Wellocks: Reliable transport is important ingredient of the finest cuisine

When your clients are the leading chefs in some of the UK’s top starred restaurants, turning up late or with produce that is not completely fresh is simply not an option

Dependable transport is business-critical to Wellocks as it provides fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, poultry and dry goods to 1,200 restaurants, six days a week across the UK.

Missed or late deliveries are not an option for the Nelson, Lancashire-headquartered, family-owned business, which operates a fast-expanding 117-strong commercial vehicle fleet delivering ingredients to some of the UK’s most prestigious hotels and restaurants.

Wellocks can trace its association with food back to 1946 and a traditional greengrocers in Silsden, Yorkshire. Reflecting the upmarket image of its customers, it has invested in a state-of-the-art custom-built van, truck and trailer fleet. 

Vehicles deliver to the likes of the Gleneagles Hotel, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the Waldorf Astoria in Scotland, the luxury Gidleigh Park Hotel in Devon, Emirates’ first class airlines and the five-star hospitality suites at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium.

Shannon Maguire, one of the company’s four Nelson-based transport managers, says: “Our vehicles make around 6,000 deliveries every week, all over the UK. Every single one needs to be on time, with the ingredients in perfect condition on arrival. Our customers are premium brands, they expect us to provide a service to match.”

Underlining the importance of maintaining an efficient and reliable vehicle delivery fleet is the fact that in 2016 Wellocks opened its own ‘Formula One’ service centre, employing its own mechanics with every vehicle undergoing a weekly workshop check (see panel on page 18).

In the past 70 years, the business has grown significantly and now employs more than 400 people. It began by supplying all types of fruit and vegetables to greengrocers and market stalls. Then, more than 20 years ago, the company expanded to supply freshly prepared ingredients to the restaurant, pub and hotel trade.

From a £9 million turnover business employing 70 people just five years ago, the company has expanded into a £50m operation and, to keep up with demand, Wellocks has developed a ‘hub and spoke’ transport operation.

All produce and ingredients are prepared at the company’s head office where a fleet of four Mercedes Actros 184 refrigerated articulated lorries are based. These deliver daily to regional hubs at Tewkesbury (serving the south west), Aylesbury (serving London and the south east) and Motherwell in Scotland.

At each of the regional hubs the trucks are unloaded and a fleet of approximately 70 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans divided between the locations deliver the foodstuff to hotels, restaurants and other eating establishments.

At Nelson, Wellocks has the other 13 Sprinter vans on the fleet, along with 11 7.5-tonne and three five-tonne vans and nine class two HGVs, all Mercedes-Benz vehicles. These perform the same distribution role. 

Additionally, the company operates seven Citroën Berlingo vans driven by sales reps.

After making deliveries in time for breakfast, vehicles are then routed to farms to collect fresh foodstuffs from growers and producers. The vans then return to the hubs where the produce is loaded onto the refrigerated, articulated lorries  which return to Nelson for preparation in readiness for next-day delivery and the round-the-clock delivery operation starts again. 

Additionally, Wellocks works with growers throughout the world to ensure the finest ingredients are delivered to Britain’s leading eating establishments, many of them Michelin starred.

The paying guests at the hotels and restaurants Wellocks supplies expect the ultimate gastronomic experience with the freshest, highest quality food served, which, for Maguire, means missed or late deliveries are not an option.

That’s why the same attention to detail paid by the chefs in the kitchens that Wellocks serves is given to the fleet operation.

Far from trucks and trailers being “off-the-shelf”, Wellocks works with its vehicle conversion partners to design and build what it believes are the “ultimate vehicles” to meet its requirements.

Recently Wellocks took delivery of its latest trailer designed and built by Finnish company Ekeri, which is known for its easy loading transport solutions. The trailer was designed with the latest mechanics and side-opening doors to give quicker access to goods, helping Wellocks deliver to customers as quickly as possible. 

