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Trucking all over the place

Features
25 June 2019

Few people wonder how all that stage gear turns-up for a concert, let alone the hundreds of tons of equipment at major festival sites or stadium shows. But fortunately, pioneered by the owner of a former bread delivery firm in the ‘70s, the UK is home to many of the leading trucking companies in Europe. Claire Bicknell reports.

Whether it’s a large van or a fleet of articulated lorries that took the gear to the show, audiences are blissfully unaware. Nor do they wonder how all that gear gets to the next concert.

But to the artiste, tours would fall apart without reliable trucking and the expertise of both the logistical planners at the leading trucking firms, and
their drivers and is often crucial to a special event happening. 

With 41 years in the industry, Transam Trucking is one of the UK’s largest such firms with clients including the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Muse, Metallica and Elton John. 

Transam’s first job was for a Bob Marley concert in Ibiza in 1978, and its biggest job delivered to date was for the London 2012 opening and closing ceremonies, with 250 trucks going in and out of the 80,000-capacity London Stadium. 

The company operates 150 trucks in the UK and 21 in the European Union. 

“We offer all manner of specialist transport services for the entertainment industry, and we can cover anywhere you can actually drive to,” says company co-founder and director Mark Guterres. 

“It’s been a great, busy year for us. We also own Edwin Shirley Trucking [EST] and we work in tandem with them, so we’re very well placed in the market.”

It was a chap called Edwin Shirley with his second-hand ex-bread delivery van in the early ‘70s, working with acts such as David Bowie and Uriah Heep, who effectively invented specialist big show trucking when he imported a tractor and trailer from the US.

“We have a very large fleet of Megacube trailers and five super-long trailers known as the big boys; these are 16.6 metres as opposed to the normal maximum length of 13.6m. They are currently only available in the UK and require a special licence, of which we have been granted.”

An issue in the sector has been the introduction of new low emission zone regulations in the capital – the Ultra Low Emission Zone came into effect in April in Central London, with vehicles having to meet ULEZ standards to avoid penalty charges. A £100 daily charge for trucks and a penalty charge of £1,000 can be applied for breaches. 

This is in addition to the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in place across most of Greater London for larger vehicles, and separate Congestion Charges.

“We’ve always had to deal with ever more complicated and complex regulations, but the enormous cost of these measures impacts on the cost
of shows in Central London, and of course we have to cover our costs in turn,” adds Guterres. 

“It’s a phenomenal amount of money to equip the trucks, and we now have specialised trucks that only go into Central London.”

And with Brexit looming and the likelihood the UK is leaving the EU in October, Transam believes it has future-proofed the company, having started planning over two years ago.

“All UK international transport companies have been left in the lurch by the lack of decision on Brexit. This left us with no alternative but to find other solutions,” says Guterres. “In addition to our main office in Bungay, Suffolk, our New Zealand office, and EST’s office in London, we now have subsidiary operations in Holland and the Republic of Ireland – both of which have EU operators licences, and are operating already.

Guterres also highlights there’s an issue in the sector with a lack of experienced drivers.

“Regulations specify that drivers must have certificates of professional competence, which they have to pay for themselves and renew every year. Many older drivers nearing retirement didn’t want to do that, so experienced drivers are lost.”

The company is starting the second phase of its works on a large depot in Suffolk, which will be completed in 2021. It is also undertaking a £1 million redevelopment of the chapel next to its Bungay offices into new, larger office facilities. 

Sixty new Megacube trailers and 40 new tractor units for its European operations will soon be available to supplement the existing EU mainland fleet of 21. 

Route planning

Edwin Shirley Trucking (EST) was founded in 1974 with its industry-famous tagline “You Rock – We Roll”. Counting Bon Jovi, the Eagles, Michael Bublé and Bryan Adams amongst its clients these days, it merged with Transam in 2011 and continues to operate as its own brand. 

“A large part of our service is working alongside bands’ agents and production managers in planning routing,” says Del Roll, who founded the company with Edwin Shirley and Roy Lamb. “Because of our longevity in the business we have a wealth of experience.”

The company offers a fleet of 29 tractor/trailers, plus a selection of 31 ‘dumpy’ trailers and curtain-siders, in addition to access to the Transam fleet.

“A truck is a truck, and as long as it’s equipped with the correct ramps, bars and straps, the only difference is back-up from the office and very importantly the driver,” adds Roll. “That’s where we score highly, because of the reputation of our drivers.”

Through its parent company, EST also has access to Transam’s state-of-the-art workshop facilities and has on-the-road back-up from DAF Trucks. 

Roll is also not concerned about Brexit’s potential impact on the business as “along with Transam Trucking, we now have subsidiary depots in Holland and Ireland”.

