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2nd June 1988, Page 56
2nd June 1988
Page 56
Page 57
Page 58
Page 56, 2nd June 1988 — TANKER TENDE
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Keywords : Billingham, Alesha Dixon

When ICI decided to contract out its long-distance tanker operations, its manager Dennis Dixon tendered for some of the work. He now has a thriving business of his own.

IL 0642 15632

• On Saturday 1 August last year Dennis Dixon began his working day at ICI's Wilton plant in Middlesbrough. He had been with the company for 26 years — most recently as long-distance transport manager — but something was different on this particular day.

Instead of being an ICI-salaried staff member, Dixon was a contractor. His brand new transport company was starting its first day of operations, trunking hazardous and non-hazardous goods by tanker around the country.

"ICI decided to embark on a two-year phasing-out period of its long-distance transport," says Dixon, "They sent out tenders and discovered a 21.5 million difference in cost, between the in-house operation and contractors. They did give us (the transport department) a time period to get costs down, but the difference was more than they could stand."

"I decided to approach the powers that be," he says, "to ask whether I would be considered if I tendered for the work. ICI said yes, but on terms of price and ability.

"There were a number of things going for me. I knew the job well, so I tendered for all the work, knowing that I wouldn't get it all and I didn't want it all."


That was in September 1986. Dixon was successful in winning a number of routes, but agreed to stay on at ICI for 18 months, while the rest of the work was passed to other contractors.

There was strong competition for the work, not least because all contractors who agreed to take on ICI drivers were offered three-year contracts, compared with the normal 90 days.

"I canvassed for drivers and was amazed at the number who wanted to come with me," says Dixon. "I think they thought it's better the devil you know than the devil you don't, and they felt we'd be safer together. If you go to another company you start at the bottom of list with regards to seniority. With us we are all together. "I know the drivers with me are the best," he adds, "I wasn't going to take the bad ones. The least service any of my drivers had was 14 years. . . in fact, they work far better for me, than they did for ICI."

As Dixon was putting his company together, he began to realise how much learning had to be done. "For 18 months there was an awful lot to learn. On the administrative and accounting sides I had to learn everything. At ICI I had only been involved in my part of transport — I was a good delegator."

He also received considerable help from ICI and the manager of the local National Westminster Bank: "I had been with another bank (Lloyds) all my life, but when I asked them for money they didn't want to know. One day I was passing a small branch of the NatWest and, on a whim, I went in and asked to see the manager. Bill Heavyside has given me a lot of help and put me on the right road. I must admit I am a bit disappointed with my bank they didn't think I'd do it, but, since they've found out what has happened, their attitude has changed."

Dixon now makes a point of going to experts for advice. He employs accountants and contracts out vehicle maintenance to the owners of his yard, LPG Transport.

At one time there was talk of a 230,000 grant from the Department of Trade and Industry, but this offer was withdrawn when it was decided it would mean unfair competition for existing hauliers. "Several local hauliers thought I took work off them," says Dixon, "but if I hadn't got the work, it might have gone to other areas. I maintained employment in the area."

Most of that ill-feeling is in the past now, and Dixon says: "Other hauliers in the area have been very helpful. There has been some resentment, but on the whole Cleveland-based hauliers are a friendly and helpful group. We all help one another with advice and equipment."


Dixon started with 12 drivers. "Half the reason we have made a success of it has been through the help and back-up of our own drivers," he says. "Without their efforts we wouldn't have done half as well, but then they are hand-picked, so they should be good."

Dixon's company, known as "Dennis Dixon", operates from Tilbury Road in Middlesbrough 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"Customers know I'm here and know I'm only too pleased to help if I can," says Dixon. "ICI know they can ring me up at 8pm and, providing we have a vehicle, we always have a driver here."

On several occasions Dixon has taken the wheel himself to help out his customers. "Its a personal service," he smiles, "because not only do I take the phone call, I also deliver the goods."

Dixon says he aims to provide a quality service, and this approach has won him additional work from ICI. "We work exclusively for several divisions of ICI at the moment. When I've got my head above water it's my intention to diversify, and we have already been offered quite good work, but we need to let the dust settle — that's on my bank manager's advice.

"We gave a good service when I was at ICI, but it was simply too expensive. Now we are at least as good, if not better, and we are more economical."

With additional work, Dixon has had to take on three new drivers. "We got 80 applications, mostly from experienced men," says Dixon. "We selected a few for interview and I'm very pleased with the way they have fitted in."


Along with the extra work, came a need for additional vehicles. Dixon started with two ex-ICI Seddon Atkinson tractors, five Volvo FL1Os acquired on contract hire from LPG Transport, and 20 ex-ICI tanker trailers.

The 10-month-old trucks, working on double-shifts, have already completed 250,000km. Dixon plans to keep them for three years. To meet demand he has since purchased a sixth Volvo FL10, a 4x2 MAN 17332 and a premiumspecification French-built Magyar tank trailer.

