Since Britain voted to leave the European Union in the referendum in 2016 there have been dire warnings of the impact on the UK economy and, in particular, its logistics sector. However, while the full ramifications of the new Brexit trade deal between the UK and the EU are yet to unfold, one company in Knowsley remains “cautiously optimistic” about its prospects for 2021 and beyond.
Seacon started life as a freight forwarding business in 2004 with the bulk of its business moving freight between the UK and North America. And thanks to co-director Tony Simpson’s passion for motorsport the firm also established a niche as the go-to operator for moving cars and equipment to multiple global locations for motorsport teams.
Diversity has been the key to its growth and Seacon now offers its freight forwarding and customs clearance services to clients across multiple business sectors. The business has been resilient enough to keep growing through the COVID-19 pandemic and Tony believes that same resilience and diversity will help it navigate the Brexit transition.
He says Seacon, and its team of six people, has been preparing for the UK’s departure from the EU for a considerable length of time and adds he never ceases to be amazed at how many businesses have failed to do even the most basic preparations for the change.
“We are now entering our 17th year and we have come through the financial crisis a decade ago and, while the current situation with COVID-19 and Brexit are different from that, I remain cautiously optimistic about our prospects for the coming months,” said Tony who runs Seacon with fellow director Brian Diggle.
“I am amazed at how many companies there are in the UK who have not prepared at all for Brexit. We are also a customs entry broker so we are going to be doing a lot of work for people on that. We have had so many enquiries that we are now having to turn some work down to ensure we are not letting down existing clients.
“We have had people contacting us as recently as last week. They simply haven’t been prepared for what is coming. And that is where we make sure we look after our clients. We don’t just move stuff from A to B. We make sure our clients know what is going on and we have been preparing them for the change for more than a year.
“We have been holding their hands through the process and preparing them for the worst case scenarios. One of the reasons we have been getting calls at the last minute is because those companies have not been getting looked after the way we looked after our clients.”
While Tony acknowledges the change will have an impact on the economy he also believes some people are painting a darker picture than necessary for their own advantage. He adds: “I can say from our point of view there are a lot of people who want to make it look like everything is going to be very different when it really isn’t.
However, he does fear for the future of the motorsport sector in the UK. Tony himself has competed in motorsport rallies around the world and has an in-depth knowledge of the industry. He said: “Many of the motorsport teams, including Formula One, are based here. There is a danger they will relocate to Europe as a result of Brexit.”
Like many businesses, Seacon felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns across a number of countries. Another arm of its business is events. Until March last year, the company was working for a number of clients helping them to take part in events, exhibitions and trade shows around the world.
“We were working on the Monster Truck events,” said Tony. “Just before the pandemic hit we had been to Poland, Denmark then back to the UK in Birmingham and then Glasgow. Equipment was being moved to the US when everything suddenly stopped.
“I think the speed of the change took everyone by surprise. So many people, us included, simply did not think that things would close down as quickly as they did. All of a sudden, everything just got turned off.”
Tony and Brian did their calculations as to how long the company could keep going if revenues dried up. However, the diverse nature of its businesses model ensured they need not have worried too much.
While events may have ground to a halt, the online retail sector exploded as all non-essential high street stores were closed during lockdown. Seacon had already established a niche in the sector working with a number of ‘fast fashion’ retailers.
Tony explained: “We have always had the approach that we would make sure we would have as many different revenue streams as possible. During the lockdown period, online retail absolutely boomed. We are now working with five major fashion labels and there is an incredible amount of stock coming in from China.”
Logistics, added Tony, can be a “lazy” term as it’s a catch-all that covers a multitude of different sectors from shipping, to haulage to aviation. And he acknowledges there are a number of unknowns in terms of Brexit and the fallout from the pandemic.
“One issue at the moment that most people aren’t aware of is there is a worldwide shortage of containers,” he said. “During the pandemic at one point alone there were 11,000 containers full of PPE sat at Felixstowe – imagine that scenario replicated across the world.
“Last week I had a vehicle go to the Port of Shanghai to pick up an empty container but there were none available. We don’t yet know what the full impact will be. I think we will have a better idea of the picture after Chinese New Year (mid-February).
“What I do know is that we will be prepared as much as we can be for all eventualities. I am looking forward to 2021 with some confidence. We never count our chickens but we have projects that we are really excited about.”
TRADING WITH THE EU: If you are a Member of Knowsley Chamber you can access a free 15-minute consultation with Customwise (part of the Seacon UK organisation). Edward Clarke, Operation Manager of Customswise can help you with advice on customs procedures, particularly if you are unfamiliar with; duties and costs; documentation; moving goods quickly; and operating within the law. For more information view the Chamber Member offer HERE:
|LIVERPOOL CITY REGION (LCR) LOGISTICS FACT BOX
|– The LCR offers 10 motorways within a 10-mile radius and 10 linked rail terminals.
|– Logistics is a major element in LCR’s maritime sector, worth £4bn a year.
|– Opened in 2016, the Liverpool2 deep water container terminal can handle 95% of the world’s biggest container ships.
|– Symmetry Park, a major logistics hub planned for the former Cronton Colliery in Knowsley could see the creation of more than 1,000 jobs and an annual boost to GVA of £51m.