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Heavy investment by R Swain & Sons led to a dip in profits last year, but it has stood the national distribution firm in a strong position for the future, according to its MD.

Latest financial figures showed the Rochester-based haulier added £373,000 to its turnover in the year ending 28 December 2019, with revenues of £65.8m.

Pre-tax profit fell by £1.7m to £172,000, but Swain MD Matthew Deer said this was due to investment across its divisions: “We are FORS Gold version 5 across all our businesses now,” he said. “One of our biggest investments over the last two years has been in our fleet in preparation for the ULEZ as well.

“That obviously had an impact in our overall profitability.

“Also, we have rebranded the Swain group’s business units, they are stand alone and we are trying to package them up as an umbrella under the Swain Group, so there was a marketing cost.

“Some people see us as a Medway flatbed operator and we are so much more than that. We are a diverse business.”

Deer said demand for drivers remained high and the company had invested in strategies to train and retain them: “Our driver training programme works quite well for us.

“We have such a diverse fleet operation: vans up to 150-tonne trucks, so it’s different work every day.

“It’s not the only solution, but it works well for us.”

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In February, the company acquired Gravesend-based haulier Eurobulk - its 11th since 1999 – and the move helped it diversify into agricultural and industrial bulk materials; work Deer said had stood up well during the pandemic.

He also said Swain was still on the acquisition trail for “distress opportunities”:

“Businesses that are financially in trouble, or can’t expand or don’t have a desire to expand any further and want a company to come in,” he explained.

The group furloughed some staff during the early part of Covid-19, but Deer added that it had fought hard to keep drivers busy during the period: “We have tried to mitigate the risks in the business.

“We did some exciting things during the period too: infrastructure projects and PPE.

“Being a flatbed operator and specialist lifting business meant quite a lot of government contracts too.

“But there’s no question there was business interruption. It’s how you deal with it.

“We have robust pipelines and we speak to customers very closely, as well as to the RHA, Logistics UK and our local MPs, to find out what they think is going to happen.

“It’s really just to get as much intelligence about what could happen to us as a business.

“When you have such a large fleet and margins are generally low, you have got to keep trading.”