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Cotswold Life talks big business

PUBLISHED: 15:35 04 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:35 20 February 2013

Cotswold Life talks big business

Cotswold Life talks big business

If you drink Magners cider while vacuuming with a Dyson, thank Downton! Interview by Nicky Godding

Cotswold Life talks
big business

If you drink Magners cider while vacuuming with a Dyson, thank Downton! Interview by Nicky Godding

If Britains ever in a spot of bother you know, floods, tempests, nuclear attack, that sort of thing, Ive got a very useful phone number for COBRA, the Governments Crisis Response Committee:
Gloucester 720242.

Thats the main switchboard number for C M Downton Ltd, one of the UKs leading independent transport and logistics providers, headquartered at Moreton Valence near Gloucester.

During the infamous 2007 floods across Gloucestershire, the British Army turned to Downton to help distribute bottled water as the worst flooding since records began threatened the mains water supply. Director Richard Downton said: The army parked up at Cheltenham racecourse and were overwhelmed with demand for water. We took on an extra two warehouses at Quedgeley to receive 150 loads of bottled water every day and worked with the armys Gold Command day and night to deliver water where it was needed.

The company is also responsible for transporting Cheltenham Cobalt Units six MRI scanners to hospitals across the county. Specialised Downton teams deliver, set up and move them onto the next destination, housing them at company headquarters when they are not being used.

Downton is one of the countys most successful independent businesses. With annual turnover approaching 100 million, it runs 480 trucks, 1100 trailers, holds 1 million square foot of warehousing in 10 depots across the county and employs around 900 people of which around 350 are based in the Cotswolds. They have also just won Motor Transport magazines Haulier of the Year.

If you finding yourself drinking a Magners cider, while vacuuming with a Dyson reading a copy of Horse and Hound (yes, I have done something like that), Downton was responsible for arranging delivery to the shops you bought them from, along with the cereal you had for breakfast and probably a large proportion of the ingredients in the dinner youll eat tonight. The company specialises in logistical management of ambient dry freight. They dont run refrigerated trucks and they dont deliver livestock, but they do deliver 70 per cent of the nations magazines so if you dig Practical Gardening more than Horse and Hound they deliver that too.

Downton runs a slick operation. Its not just trucking the company has invested millions in equipment that enables the complete logistic management for a growing number of big companies, including storing, pick and packing.

Richard explains: A delivery of magazines will be collected from the printers in Poole, Dorset from where well transport them to Gloucester to be picked and packed for onward transport to our depots in Dunstable, Leeds or Runcorn. That afternoon our team will pick, pack and deliver to the wholesalers who will deliver them to the shops that night. Well even deliver the paper to the Dorset printers before publication.

Problems can arise, explains Richard, when goods arrive late into the UK, or too much arrives at one time. The best laid plans have to be abandoned if an enormous delivery arrives unexpectedly and we have to double the amount of trucks needed, but because were an independent company were flexible and adapt quickly. The Downton brothers are proud of the fact that customers have their mobile phone numbers and can call day or night if something unexpected happens.

The business has been run since 1985 by the founders three sons, Andrew and his twin brothers Richard and John. That year their father, Conrad Downton, who was only 52, died suddenly when his boys were all under 25 and still deciding what to do with their lives.

We grew up very quickly because we wanted to keep the show on the road, said Andrew. Our father had built the business and we couldnt let it go.

At first, Conrads boys did everything, from washing the trucks to driving them. At the time Downton was heavily involved in the construction industry, delivering materials for the new approach roads to the Severn Bridge (Conrad had purchased the companys first articulated lorry in the early 1970s).

After German reunification in 1989, Downton delivered some of the massive steel and glass structures for the iconic new buildings reshaping the countrys most important cities Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin. Richard added: We delivered a lot of Frankfurt Airports building structure.

With three brothers running the show, youd think that there might be tensions, but the Downton men are solid: A team with shared respect and mutual trust. We know each others strengths and weaknesses, says Andrew. And I know if I say something to customers down here Dick and John will be saying the same thing to their colleagues elsewhere in the country.

Andrew adds: Family businesses are a force for good.

This family culture is evident at the companys headquarters at Moreton Valence and indeed at their large and impressive distribution centre three miles into Gloucester at Quedegely that I mistakenly visit first for this interview. Theres a friendliness and warmth amongst the staff that is difficult to replicate in the corporate culture of a multi national business. The man at the porters lodge is chatty and friendly, in the huge yard drivers in their enormous trucks wave cheerily at me in my tiny Fiat 500 which must look like a flea among a herd of elephants.

So what is the future for Downton? The brothers acknowledge that the next generation of the family may not want to take over at the board table, so they are building a strong management team around them in order that the business
can work for the family and its employees rather than the family working for the business.

The issue of rising fuel prices is also of concern, (38 per cent of the companys costs are fuel), but Downton is lowering the companys carbon footprint to reduce fuel bills. Apparently the aerodynamic roofs on new trucks reduce fuel consumption by 8 per cent. They are also trialing duel fuel engines and are almost able to declare the carbon footprint for each journey.

Another issue that should be of concern to all road users is Eastern European drivers, who are not covered by the same EU rules regulating member countries. Downton fully services its trucks every six weeks, trailers every ten. Strict health and safety guidelines are followed and EU standards adhered to. It is difficult to believe, having seen the state of some Eastern European trucks on UK roads, that all other truck drivers follow this policy.

The Downton brothers are inextricably linked with the local community; indeed they even know our Cotswold Life assistant editor who grew up in the village close by. They live and breathe their business, but their leisure is rugby Gloucester Rugby. They have a box, 40 seats in the stands shared with employees and have sponsored the club for years.

A visitor to Gloucester might see its beautiful historic centre or the outer urban and commercial sprawl, but the more I report on this citys businesses, the more I discover the powerful family business links that bind the City together providing local employment and economic vitality. Downton is one family business at the centre of this and long may it continue.

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