"ICI's policy was always to buy British and the Volvos are produced in Britain. I needed to find the best equipment to suit my needs, and for the weight and engine power, the Volvo FL10 fitted well when I first started," says Dixon.

"The Volvos have been very good but I decided I didn't have anything to compare them with. They have certainly proved cost-effective fuel-wise, and they're very reliable, but I decided to look around for a comparative vehicle of another make."

Dixon had not been involved in vehicle purchase at ICI and saw this exercise as another lesson to learn. He visited a number of local dealers and asked them for a demonstrator, with the promise that if it was good he would buy one. Cleveland Truck and Van Hire, an MAN dealer, was the first to find a demonstrator. "We have operated the demonstrator for four weeks and it has certainly lived up to expectations," he says. "It's quiet, comfortable and powerful, which is what a driver wants." True to his word, Dixon has bought a new MAN which began operating on 24 May.

"We actually purchased one of the most expensive tanker trailers," says Dixon, "because we wanted quality. ICI is putting pressure on transport companies for quality, now that it has BS5750. That is something I will be trying to achieve here; the Magyar helps me."

The stainless steel tanker is welded to ADR specification and is fitted with fullwidth walkways, a collapsible handrail and a fail-safe braking system which prevents the vehicle being driven away while loading is in progress.

Dixon hopes his former boss at ICI, now working as a management consultant, will be prepared to help Dennis Dixon itself achieve BS 5750.


"The reputation for quality we're trying to get is coming slowly," adds Dixon. "My tankers are dedicated to the types of load they carry. That costs a lot of money because you can't carry back loads on return journeys.

"For years ICI has taught people to get it right first time. With a small company like mine you have not got many funds, so you have to do your very best — you can't afford to take chances. I know if our service hadn't been good, we would have gone by now."

When working with ICI Dixon was involved in the Chemsafe emergency scheme where he assisted at many chemical incidents throughout the North East. Cleveland County Emergency Services set a very high standard in their vehicle checks in the area, says Dixon, and ICI is still keen to emphasise the importance of safety in its operation.

As a former training officer with ICI, Dixon sets great store by adequate safety training. "The Hazchem courses here are very good," he says. "Of course, when you're in the centre of the chemical industry like this, it means a lot — you are all more aware. Courses in other parts of the country are less chemically-orientated.!'

All Dixon's new trucks are fitted with Vodafone cellular radios. "They are a bit expensive, but you have to forego a little bit of expense for safety. When carrying hazardous chemicals the drivers should have a means of communicating to save a problem from escalating." The drivers are given a set phone allowance. If the charges on a particular phone exceed the allowance, the driver pays the difference.

Dixon's own family has been very supportive during the establishment of the company.

His wife Jean is company secretary, though she also holds down a full-time job elsewhere.

"Without her support I couldn't have started," says Dixon. "After 26 years of security at ICI, I needed a wife that believed in me. She took one hell of a chance — we had to re-mortgage the house, and put the redundancy money in."

Dixon's sons, Mark and Steven, have both helped with the company. Mark works many of the night shifts and only two weeks ago passed his HGV 1. Steven is studying electronics at University in Brighton, but worked for six months at Dennis Dixon as the work experience part of his degree. During that time he set up a computer system for the firm which handles the accounts.

One other person has supported Dixon since the company was first established. He is Brian Hughes, who worked alongside Dixon at ICI for 26 years and is the only shareholder of the company other than Dixon himself. Like Dixon, Hughes does a lot of office work but is prepared to take to the road on occasion. "I needed someone to rely on," says Dixon, "and Brian is loyal; he was the first person who sprang to mind.

"All we needed was a bucket full of money," adds Dixon. "1 wouldn't like another company to have shares in me. The work we get is Dennis Dixon work. It's purely selfish but I wouldn't want anyone else riding on it.

"It's something I've wanted to do all my life, to run my own business," he says, "and I've never had the nerve. It was a golden opportunity which was only going to pass this way once. I just wish it had come a few years ago."

For the future, Dixon has his eyes on more ICI business, new customers and international work. "We have been offered two Continental jobs, one to Sudan and one to West Germany, but we're not able to cope at the moment." He also plans to open new depots in other areas where the chemical industry is strong, such as Hull and Manchester.

ICI is considering contracting-out its long-distance transport work at nearby Billingham (CM 26-May-1 June). "We will tender alongside everyone else," says Dixon. "We will have to — ICI will offer the work to different companies and if we don't tender, we won't get it."

"We've done very well in 10 months, but we've given a damn good service," says Dixon, "1 would be a lot happier if profitability was more — I'm certainly not making a million — but we're here now in the transport industry and we aim to stay and get bigger and better." LI by Richard Scrase

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