Twente Express is the premier Anglo-Benelux freight forwarding partner with expertise enough to make many within the industry green with envy. Listening, caring and passionate about quality service to their customer base, it is easy to see why Twente has created a harmonious work force in the UK and Benelux.
With a wealth of specialist services, we got the opportunity to talk to founder and Managing Director Trevor Paul. Covering everything from their reliable and dedicated freight connection, their distribution centre in Brownhills in the West Midlands, their depots at Enschede and Dordrecht in the Netherlands and at Gent in Belgium, to their support for FC Twente, the team of choice for anyone who works within the Twente region.
How did you find yourself getting into the world of freight forwarding?
On leaving school at 16, I joined Aston Villa as an apprentice and later signed semi-professional forms at Burton Albion. Sadly my dreams of becoming a professional footballer ended here (a bit lightweight I think) and in 1972 I bought my first transit van at 22 years of age. After some 10 years of operating my own small UK transport business I met up with the UK Sales Director of Dutch manufacturing company Twente Graveer Industrie based in Enschede. He introduced me to the owner of TGI Christof Peter, who awarded me a one-year contract to ship his gravure printing cylinders to and from his factory in the Netherlands – out of respect I named my new enterprise after his company – and the rest is history, as they say!
What values do you live by at Twente daily?
I have always tried to lead by example; I’m very hands on (controlling, some would say), my door is always open for problems and solutions and the strong and long-standing relationships we have with our loyal customers reflects the culture of our company more than any other aspect.
How have you seen the freight landscape change during your working career?
Back in 1993 the single market resulted in a loss of customs procedures revenue. There has been a dramatic increase in just-in-time deliveries. The ongoing development of IT has improved communication and of course Brexit is just around the corner. A full circle in some ways as we may get our Customs revenue back!
Anglo–Benelux is a speciality of yours at Twente; what challenges have you seen with this freight partnership and how have you overcome them?
There has been a big increase in competition from low-cost Eastern European operators; a fluctuation in exchange rates has created problems with our margins. 2005/2006 were difficult years for us due to these issues. Rising to these challenges we strengthened our management team and gave our sales and operations staff a critical awareness of the importance of generating new business and of controlling costs. These changes have been instrumental in securing the continuing success of the business. Our strong relationships with our Benelux partners were also paramount in overcoming the financial crisis in 2008. We worked together to overcome that difficult period and are now a stronger team as a result.
With Brexit looming, do you have
any thoughts on how it will affect your European delivery service?
We talk about it most days, but until we know what the playing field will be, we stay positive and will seek opportunities as a result of any future changes on cross-channel routes and border procedures. We intend to be ‘brexit compliant’ when the day comes! We recognise that our current process of seeking AEO status is paramount to this journey of being prepared and match fit on or even before the day.
What kinds of services do you see
as the most important to Twente Express at the moment?
The last five years or so have seen Twente consolidate its core 48-hour service to and from the Benelux with our existing customer base and new clients. Some 35 years ago Twente started out as a specialist 24-hour provider and this year we’re taking our core service back to its roots. We are refocusing the Twente brand as the 24-hour specialist express partner for high-value and thief-attractive products to and from the Benelux. Speed, security and reliability are in our DNA and will be our USP going forward.
How important to your customers
is the express delivery aspect of
The market has changed somewhat over the years with companies no longer holding vast stocks in each country they operate in. At Twente Express we are fortunate that Holland & Belgium are the preferred choice of location for global organisations to operate their European distribution centres from and our specialist daily service from the Benelux region is seen by them as a very reliable option to ensure that Timberland boots, Michal Kors handbags and Fabory fasteners are on their UK shelves within 24 hours.
Why is security such a significant aspect
of your distribution service?
Our customers enjoy the peace of mind and assurance that we will keep their promises to their overseas customers.
In order to give that assurance I have operated my own trucks and trailers and employed my own drivers since day one. By adopting this philosophy and sticking to it, we have total control of the movement of all shipments carried, door to door. In recognising the need to place security of our customers products at the top of our list we have invested in a new fleet of solid-sided mega-box trailers, operated on all cross-channel journeys. This investment has reduced the threat of uninvited stowaways entering our trailers at Calais and has made it near impossible for thefts of our customers’ products to take place from the solid-sided trailers. In an effort to reduce our costs over the years we could have opted to use cheaper East European hauliers to operate our line-haul requirements across the Channel but that would have compromised our reputation and diluted the strict ‘in house’ controls that we have in place. Our reluctance to take this cheaper option is certainly paying dividends – a fact demonstrated by our growing customer base.
The environmental impact of freight forwarding is always a big issue;
what is Twente doing to help address
the climate change conundrum?
We are very conscious of our responsibilities as a truck operator when it comes to climate change and the environment. We operate the latest Euro 6 trucks and in-cab telematics monitor the progress of our driver training programme – that improves efficiency all round.
In addition, our investment in a fleet of double-stack mega-box trailers for all our UK-Benelux-UK journeys has enabled us to operate more efficiently as we can now ship more freight in fewer round trips to and from the Benelux. As a result, our carbon footprint and CO2 emissions have reduced.
Multimodal is upon us again; is there a particular element of the event you are interested in the most?
Meeting up with customers old, current and new.
An opportunity to emphasise to our forwarding colleagues that using low cost operators is often the most expensive option, when you take into account potential delays, damages and failed deliveries. At Twente you can minimise or completely eradicate this problem. An opportunity to tell the industry that Twente are alive and well and open for business
Driver safety is a topic that has come
up for many European forwarders;
how do you look after drivers on the road?
As a former owner/driver myself, my colleagues in sales and operations will always tell you that our driver team are my favourites on the payroll. Maybe they have a point as I have been there, done that and spent many a night out in a cold and draughty cab or shared a four-berth cabin on an overnight ferry with three sweaty strangers. Seriously, our drivers are our ambassadors on the road and come face to face with our customers more than anyone else at Twente. As a result, they are respected and looked after – we provide them with the best trucks on the market (Dutch-built DAF, of course), they are paid above-average salaries and during times of peak company performance, benefit from a share in the annual profits too. I recognise that there is a driver shortage in the industry but I am pleased to say that Twente has a waiting list of quality drivers standing by to join our team.
If you could change one thing about
the industry, what would it be?
As a seasoned operator I would like more awareness of the freight forwarding industry in general and for the electorate to appreciate more that the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the furniture we sit on should not be taken for granted: in the main those products were delivered to your local store or more recently to your home by a person and a van. To do that efficiently takes planning, patience, tolerance, long hours and investment.
FC Twente aren’t doing too well in the Dutch Eredivisie. Think they’ll be able to pull it back and stay in the top flight?
Not sure – they have experienced some difficult times during the last few seasons. FC Twente has always been a selling club (their best players who have come through their youth academy are sold to the larger Dutch clubs such as Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord or to clubs in the UK, Spain or Italy). Back in 2010 Steve McClaren did an amazing job with the squad that was available and won the Eredivisie for the first time in the Club’s 45-year history. Sadly he moved on and they have struggled since. Maybe some foreign investment is needed – but it won’t come from Twente Express!