Bleiswijk, the Netherlands, used to be home to the FloraHolland flower auction. Those old buildings have been demolished. New ones from other companies have taken their place - like the British transport giant, Gist's, Dutch division. With Gist Nederland, Dutch floriculture in the area is still somewhat maintained. The company not only transports goods for the British Mark & Spencer. It also distributes flowers for a large retailer in the Netherlands.
Gist's Dutch office was established after a takeover of the Dutch Van Dongen group. It included several other Dutch transport companies. These transporters were focused on the intricate ornamental plant cultivation sector. "Since then, Gist has examined each of these companies individually. They wanted to see to what extent they contributed to Gist's vision of its core business," says Tom Butter.
Tom is Gist Netherlands' Sales Manager. "That ultimately resulted in the far-reaching streamlining of our activities. Especially in refrigerated, retail-related distribution to particularly France and the UK. This specialization has made us one of the bigger players in these markets. Our trailers now sport the distinctive purple Gist logo. So, we're becoming increasingly visible to the outside world".
Gist's warehouse in the Netherlands
Across the channel, Gist is Mark & Spencer's (M&S) house freight company. "We also supply European stores for this supermarket chain. That's from south-east England to France and the Czech Republic, in particular. Within the United Kingdom, Gist runs M&S's conditioned warehouses. That's in addition to store and depot distributions. We provide depot distribution for other supermarket chains too. These include Morrisons, Lidl, and Aldi. We have an annual turnover of over £600 million. And have between 2,000 and 2,500 units on the road per day," Tom says.
Gist does 15,000 ferry crossings annually. Brexit will, therefore, likely affect the company. Yet Tom sees Brexit as an opportunity rather than a hurdle. "Customs handling will be the same for everyone. Those who are well prepared can distinguish themselves. Some of the smaller players might drop out."
"The ferries to England are already managing well. If you don't have the right papers on hand, you simply don't enter the site. So I don't expect many delays there. The Eurotunnel is a different story. I expect delays there at Brexit. That mainly affects Gist's transportation services between the south of England and France," explains Butter.
Logistics in the UK
Tom sees other challenges as obstacles for the transport sector. "Acquiring personnel, for example, is becoming particularly difficult in the UK. British industry employs many Eastern Europeans. The transportation sector is no exception. Due to the threat of hard Brexit, those workers are already returning to Europe. And no Brits are stepping up."
"Capacity is sometimes an issue, too, because it always varies greatly. Sometimes we have ten empty trailers, sometimes ten too few. But that's how the market works. In the UK, we're also looking for LHV solutions, just like in the Netherlands. The UK doesn't permit these," continues the sales manager. "But we're trying to find solutions in extra long semi-trailers and higher double-deck trailers. The latter is of little use here. Vehicles that are higher than about five meters aren't permitted."
British business with a Dutch culture
For Tom, it initially took some getting used to the company's British philosophy. "When I started here, I experienced a very different company culture than we're used to in the Netherlands. The Brits' main strength lies in managing large complex processes. In the Netherlands, we're better at offering flexibility. We've linked this 'Dutch' mentality correctly to a powerful English 'distribution machine'. We're, therefore, proving our worth in this challenging market," Tom concludes.
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