Whether it’s moving the Batmobile at Comic Con or a shipment of million-dollar antique violins, logistics suppliers are the quiet achievers keeping the exhibition industry moving.
After the European economic crisis forced a slow down for many operators, analysts report the industry is showing signs of recovery.
The industry is big business. The UK’s £90bn transport and logistics sector employs about eight per cent of the nation’s workforce, according to figures from the Freight Transport Association.
Among the thousands of professionals relishing the challenge of coordinating complex requests is Luke Bardall, director of fairs, sports events and hotel logistics at DB Schenker.
“The rewards are seeing it happen, right at the very end. All the late nights lead up to that one point… then you break it down and it all starts again,” Bardall tells EN.
Bardall, who started work in the industry 13 years ago, says there has been a shift towards exhibition organisers focusing on sustainability.
The trend prompted DB Schenker to introduce software to track and report carbon emissions key metrics for shipments.
“We’re a transport company and at the end of the day we need to be aware of the choices we’re making,” Bardall says of the business that went paperless in 2014.Plan to succeed
Bardall says organisers regularly consult logistics earlier in the planning phase.
"Organisers now want to be involved in all our meetings and will travel to be a part of them,” he adds.
But Wayne Forster, EBISS UK managing director, disagrees.
The 26-year industry veteran says too many exhibitors leave logistics planning to the last minute.
“At that point they have the least left in their budget,” Forster says.
Inexperienced exhibitors resort to using general couriers, instead of exhibition specialists, to get the job done.
“Multi-drop companies are very efficient, but if a driver gets 60 deliveries a day, he’s not worried about who signs for it,” Forster warns.
From filling a Boeing 747 with 18 containers for the King Tutankhamun exhibition at the O2 to looking after Princess Diana’s wedding dress, Forster has built a reputation for delivering.
When asked what he loves most about the work, Forster replies: “It the challenge of getting something to an exhibition and back again, anywhere in the world, and all the amazing people you meeting along the way.”Specialty operators
Among the industry’s specialist suppliers is Coventry-based International Lifting and Shipping (ILS), which gets the call when shows, such as manufacturing expo MACH, need precision heavy lifting.
Earlier this year, the company flexed its superhero strength to lift the Batmobile into ExCeL London for MCM London Comic Con.
Operations director John Lawson says complying with new CDM regulations is one of the biggest challenges facing logistics suppliers.
“For the past 26 years we have also worked as a heavy lift contractor for the construction industry so we have experience of CDM and the impact that it can have,” Lawson says.
Surprisingly, it’s small parcels that offer an exciting area for growth, he says. Earlier this year, the business launched an online portal, The Gateway, to help exhibitors with show breakdowns. Euro zone exit challenge
Talk of Britain’s potential exit from the euro zone raises one of the biggest threats to the logistics industry, according to Scott Brown, new business development manager exhibition and events, at Allport Cargo Services UK.
The company employs more than 800 staff in the UK and is part of a network of about 21,000 staff in 30 countries.
Brown, who has worked in the industry for 23 years, says Britain’s exit would have “massive ramifications”.
“In the old days we used to have all the trauma of shipping into Europe,” he continues. But the euro zone’s streamlined customs and taxation processes solved many of the problems.
Brown says being able to transport smaller shipments within the EU without commercial invoices or carnets makes shipping smaller stands viable. “It’s a completely different kettle of fish,” he says.Skills shortage
Road freight remains one of the most popular choices for moves within the EU, Brown explains.
Figures from non-profit group Skills for Logistics show 149,000 new drivers will be needed within the UK by 2020.
To increase its fleet, Allport Cargo Services partnered with road transport operator Eddie Stobart to take advantage of mega-trailers freed up at the end of the Formula One season.
“You wouldn’t think that 30cm would make a difference, but it can mean the difference between needing another trailer,” Brown says.
Over the past four years, a spike in would-be migrants attempting to cross the border at Calais has intensified as a health and safety issue for the business.
“They’re desperate, these poor guys and they’ll try anything. They’re jumping off bridges to get on the trailers,” Brown says.
Freight drivers are banned from stopping within 50 miles of the Channel Tunnel, while the company added Kevlar-reinforced armoured curtains to secure its trucks.
It’s just one of the many challenges that test Brown’s problem solving skills.“Logistics is not as glamorous as show organising… but its not all grubby trucks. You still get to travel the world and get involved. It’s an integral part of the machine,” Brown says.
This article was first published in the July issue of EN. Any comments? Email Melanie Gardiner