The 14ft-high trailer was Wellocks‘s first side-opening trailer and is the largest in its fleet. The extra space makes transporting ingredients between distribution hubs across the UK more efficient by reducing the number of journeys needed – thus also keeping the company’s carbon footprint in check – and getting deliveries to customers more quickly.

The trailer has temperature-controlled technology to keep produce fresh and in perfect condition. The side-opening design makes for much easier access and loading – Wellocks manages a speedy 40-minute turnaround emptying and restocking.

What’s more, the most recent purpose-built Euro 6-compliant Sprinter additions to the fleet have a 1,000kg weight capacity allowing an extra 200kg payload and a refrigerated system to keep food orders perfect. The revolutionary body means Wellocks can load more crates, making distribution and deliveries even more efficient. 

Maguire says: “Vehicle management is a key element of our business – we continually invest in the best upgrades and the best technology available to ensure our supplies are collected, stored and delivered to our customers at the highest standards and in the most efficient way.”

Wellocks’s fleet continues to expand. Just weeks before the end of 2016, the company took delivery of four new Sprinters; two replacing existing vans, the others additional units.

During 2017 Maguire anticipates the company taking delivery of the latest 12-tonne and 15-tonne Mercedes-Benz vehicles to replace 7.5-tonne models as customers’ orders increase and the company balances the need for load space with a desire to minimise its carbon footprint – the fleet clocks up more than a million miles a year.

The four Mercedes Actros 184 refrigerated articulated lorries have been brought in on Mercedes-Benz hire purchase agreements, with virtually every other vehicle bought outright. Vehicles are sold through private sales with replacement cycles dictated by individual truck or van mileage and condition. Some vans have been on the fleet seven years and have covered 500,000 miles with other vehicles replaced at three years.

Further underlining the importance of operating an efficient and reliable all-diesel vehicle delivery fleet was Wellocks’s June 2016 decision to forge a partnership with Shell and utilise the company’s euroShell card.

Maguire said access to a fuel supplier with more than 1,100 forecourts that could match its own nationwide network requirements – vehicles currently journey along 100 different routes although that is set to rise as the company’s customer base increases – was influential in the decision to switch. Previously it used a mix of fuel cards and fuel outlets, including its own bunkered facilities.

Maguire is a former gas engineer who joined Wellocks in January 2012 as a van driver before becoming a transport manager later that year. He says: “Having Shell fuel cards is far more convenient for our drivers and cost-effective for the business. There are Shell service stations wherever our drivers need them so we no longer have to factor refuelling detours into our delivery schedules. We’ve also been able to stop storing tanked fuel at almost all of our own sites.

“Vehicle delivery is critical to getting the finest ingredients to chefs throughout the country on time. Having a fuel station on those 100 routes is absolutely critical to us.”

Shell Card Online enables head office managers to view drivers’ transactions and fuel spend, monitor driver/vehicle fuel efficiency and receive real-time alerts to prevent fraudulent card use.

Maguire says: “We decided to partner with Shell Fuel cards directly because we can monitor fuel activity and MPG on vehicles and drivers, so it helps drive the financials of the business which helps us invest. 

"I can see where our vehicles are filling up when sitting in an office in Lancashire.”

Wellocks spends about £1.2m on diesel annually and the company is forecasting that use of the “scientifically formulated” Shell FuelSave Diesel will improve fleet fuel efficiency as it is claimed to prevent deposits forming in the engine.

Maguire says: “The more reliable and efficient our vehicles, the better our service is to customers and the more profitable we are as a business. Through using Shell FuelSave Diesel, we expect to see a reduction in our fuel costs, a decrease in maintenance expenditure and a fall in the number of vehicle breakdowns.

“With our business expanding, this is particularly important. The less time and money we spend on maintenance, the more we can focus on attracting and serving our customers.”

