Those working in the freight industry might have a unique perspective when it comes to defining professional hurdles. While most companies have to work hard to balance the books, manage client relations and maintain office morale, for those in the freight fraternity, traversing the globe, negotiating national borders and adapting in the face of natural disasters are all in a day’s work. Whatever the weather, however wide the body of water, the show must go on.
But a new adversary has reared its head in recent times, and it could well prove to be the biggest challenge that the freight business has ever faced.
Founded in 1995, Sound Moves is one of the world’s leading providers of bespoke freight solutions for the creative industries today. This year alone, it has worked on tours by acts including Adele, U2, Rolling Stones, Radiohead, Celine Dion and Pink.
“We’re actually involved with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport regarding Brexit and how it’s likely to impact us, along with the Chamber of Commerce,” says MD at Sound Moves Martin Corr.
“Currently we’re free to move in and out of the EU at will but, by next March, our understanding is that controls and restrictions will be brought in. That would potentially require customs declarations upon leaving and entering the UK even when travelling to the EU.”
Of course, the precise impact of the UK’s exit from the EU is unknown, and that is part of the problem.
“That will first and foremost increase transit times,” Corr explains. “The cost of documentation and delays is critical for smaller bands because they work with small budgets, and the larger bands plan and book based on historical transit times, which are likely to increase.
“If artistes can’t get the pre-required number of shows per week then that could be a problem. If you want to do a show [every other day] and are now having to factor in delays at borders, then it’s going to affect the number of shows you can do in a week.”
Corr is working hard with colleagues to make sure the interests of the freight forwarding sector are maintained alongside lobbying from industry bodies such as the Production Services Association and Music Managers Forum, but the effects of Brexit are already being felt. As Corr explains, the uncertainty alone is highly disruptive.
“Our industry’s very adaptable, we’re dealing with problems all day every day and finding solutions,” he adds. “Simply re-routing a tour may help the situation, but until we know what’s required of us, we can’t plan for it. And, of course, people are already booking shows for next year.”
Carl Partridge, MD of Priority Freight, concurs that the lack of clarity around how Brexit will actually manifest itself is a significant problem.
“Without question, our departure from Europe is our greatest challenge at the moment,” he says. “With numerous European trading partnerships, the current uncertainty over our future trading agreement, and membership of the customs union, is obviously a concern for many industries.
“There continues to be lots of debate. Hopefully, there will be further clarity about our position in the coming months, enabling all concerned to start preparing for any eventuality.”
Brexit isn’t the only headline-grabbing phenomenon that’s having an impact on the movement of goods and people from one country to another. Even without the UK’s impending exit from the EU, the ongoing threat of terrorism across nations has meant that border controls have been getting tighter and tighter for some time now.
Matthew Wright is business development director at Rock-It Cargo, which has recently worked with a number of major music acts including Queen & Adam Lambert, Roger Waters, Robbie Williams, London Grammar and Sigur Ros.
“Our industry’s very adaptable, we’re dealing with problems all day every day and finding solutions”
He lists increased security in the current climate as one of the biggest challenges faced by freight companies at the moment, saying, “rules and regulations are getting a lot stricter, which ultimately has an impact on schedules of shows”.
Wright also suggests, however, that those working within this sector are used to red tape, paperwork and increasing scrutiny, pointing to the rules surrounding the transport of batteries as a specific example of regulations that are “literally changing by the hour”.
“The business is becoming a lot slicker in the way carriers operate and deliver their product to us, the freight forwarder,” says Wright. “However, there are still occasions where things go wrong.
“It used to be a very seasonal business, however there doesn’t seem to be a quiet period anymore, it’s virtually flat out all year round as the bands continue to chase the sun.”
This is evident in how Rock-It will begin the new year, with tours in New Zealand and Australia, before working with Gorillaz in South America in late March.
“There are multiple bands in the same location, literally days apart which means a few of us will be camped down in NZ and Oz for most of February,” adds Wright.
Horizon Entertainment Cargo (HEC) has recently worked with Journey, The Script, Proclaimers and Sheryl Crow, and such has been the demand for business over the last 12 months that it has had to employ extra staff.
“24 years trading in the entertainment freight industry has earned HEC a great reputation around the world’s music touring circuit, next year is already looking very busy for us too,” says Phil McDonnell.
“We are about to ship out 15 tonnes of audio equipment and instruments for the Deutsche Military from Germany to Kuala Lumpur and back in time for Christmas, and we are already working on the logistics for a world tour with The Script next year. Many of our band clients that have been recording this year are now planning to go out in 2018 and are talking to us now about their itineraries.”
McDonnell can currently only see the business moving in one direction and has big plans for the future.
“We’re also linking up with a large company that will take our logistics ability worldwide to a completely new level,” he says. “We’ve been planning for most of this year and it will finally become fully operational at the start of 2018. This is a specialist global freight company that does exactly what an entertainment tour freight company does but in a different genre.
“We’ll do the same as we’ve always done – make sure the show goes up on time”
“Everything we would ever need on top of our own HEC office network, they have. I am putting top production managers in place who will be handling the entertainment clients with the right mentality. 2018 will be a year to look forward to by all on the HEC world network logistics team.”
In terms of the increased security measures companies are now facing McDonnell says its simply a case of business as usual.
“As far as what we and our competitors do for a living, I honestly think nothing much changes for us,” he explains. “Sure, we have new security rules to adhere to at the airports and at our warehouse facilities, like any regular freight forwarder, but we all specialise in the same time-sensitive freight: whether its music, theatre, exhibition, conference, sports, movie or TV shipping, it has to be there by a certain time and that is what we specialise in, making sure it happens when it has to.”
Indeed, many in the freight service are managing to roll with the punches and then some, reporting steady if not strong growth. For some, recent business opportunities have arisen out of what many others might see as obstacles.
“We are enjoying a bumper year across our freight division,” says Robert Jubb, trading manager at Air Partner, which has been providing aircraft – including private, group and freight charters – for 50 years.
“Various geopolitical situations and some extreme weather, like hurricanes, have contributed additional revenues on top of the automotive, energy, humanitarian and music/show freight business we continue to handle day-to-day for freight forwarders globally.”
Whatever challenges lie ahead, the sector’s leading players agree that technology will play a large role in making freight services to run smarter and smoother – and the evolution is already underway.
“Our industry, as with most these days, is far more electronically driven,” says Priority Freight’s Partridge. “Everything is at the click of a button, which significantly simplifies processes, enabling businesses to be far more efficient in their daily practises. Technology performance drives our business and facilitates the growing expectations of our customers whilst improving our daily operational output.”
Priority Freight acquired its own in-house TMS (Transport Management System) several years ago which offers clients live shipment tracking and an array of dashboards and reporting tools to improve visibility and management of their logistics requirements. It also has a number of other projects underway to further enhance customer relations in the future and the company isn’t alone in making such advances.
“We envisage an increasing reliance on telecommunication and mobile technology across the sector,” says Air Partner’s Jubb. “Various initiatives are already being put in place globally to promote paperless shipping – but it’s important not to underestimate the value of a real person at the end of an email and telephone. Organisations that can concentrate on a ‘high touch, high tech’ mantra will see continuing success.”
Horizon’s McDonnell is another keen that the sector doesn’t lose its human factor though.
“Robots will never take over or provide the service we do,” he says. “The only development I can see in the basics of what we do is new companies popping up and some fading away. Whenever a new development is thrust upon us, we will adapt. Otherwise, we’ll do the same as we’ve always done – make sure the show goes up on time.”