06 May Meet A Tenant: How The Last Year Has Shaped DS Logistics
Over the last year, DS Logistics have found themselves navigating customs, closures, and a mountain of paperwork. Operations Manager Luca Guerrini told us how they’ve embraced the steep learning curve to come out stronger.
Can you tell us about DS Logistics?
DS Logistics is a subsidiary of the Codognotto group, a massive Italian haulier. So we have 50 offices worldwide and 1000 employees. In 2008, my father started the UK subsidiaries of the group and today we’re a family company.
We offer European road haulage, so we do big HGV lorries…nothing to do with the Suez Canal! We deal with everything from cornflakes to metals.
What makes your company unique?
Everyone says it: customer service. Whenever you need an update, we’re by the phone. If you email us a question, we’ll reply to let you know we’re checking the answer.
It’s important to get things right and also be honest when a job isn’t possible, because clients remember the one time things went wrong, not the times it all went swimmingly!
In the UK alone there are about 10,000 freight forwarders. It’s a big industry and you really have to put yourself at the top.
Between Brexit and the pandemic, the industry must’ve seen some huge changes
The last year’s been a huge challenge. Lockdown started on my birthday last year, 23rd March. The exact day! I’ll never forget that. But we’re lucky in logistics, while some companies have had to furlough everyone, logistics keeps going because people need their things.
Only the essential companies stayed open. So instead of having 100% of our usual client pot, we found it was narrowed down to about 40%. We were really lucky to have a good base of customers to keep DS Logistics’ wheels turning.
How have you seen DS Logistics change since lockdown one?
After lockdown one, everyone came back to work and there were massive orders to fulfil. Companies had been shut for two months, so we had a massive spike. That naturally decreased but, when the government announced the next lockdown, companies started to plan ahead and get things out. That caused another big spike which eased down.
Then, we hit Brexit.
Brexit and freight have featured a lot on the news, but what has the impact been for you?
It’s been an unbelievable challenge that no one was really ready for. I imagine you’ve read the articles. The amount of paperwork that comes with Brexit is absolutely incredible, especially exporting cargo.
But instead of pushing the business down it’s gone the other way because we were very prepared. We saw how hard it would be to ship after Brexit, so we took courses and we learnt.
So when a manufacturer had no idea how to start, we’d say “come here, these are the documents you need, we provide end-to-end processes”. Companies noticed we were ready and our business has nearly doubled since.
We’re just lucky that logistics is booming, because it’s been a very hard year for a lot of people in many industries.
Can you tell us more about the changes DS Logistics has had to make since Brexit?
Before Brexit, if a client wanted to ship a piece of cargo from London to Milan, they’d just give us an order. We’d go and collect it, the driver had one piece of paperwork, and we’d go from Dover. Two days later, we were in Milan.
Now, the client has a lot to prepare: a commercial invoice, a packing list with commodity codes, weight to the exact kilogram, the value, etc.. Then we have three or four very complex documents to create ourselves.
Between numerous border checks and paperwork mistakes from manufacturers, a two day shipment now takes 3-4 days.
And the queues at the border?
We managed to see those quite early, so we had no one stuck at the port. We were lucky. I redirected DS Logistics drivers to go to Belgium straight away because France was closed.
I can’t stand that they made drivers wait there for three days. It’s a human rights issue for sure. These drivers are the people that do everything and they haven’t stopped during Covid, either.
How has The Brentano Suite supported you this year?
Well, we’ve been here for eight or nine years. We love this place. I think we moved in the year after the Elstree office set up.
Recently, because we’ve hired two people since December, we needed to double the office. So we now have a quadruple office, or something like that. They’ve open the offices up beautifully, so there is a little partition with a gap. The Brentano Suite were really helpful with helping us set up our own firewall for maximum security, too.
The team did an outstanding job during Covid generally. The next day, there were gels everywhere, surface wipes, barriers, signs, someone there to take care of what you needed, people to do the post.
We don’t rely on post, but for some companies here, that’s been hugely important. Imagine a lawyer missing a letter about a court date!
We are like a little family here. Fiona, Jill, it’s a really nice team and we can never praise them enough.
What’s next for you?
Next month, our customs software will be ready. At the moment we outsource some of our processes and now we’ll be able to do everything in-house, from start to finish. We’re becoming a kind of one stop shop!
This year we’ve really learnt not to be scared to do something just because we don’t know how yet. We didn’t know how to do customs before November last year, we didn’t realise there were grants out there to help us learn until we looked. You don’t have to be experts already, but you can make yourselves experts.
If you’ve got a good team around you, who hold the same values…you will succeed. There’s no problem there.