Safety is critical to all fleets and it is no different at Wellocks, which has equipped vehicles with a range of technologies including: on-board cameras monitoring drivers when behind the wheel; further cameras monitoring driving behaviour and recording video footage in the event of a collision or other incident; and reversing sensors.

All vehicles are equipped with TomTom telematics, enabling managers to track each vehicle and monitor driver behaviour via a range of data reports measuring factors such as speed, excessive braking and harsh steering. Furthermore, the telemetry aids journey and route planning and enables Wellocks to inform customers how soon they can expect a delivery.

Underpinning Wellocks’s safety focus is on-going driver training – a former driver is the company’s driver trainer – that includes regular driver reviews based on performance, awareness and management report information.

Maguire says: “Logistics is a huge part of our business and we are always striving to deliver the perfect service. We’re always looking for smarter and more efficient transport solutions – from smoother loading to the best tracking devices – to move the business forward and ensure that our deliveries are on time and in perfect condition.”

Since joining Wellocks, Maguire’s career has progressed with him gaining his Class 1 and Class 2 HGV qualifications as well as his Driver CPC on the way to becoming a fully-fledged transport manager.

Alongside the company’s three other transport managers – Craig Coupe, John Staveley and Rado Celko – Maguire is responsible for managing the fleet from the company’s headquarters, although frequent journeys are made to the other hubs.

Maguire says: “Since I joined it has been a whirlwind and that pace is continuing. The business is expanding all the time which means the fleet is growing. I joined Wellocks as a stepping stone, but the job I have has become my career.”

With only a few years’ transport manager experience, Maguire acknowledges he has much to learn and highlights compliance as the single biggest issue.

“Every day is different and there are always new challenges and issues to resolve whether that is with regulations, with vehicles or with drivers. As a former driver, I can understand the issues that impact on them and their views,” he says.

“Compliance is critical and we must operate by the book. But the transport managers also have to ensure the fleet is operating at optimum efficiency. Wellocks’s success is down to sourcing the finest ingredients and supplying them to the best chefs throughout the country.” 

The business depends upon the natural world so it is little surprise that, while its transport operation is essential, the company also has a commitment to environmental protection.

That extends from the introduction of vehicles that maximise space to minimise journeys to delivering ingredients in environmentally-friendly returnable plastic crates, which are tracked so Wellocks knows where they are, ensuring that waylaid packing crates don’t end up in landfill. 

Opening own ‘Formula One’ service centre has proved a fruitful move

Technology in today’s cars – often referred to as computers on wheels – frequently has its roots in Formula One.

Wellocks’s senior management often talk about having a Formula One operating model in place: sleek, efficient and fast-paced.

Finance director Michael Beech says: “To succeed as a business and differentiate ourselves from the competition, we have to behave like a premium brand in everything we do. Right from the quality of our ingredients through to the standard of our vehicles and the professionalism of our drivers.”

One of the most recent additions that helps promote such an image was the opening of the company’s own ‘Formula One’ service centre at its Nelson HQ.

Employing four full-time mechanics, all service, maintenance and repair (SMR) work on the four Mercedes Actros 184 refrigerated articulated lorries and the approximate 40 other commercial vehicles is undertaken in the garage. That includes all Operator Licence compliance checks and pre-MOT checks.

Transport manager Shannon Maguire says: “We have a great relationship with the local Mercedes-Benz dealer. Any work we cannot handle the dealer undertakes on a 24-hour turnaround basis. MOTs are also completed at the dealership.”

The opening of the garage has helped to further reduce vehicle downtime. Historically SMR work was undertaken at a smaller garage in a neighbouring village which the company leased.

Maguire explains: “The garage operates as a ‘drive through’ with SMR work and regular checks undertaken on all vehicles.”

SMR work on the vehicles based at Wellocks’s other three hubs is undertaken at local Mercedes-Benz dealerships. Additionally, on a quarterly basis, the company’s mechanics travel to each hub to complete their own vehicle inspections and checks.

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