Pain-free trucking

Established in 1992 and operating from bases in both Essex and Nottinghamshire, KB Event has over 80 vehicles in its fleet and has delivered stadium and arenas work for Ed Sheeran, BTS, Rod Stewart and George Ezra, amongst its clients. 

Sixty per cent of its work is for
live music. 

“It’s been a massive year for us, our busiest ever yet,” says MD Stuart McPherson. “Our touring work has doubled, although festivals have quietened a little for us.

“As well as trucking services to the music and event industry, we offer trucking management for tours – as an example, we’ve had management out on tour with Ed Sheeran’s Divide tour and the BTS stadium tour.”

McPherson states clients want a proactive approach to trucking, and an operator who will take the pain out of the business.

“They need us to look at what their schedules demand and in the first instance to confirm if its achievable, then to offer solutions that allow them to deliver a tour or event on-time and as cost effectively as possible within budget; all whilst making the whole process as seamless and as painless for them as possible.”

KB runs a new fleet so all of its vehicles are dealer maintained. It also has a network of service agents across Europe, Asia and Africa – over and above primary dealerships – to cover mechanical and tyre requirements, and replacement vehicle provision. 

“We also have relationships with other trucking companies in mainland Europe that we can call on to support if required,” adds McPherson. 

McPherson agrees there is a driver shortage in the sector, and KB is making headway in recruiting drivers on many different factors.

“Our drivers are selected primarily for their interpersonal skills. We do look for drivers with experience where possible but with the shortage of good drivers in the market at the moment we have started employing people, putting them in a strong team and training in-house and on the job.

“We took a decision a year or so ago to give our driving team a very large wage increase in an attempt to retain the team we have and to attract decent drivers to join us,” says McPherson.

It’s also prepared for Brexit, if and when it comes.

“We have planned for all possible contingencies. Until the final play out crystallises, we are in limbo. We stand by to put the relevant action plan into practice once the process completes.”

KB has invested over £2.2m in its kit over the past year and has plans for a new, larger London depot from January 2020. 

Road ambassadors

Established in 1975 and with offices in London and Leeds, TRUCKINGBY Brian Yeardley runs a fleet of over 90 trucks and works with artistes including Florence + The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Phil Collins, Foals, The Specials and ZZ Top.

Its trucks are environmentally-friendly Euro 6, allowing them to enter all
low emission zones across the EU, without restriction.

“We’re looking forward to our busiest year to date with festivals and tours taking us to Russia, Finland, Sweden, Croatia, Greece and Albania, as well as most other EU countries over the summer,” says MD Kevin Hopper. 

“We are always trying to achieve the best solution for our clients’ touring needs, and we aim to offer the best possible pricing structure to help them meet their budget.

“Our touring operations team is headed up by Glenn ‘Sav’ Savage who has over 24 years of first-hand music tour trucking experience as a driver,”
he says.

“We have built the TRUCKINGBY brand based on a quality, reliable and hassle-free client-friendly service and are proud to look after our drivers, who are our ambassadors and our main point of contact with clients, whilst out on the road. We don’t really have a driver shortage, in many cases they actually retire here.”

The company has been preparing for any Brexit eventuality for over a year. It has four plans ready – any one of which can be implemented once the final outcome is known. 

24/7 contact

Established in 1980, Sheffield-based Stardes works with clients such as Whitesnake, Westlife, Bring Me The Horizon and The Pretenders. It has 35 vehicles available, with 70 per cent of its work being live music.

“Stardes is a family-run transportation business and our reputation is built from almost 40 years of consistent and outstanding service to the music and entertainment industry,” says director David Harvey Steinberg. 

“We run a predominantly Euro 6 fleet, and we have vehicles in our fleet that suit all needs – from 12m urban trailers for the smaller venues, up to mega
max vans.”

Stardes also offers on-the-job, in-house training for new drivers and has stringent recruitment processes.

“We value all drivers, from people that are very experienced in the industry to the drivers who have recently passed their test. We select them based on their driving ability, geographical knowledge and professionalism – this is ascertained through interview and driving assessment.

“We have a set process where newer, less experienced drivers can join us and learn on the job from drivers that have worked with us for over 30 years,” says Steinberg.

Vehicles are constantly checked and maintained in its in-house workshop, and are backed-up on the road with 24-hour maintenance from DAF Trucks all over Europe.

Being available during and out of office hours is also an essential ingredient of being a leading trucking operator. 

“We answer client requests at any hour, night or day,” adds Steinberg.
“We have on many occasions had to pull the rabbit out of the bag when people have been let down due to summer workloads.”

Whatever this October brings – deal or no deal – the industry can be confident the country’s leading trucking companies will continue to deliver, metaphorically-speaking and literally.

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