Family stories of how his grandfather built up and then sold a successful haulage business left a lasting impression on a young Stuart Wring.
Within three years of leaving school at 16, after an initial grounding at contract hire business VMH Transport Services, Wring began working for the first of three haulage companies. By the age of just 24, he had the knowledge and skills to step out by himself and emulate his grandfather.
He launched Wrings Transport in 1995 as a family concern: his mother did the accounts for the first 14 years while his father still helps out in the yard part-time. His brothers have both worked for the business at one time or other.
Today, Wrings is thriving as a £6 million turnover transport business based at Hallen near Avonmouth, Bristol, with just over 60 vehicles offering both national and local deliveries.
The fleet is divided between the UK full load business (35 artics) and regional deliveries (25 rigids and three vans). The majority are Mercedes-Benz and Scania, with a few MAN.
Everything is procured either on hire purchase or owned outright; despite his leasing experience, Wring has so far opted against contract hire – but he doesn’t rule out change. “It’s an old-fashioned view, but it works for us,” he says.
“Pre-recession we kept everything for five years but during the recession we held on to our vehicles. Now we are in a period of heavy replacement for our rigids and are going back to our five-year policy.”
Wring found that keeping vehicles for longer than five years caused some repair and maintenance issues.
However, he is also mindful of the rapid pace of technology and is considering turning to contract hire for his artic fleet with an 18-24-month operating cycle to take advantage of the improvements in fuel efficiency offered by the newest vehicles.
A decision will be taken nearer to 2018 when his artics are due for replacement. It could, though, see his range of truck partners widen as he’ll take funding from manufacturers rather than independent leasing companies.
“If we do contract hire, we will go for whatever is best for the business – we could choose whatever we want,” Wring says.
He adds a swift clarification: “But we are very loyal to our partners. We have had the same insurance broker, tyre garage and mobile phone provider since we started. We try to use independent companies that are family-owned like us; it gives us better relationships.”
His choice of Mercedes-Benz and Scania comes down to the strength of their residual values; that is the differentiating factor for his business.
“With the other brands, it will hurt you when you sell them,” Wring explains. “But with Mercedes-Benz and Scania, they are competitively-priced upfront and their residuals are strong. We can sell them at book value through our local dealer.”
Most van and truck fleets, when questioned, point to reliability as a defining factor, but Wring, who was involved in maintenance management until as recently as 2012, says that he has policies in place and relationships with dealers to ensure it isn’t an issue.
“Yes, it’s important, but the most important thing for us is not losing money when we sell the truck,” he adds. “That’s where our decisions are made.
“Also, Mercedes-Benz goes from cars to vans to 44-tonne trucks; they can do everything for you and they go out of their way to help you and give you their support.”
Truck reliability has improved substantially since Wring set up his business, with engine issues in particular a thing of the past. And while some operators complain that Euro 6 diesel has resulted in a drop in fuel efficiency, Wring’s experience is entirely different.
His trucks on average are returning 1mpg more than the Euro 5 equivalents (“nine-plus to the gallon”), which is saving the business between £3,000 and £4,000 a year on fuel per tractor unit.
Wring Transport’s big investment over the past 12 months has been to completely overhaul its truck livery. The priority was twofold: to improve the appearance and visibility of the design on the road and to reduce costs when repairing minor bumps and scrapes.
The red giant ‘W’ which has been on the front of cabs since 2002 was removed because the latest vehicles have plastic bumpers which are costly and time-consuming to replace if there is damage that requires repainting. Instead, the W has moved to the side of the truck where it is more prominent at a further distance, while the cab simply has the company name on the side which can be peeled off before de-fleet.
Wring estimates that not painting the plastic will save £1,000 each time, while the bumpers can now be replaced in-house. Over the course of a year, the fleet will usually have 15-20 bumpers replaced, all of which would’ve had to have been repainted by a signwriter.
He has decided against including the company email or phone number of the trucks, believing it to be “a waste of time – if you want to find my company you’d Google it, not track down a truck”. It means the design can be less cluttered.
Wring is responsible for all purchasing decisions but employs a fleet and site manager in Andy Williams who focuses on the day-to-day operations. As key controller, he books maintenance – an eight-week cycle for vehicles and 12 weeks for trailers – and even installs the Mix telematics system.
The company uses it to monitor truck and driver performance, in particular fuel economy. Introduced in 2008, it has virtually eliminated idling from around 25 minutes per day to less than four minutes.
This isn’t just down to driver education; Wrings has a much better understanding of a vehicle’s fuel consumption, which has influenced its purchasing decisions. For example, trucks are now ordered with engine idle shut-down systems.
The biggest impact on fuel is the driver and the telematics provides daily reports on speeding, harsh braking, acceleration and revving, flagging any results which fall outside of a ‘green band’.
The tolerance level is set at 98%, and two-thirds of drivers achieve it. Among those who fall short, most are very close and are sitting in amber rather than red. Their behaviour is addressed by Wrings’s in-house driver trainer Sean Mulhall, a former driver at the company. He is responsible for every type of training, from driver CPC to classroom to on-road coaching.
Mulhall receives training from the manufacturers, which he then passes onto the drivers about the best way to drive the trucks for maximum efficiency.
The Mix system is complemented by a Scania driver support score, whereby Wrings receives a bonus payment from the manufacturer if drivers are below the threshold. It is intended to reward those who look after their vehicles, as they will be returned in better condition and with less wear-and-tear.
Drivers receive all of the payment and the company then doubles the figure as an additional incentive, which could amount to more than £400 a year. It helps to engage drivers in the process, although Wring says they were accepting of telematics at the outset after an induction explained the benefits to the business of saving fuel and reducing accident damage.
It’s not the only bonus they could earn, either. Every driver starts the year with a £1,500 pot of money. Each time they do something which costs the company money, it is taken off the total. Wring pays out every six months.
“This has been very effective,” he says. “It is capped at £1,500, although our Scania drivers can earn almost £2,000 extra per year if they drive their trucks well.”
While telematics has been a real positive for the company, Wring says the “best thing we ever did” was to introduce forward-facing cameras in 2013.
“Anyone running a truck without a camera is like going somewhere without a phone,” he adds.
Wrings Transport installed the cameras itself. They had an immediate impact on driver attitudes as they know their every move is being filmed in the event they have a crash. This has reduced the number of insurance claims “massively”, says Wring.
“We can manage it easily; there isn’t too much data with the cameras, telematics and phones,” he adds.
Combined with telematics and the bonus payments, the cameras have helped Wrings Transport to greatly improve its safety record. The majority of damage is chips or reversing prangs; it has not had a rollover since 2008 or a write-off for almost as long.
“We look after our staff. We pay performance bonuses, we pay for their HGV medicals and we pay 2% into their pensions when the Government minimum is 1%,” Wring says.
“We are always looking to bonus and incentivise them to give them a good package and not just a basic wage – at the end of the day we are only asking them to do their job.”