Operating from over 40 sites across the UK and Europe, the Stobart Group is one of the UK’s front-runners in multimodal logistics and warehousing. At the core of the Group’s offering is Eddie Stobart, a transport company that acquired almost legendary status in popular culture.
It is safe to say that Eddie Stobart is the only trucking company that cannot only bank on a loyal customer base, but also its own fan club, counting 15,000 members who worship the red, green and white colour scheme. In fact, Eddie Stobart is one of the most recognised brands in Britain, best known for its iconic trucks that usually feature a striking red and white striped bumper. It has been named “British Superbrand” for the past six years running and even has its own TV series. But, how come a humble transport company has turned into a pop idol?
When “Steady” Eddie Stobart registered Eddie Stobart Limited on 23rd November 1970 in the small Lake District village of Hesket Newmarket, a life in the spotlight was beyond imagination. In 1976, Eddie’s 21-year-old son, Edward, joined the business and drove its transition from agricultural contracting into a more comprehensive offering of road transport and warehousing, and in doing so slowly built a reputation for excellent customer service across North West England.
In 1979, Edward’s younger brother, William, joined the young company and the scene was set for the thriving family firm to embark on a period of significant growth and expansion throughout the UK during the 1980s, making Eddie Stobart one of the country’s best known, and loved brands.
However, it is the tradition of giving Eddie Stobart's trucks female names that made the company enter every-day life. The first four owned by Eddie Stobart senior were named after model Twiggy and singers Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton and Suzi Quatro. Eddie’s son Edward – who died in March 2011 aged 56 after suffering heart problems – continued the tradition, with more recent vehicles being named after Ffion Hague, Paris Hilton, Trinny and Susannah and Fiona Phillips.
The policy of inscribing the names on the front of the cab helped to attract a 15,000-strong fan club of Stobart-spotters who log truck sightings on the club website, along with registration number, fleet number and girl's name.
Since 2000, Eddie Stobart diversified into retailing miniature Eddie Stobart trucks and Stobart-branded toys along with other merchandise bearing the company logo. There was even a paint colour called Eddie Stobart Green; a series of children’s books featuring “Steady Eddie, the big-hearted lorry”; and an Eddie Stobart rail service, powered by Eddie the Engine. According to British newspaper The Telegraph, Tony Blair's youngest son, Leo, used to play with Eddie Stobart miniature trucks in 10 Downing Street. For a few years in the 1990s, the company even ran a fan club shop in Carlisle's city centre.
In addition, British Channel Five ran a series named “Eddie Stobart: Trucks and Trailers” in 2010, which gave the public a whole new insight into the UK’s commercial road transport industry. A second series began in May 2011.
Beside the marketing hype, though, Edward Stobart established a whole new kind of transport company. At a time when most truck and trailer combinations on Britain's roads were run-down and driven by men with sartorial standards to match, Stobart insisted that his fleet should be kept in immaculate condition; that all drivers should wear a shirt and tie, and decreed that they should all wave back and sound their horns in the traditional truck-driver fashion when signalled by a passer-by or “Eddie spotter” to do so.
In the 1980s and 1990s, if any driver was caught not wearing a tie while on duty, he or she could face disciplinary action. “I fought against the rough-looking driver,” Edward Stobart once told The Telegraph. “A lot of them looked no better than tramps. It took quite a few years before people saw where we were going and what we were trying to achieve.”
A lot of hard work, never declining an order, and a virtual paranoia about keeping the fleet – comprising around 5000 trailers, mostly built by SDC and Schmitz Cargobull – immaculately clean eventually paid off during the Global Financial Crisis.
Backed up by Eddie Stobart, representing almost 85 per cent of the Group’s turnover, the Group was able to diversify through the acquisition of further transport businesses, airports, an interest in biomass and other properties. In 2010, the company’s 5000 employees helped generate a turnover of £500.4 million, with the Eddie Stobart road transport and warehousing business contributing revenue of £449.9 million.
“The full year’s figures show an increase in turnover, up 11.8 per cent, largely due to the ongoing strength of our transport and distribution business, with Eddie Stobart winning significant new contracts such as AG Barr, Tesco and Britvic,” says CEO Andrew Tinkler.
But, even for an industry-leading fleet, progress never stops. In late 2011, Tinkler hopes to introduce the extended Envirotrailer to British roads. “The new design; which requires very little extra fuel, and will help cut congestion and reduce the carbon footprint; is in the late stages of consultation,” he explains. “The addition of just two metres to the overall trailer length increases carrying capacity by as much as 13 per cent, whilst remaining within the 44 tonne gross limit. If managed effectively, the cost per pallet/cage to customers will remain the same.”
Meanwhile, the world’s most famous truck drivers keep the business running and still honk the horns when Eddie spotters pass by. They do not have to wear a tie anymore, though – a practical uniform has replaced the business look.
Background: The name game
Eddie Stobart has a long tradition of giving its trucks female names. The practice has been expanded to cover other Stobart vehicles, including their sponsored sports cars and the Stobart Rail locomotive, Eddie the Engine. With the expansion of the fleet, names have become harder to choose, and the fleet now features Tuula Karina (Finnish), Angharrad (Welsh), Anstice and Saoirse Erin (Irish). Currently the vehicles with the shortest and longest names are Nia and Gladys Duchess of Overton, both on Scania R420s.
There are some exceptions to the female naming convention, including Eddie the Engine. During the filming of the Eddie Stobart television series, a Volvo FH12 was christened Valentino after legendary Italian motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi. Today, the names are chosen by members of the fan club; but currently there is a three-year waiting list. The trailers, meanwhile, do not get names, but they have unique reference and ID codes.