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Keep on trucking

Sector Focus
4 June 2018
KB Events
Trucking operators are reporting record business as huge festivals and major concert tours continue to sell well, demanding the delivery of vast amounts of equipment. This despite firms facing challenges ranging from a lack of drivers to rising fuel costs. Chris Barrett reports

Using the tag-line “You Rock – We Roll!”, Edwin Shirley Trucking (EST) was one of the pioneers of the live music tour trucking business. When the company was founded in 1974, it was one of only a handful of operators servicing the UK industry.

EST’s eye-catching yellow and purple trucks have supported some of the world’s biggest touring acts including the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Madonna. Among the tours it is working on this year are Bryan Adams, Nickelback, Deep Purple, Ringo Starr and Billy Joel.

Dell Roll

In 2011 the company merged with Transam Trucking but continues to operate as a separate brand.

“We enjoy a very high degree of customer loyalty,” says Del Roll, who founded the company along with Edwin Shirley and Roy Lamb.

“We run a fleet of 40 tractor/trailers, plus 18 tonne and 7.5 tonners as well as specialised 31-foot ‘Dumpy’ trailers. We also have access to the Transam fleet.”

Based close to London City Airport, EST is operational throughout Europe and frequently ventures as far as Russia, Turkey and North Africa.

Roll says that one of the key challenges facing his business and the industry as a whole is a lack of experienced and professional drivers.

 

Leading from the front

Co-founded by Mark Guterres and Sandie Flatt, Transam Trucking Ltd is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year having carried out its first live music job, a Bob Marley concert in Ibiza, on 14 June 1978.

“We were the founders and the first two drivers,” says Mark Guterres. “We are still both qualified drivers and we like to have all of our staff qualified so they know what it is like to be a driver out there on the road.”

Now one of the UK’s biggest live music industry trucking firms, Transam counts the Rolling Stones among its clientele. It operates 150 trucks between the two divisions, making it one of the biggest concert trucking operators in the UK.

“We have a complete range of all the trucks you could possibly want for world touring and also have a number of sub-contractors that we use depending on how busy we are,” says Guterres. “We are fully booked at the moment and have around 300 trucks out.”

Southern Van Lines fleet

As part of a British Government scheme exploring the efficiency of larger trailers, Transam is licensed to operate three 15.6m-long trailers (the current maximum is 13.6m), known as ‘big boys’.

“The most important thing is the standard of our staff, drivers and equipment but we are the only UK company in the entertainment industry operating extra-long trailers,” says Guterres.

Another key aspect of the service is the fact Transam has a New Zealand-based office so that clients from anywhere in the world can reach a member of the team no matter what the hour.

Meanwhile Guterres agrees that the lack of qualified drivers is something that is affecting all operators.

“The EEC demanded drivers have certificates of professional competence, that costs a lot of money so some older drivers didn’t want to pay out and chose to retire,” he says. “As a result the industry lost some of its best employees.”

The lack of experienced and professional drivers has led many operators to hike pay rates so that they can attract the best in the businesses. Demand for drivers is higher than ever, partly due to tight tour routing that requires triple driver allocations per truck, in an effort to work around the required driver breaks and get the job done on time.

“In the last few years some of the larger acts are demanding we cover longer distances, they have big expensive productions so there is pressure to pack in the shows,” says Guterres. “With triple drivers it is possible to do around 1,200 miles non-stop, but putting in extra drivers is expensive.”

“We have a complete range of all the trucks you could possibly want for world touring”

Mark Guterres

In demand

Based on an eight acre site in Redditch, just off the M42, Fly By Nite has grown significantly since it was launched in 1990. Boasting a fleet of more than 120 vehicles, including Megacube trailers and 26 tonners, the company transports concert gear to cities ranging from London and Moscow.

Among its customers have been Madonna, Rihanna, Lady GaGa and more recently Foo Fighters and Harry Styles.

Account manager Matt Jackson says live music makes up around 70 per cent of its business and the company has seen a rise in demand in recent years.

“Everyone is trying to put on bigger and better shows to justify the ticket prices and so more gear and special effects are needed and that means more trucks to transport it,” he says. “Obviously the market is saturated with festivals and outdoor gigs but they keep selling out, so the demand shows no sign of letting up.”

Matt Jackson

He says Brexit could prove to be a major obstacle for the trucking business, with drivers potentially requiring an ATA Carnet every time they cross the Channel. The international customs and temporary export-import document is used to clear customs without paying duties and import taxes on items that will be re-exported within 12 months.

“It is certainly going to logistically change the game as it is not going to be as easy to move personnel and gear around Europe,” he says. “However, at the end of the day gigs will need to happen, artistes want the money and people want to see them, so it will work itself out.”

In 2016 Fly By Nite opened FBN Studios at a cost of more than £7 million. A 1,600m2 space that can be used for pre-tour rehearsals. Since its launch it has proven popular with artistes and has been used by acts including Ed Sheeran, A-ha, Radiohead and a full orchestra with Hans Zimmer.

The company also offers a 4,100m2, temperature-controlled, warehouse that can be used to store set and prop items.

 

Taking a break

In France, Belgium, the Netherlands and an increasing number of other European countries, proposed legislation stipulates that drivers may not sleep in their cabs during their compulsory weekly 45-hour breaks.

