically, high street stores where access and storage is often tight.

Anand Assi, project director at Pall-Ex, said of Retail Plus+: “It’s about decanting the pallet, taking it over the threshold, taking it into the store. Initially [our members] said it’s not what I do, but they do it now.”

Pall-Ex has also recently confirmed its ambitious European expansion remains on track.