During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses in the UK logistics sector have been the unsung heroes and Liverpool based UM Terminals has risen magnificently to the challenge, helping to keep the country supplied with goods and materials essential for our wellbeing.
“The reality is that we are quite a big cog in the UK supply chain,” said Bryan Davies, managing director of UM Terminals (formerly UM Storage) which operates eight bulk liquids storage terminals across the UK. Four of the terminals are located within the Port of Liverpool.
Part of a global group of companies, UM Terminals, based in Regent Road, is a round-the-clock and all-year-round operation which handles more than 40 different products for up to 30 customers. Products stored at its facilities include vegetable oils, industrial liquids, food and feed, chemicals, fertilisers, fuels, biofuels and base oils.
However, the company goes beyond just storage. It has invested in equipment, facilities and technologies that allows it to provide extra services to its clients. These include blowing, blending, heating, processing and sampling. This innovative and flexible approach led to it striking a deal during lockdown with chemical giant Ineos to create a hand sanitiser product to meet soaring demand from people across the country.
“We are very open-minded in our approach to our business and to the needs of our customers and potential customers,” explained Bryan. “We have competitors in our business who perhaps operate across a couple of sectors".
We operate across all sectors. “When we receive an inquiry from a potential customer we talk to them and see what they need and we look to put the infrastructure in place to meet that need. We have to make sure we offer them really good value.”
UM Terminals has the capacity to store more than 300,000 cubic metres of bulk liquid and has an ambitious plan to grow this to 400,000 cubic metres and handles a total of around 2m tonnes of bulk liquid a year. One of its biggest products is molasses, of which it handles around 200,000 tonnes each year. This is then distributed in 80 different blends.
Bryan points out that those working in logistics are key workers, a point illustrated by the sector’s amazing efforts during lockdown to ensure the supermarket shelves were not empty of essential goods. And he paid tribute to his staff who not only ensured the smooth running of the company, but also helped implement technological change.
During 2019 the firm, which employs more than 60 people, began to introduce its new Client Central Services operation which integrates all the weighbridge and administration across the eight UK bases. During lockdown, staff overseeing the operation of this system suddenly found themselves working from home.
“We have to make sure we are looking to the future,” added Bryan. “We have been around for 100 years and we are looking to invest and innovate to ensure we are still here in 60 to 100 years’ time. The world is changing so it is critical we introduce new technology into the business.
“The Client Central Services is all about serving our customers in the best way we can. Previously, each of our terminals handled their own administration and now we have brought that into one place. When a vehicle arrives at one of our locations it is immediately logged into that central system.
“It was a challenge to implement that and you can always find 100 reasons not to do something. We were really impressed with how smoothly the team moved that system into their home environments during lockdown. They are key workers servicing the UK economy and we have to give them credit for the work they do.”
Brexit now looms large on the horizon for UK plc and the company’s head of sales Vic Brodrick, who like Bryan was formerly at Peel Ports, says the company is watching carefully to see how Brexit will impact its business. But he is confident the operation is flexible enough to cope with all scenarios.
“If any of our existing customers, or indeed potential new customers, are looking for extra storage during the Brexit process then we are ready and willing to provide that,” he said. “The message, as always, is that we remain flexible with a ‘can-do’ approach.”
Bryan believes the company’s commitment to its systems and processes, and remaining professional, has been the key to its smooth running during the COVID-19 crisis and is what will ensure it prospers regardless of future challenges.
He said: “We always make sure this business is run in a professional manner. In a typical year we handle around 2m tonnes and we have not seen any decline in volumes since the start of the pandemic.
“There were customers in the food sector who had to react quickly because the restaurants and hospitality outlets they supplied were suddenly shut down in March. As a consequence, they needed additional storage at short notice and we were able to offer that.
“We have an excellent relationship with Peel Ports here at the Port of Liverpool and we can see the investment they have put into the port can only benefit the Merseyside business community. We also have great partnerships with other companies who are looking to generate more business for us.
“And we have a strategic growth plan that aims to ensure the success of this business for decades to come. We believe we have an exciting future and that this company will still be thriving in another 100 years.”