KB Events MD Stuart McPherson says that while he understands that it is a move to prevent unscrupulous operators placing drivers in trucks without any facilities, it is having a negative impact on reputable companies.

“We supply excellent facilities within the vehicles, they are kitted out with microwaves, fridges ,TVs, games consoles and coffee percolators – we try and give drivers as many creature comforts as possible,” he says. “If we have to put a driver in a hotel when they take a break it means flying other drivers in to keep the trucks moving and when you add that to the lack of drivers it puts us in a difficult position. At the end of the day it all creates extra cost.”

Transam Trucking for the Beyonce tour

Operating from bases in London and Nottingham, KB Events celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. It has a fleet of 95 low ride Scania trucks and McPherson plans to add another 20 in the coming year.

Among the artistes KB is currently working with are Ed Sheeran, Stereophonics, Little Mix, Glass Animals and 5 Seconds of Summer.

“We spend a huge amount of time working with management and promoters, helping at an early stage to plan tours effectively,” McPherson says.

Aside from minimising the possibility of mechanical failure on the road by running the latest model trucks, McPherson says break-downs are quickly solved due to it having local mechanical repair and substitute vehicle support across Europe, Asia and Africa.

“We plan for all contingencies and make sure we have some room for delays or problems,” he says.

“The demand shows no sign of letting up”

Matt Jackson

Doubling up

Southern Van Lines (SVL) was founded 26 years ago by David Luckin. It operates a fleet of 20 Euro 6 trucks, and has 60,000 sq ft of storage space across two locations, just off the M25, in south east London.

Early this year it opened a Manchester facility, suitably called Northern Van Lines, to cope with the growing demand from clients based in northern England.

Commercial manager Keith Hicks says the company primarily works on festivals, such as the multi-venue Let’s Rock but is also working on tours by acts including Duran Duran and Billy Joel.

Stuart McPherson

Used to accommodating a wide array of client demands, SVL recently invested in a temperature controlled trailer for orchestral work and is now satisfying the very specific transport demands of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

“Because of the age and value of certain orchestral instruments they have to be kept at a constant 21 centigrade,” says Hicks.

It is the latest addition to SVL’s fleet of trucks with 30ft to 45ft flat floor mega-cube trailers equipped with tail-lifts, tie-rails, load bars, and ramps. All its trucks meet the current European Emission Standard and comply with the London Low Emission Zone.

“We are growing year-on-year, it is a busy market, and while some of the bigger companies have amalgamated we take a boutique approach to service that is more hands-on and personal,” says Hicks.

Founded by Sue and David Steinberg in the late 1970s, Sheffield-based Stardes runs more than 40 trucks and has worked with artistes including Shaun Mendes, alt-J, Pixies and Megadeth.

David Steinberg says that as well as holding on to valued older drivers, a key initiative for the company is working closely with younger drivers to develop their skills and knowledge.

He says its fleet consists of DAF super Space cabs that provide drivers with in-cab comfort, while the inclusion of landline inverters provides power for truck electrics, meaning there is no need to run engines in venues and festivals.

Steinberg says tour planning has greatly improved over the years but the demands on trucking companies by major productions needing to switch location quickly can absorb a great deal of manpower.

‘We recently worked on a tour with 15 trucks that due to the time constraints meant that there were 45 drivers involved in just one move from mainland Europe to London,” he says.

“We plan for all contingencies”

Stuart McPherson

Keeping it clean

Truck operators are well used to having to keep ahead of increasingly low emissions requirements across Europe but the pace of change is increasing.

The Mayor of London announced the early introduction of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London will come into effect from 8 April 2019.

Diesel vehicles that do not meet the Euro 6 standards and most petrol vehicles that do not meet the Euro 4 standard will have to pay a ULEZ charge, applicable every day of the year 24/7. In the case of lorries that will be £100 per day.

“Most cities have low emission zones, £100 a day to take a truck in becomes expensive because of the timing of concerts,” says Steinberg. “We are always arriving one day and leaving the next so that is £200 per show. We are all investing as much as we can in new rolling stock and it is not cheap, unlike bus operators there are no grants available.”

Mark Gutierres

Founded in 1968, SHB Hire is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a busy work schedule that includes working with artistes such as the Rolling Stones, Beyonce & Jay-Z, Ed Sheeran and Stereophonics, as well as festivals including Download (cap. 80,000) and Isle of Wight (90,000).

Head of operations Duncan Scillitoe says the company operates from 13 locations around the UK and employs a staff of approximately 600 people.

Aside from running 60 trucks, SHB has 1,500 all terrain vehicles that are used at outdoor festivals throughout the UK, including Download and Glastonbury (140,000), by event organisers for anything from transporting people around the site to providing catering.

“We are particularly busy this year,” says Scillitoe. “We are lucky enough to have depots all over the country so can supply local shows directly from them.”

He says that aside from the challenges presented by varying omissions limits in cities around the UK, and the demand for qualified drivers, the rising price of fuel is another key issue.

“Fuel prices are rising fast and that creates a strain between the amount of cost we can absorb and the amount we can charge customers,” says Scillitoe. “We try and be as efficient as possible and track all our vehicles so that we can monitor them and ensure fuel use is kept to a minimum.”

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