When Chris Coffey set up a mini-cab company in West Drayton in 1975, he could hardly have expected that by 2007 he would be welcoming the Princes Royal to celebrate his company’s anniversary.
The stroke of genius in this story was not, of course, setting up a mini-cab company but the decision 25 years ago to abandon the passenger business to focus on an emerging niche market – same day collection and delivery for the Heathrow airfreight community.
Welcoming Princess Anne to the company’s headquarters, Coffey pointed out that: “At this time the parcel distribution and logistics industry was in its infancy and this was a very innovative service.”
Circle Express now has annual sales of more than £20 million. It handles a daily throughput of 330 tonnes made up of over 2,200 import / export consignments through eight depots at major airports around the country. Earlier this year, Circle took delivery of 22 Mercedes trucks and vans in a special silver livery to mark the 25th anniversary of the business.
Coffey points out that now Circle often operates as “an adjunct to our customer’s businesses, fulfilling a vital role in the successful running of their supply chain operations”.
“Substantial investment in modern technology in both IT and facilities has equipped us to maintain our position at the premier and preferred road transport network to the airfreight industry.”
The transition from mini-cab company to today’s business took a number of stages. The company, named Revheath in 1975, soon found that because of its close proximity to Heathrow, it inevitably became involved in the movement of small parcels on and around the airport. Soon parcel movements outgrew passenger traffic. Three years later Circle Transport was launched and is one of the first distribution companies to offer the Heathrow airfreight industry a dedicated, low cost ‘same day’ delivery and collection service.
In 1982, Circle Transport merged with Infra Freight Services under a holding company, Airlink Holdings, encompassing all aspects of airfreight transport which included roller bed vehicles, contract hire facilities, warehousing and distribution.
A rapidly expanding overnight delivery and same day collection service prompted the dissolution of Airlink Holdings, the divesting of all the other group services and the formation of Circle Express. At the same time, the purchase of Manchester based Phoenix Express took place to facilitate distribution in the north of England.
Although Circle’s customer base comprises mainly airfreight forwarders, the company is now also attracting more business from outside this sector.
It has linked up with Pallet-Track, which enables it to guarantee next-day delivery of palletised consignments to anywhere in the country. Pallet-Track is a shareholder owned company founded in 2002 and now handles some 4,000 pallets a night through more than 60 members.
In addition, it recently re-branded its courier service “Circle Express Same-Day Couriers”, a point-to-point pick-up and collection facility which operates from all eight of its depots around the country.
Another growth area is movement of hazardous cargo, such as radioactive and firearms materials, whose handling and movement are covered by strict regulations.
Circle Express moved into its current head office near Heathrow in 2004. This was double the size of the previous facility. However, says Coffey, the company is rapidly outgrowing the site and he is now starting to consider options for further expansion.
Increasingly, he says, airfreight customers are looking to Circle to be a total logistics provider. “They want to concentrate on the airfreight operation and shed the overhead of running commercial vehicles.”
Air cargo is a particular target of the environmental groups with the focus on food miles. And, Coffey says there has been a growing emphasis on green issues within the industry with recent tender documents asking about carbon footprints. The London Low Emission Zone is also an issue for the business as it will cover the Heathrow area when it is introduced in February next year.
Coffey says the company will be ready for it – it has vehicles on order now so that by the end of the year its Heathrow fleet will be totally Euro 4 compliant. And Circle has just renewed its forklift truck fleet going for the latest gas-powered trucks.
1975: Launch of mini-cab company based in West Drayton under the name Revheath.
1978: Circle Transport launched offering same day delivery and collection service.
1982: Circle Transport merges with Infra Freight Services.
1988: Dissolution of Airlink Holdings and formation of Circle Express Ltd.
1996: Depot added at Exeter Airport.
1997: Takeover of Manchester-based Freightspeed adds Glasgow and Bristol depots and increases facilities at Manchester.
2000: Sixth depot opened at Birmingham International Airport.
2001: Connection Couriers is launched to provide door to door specials service.
2002: Seventh depot opened at East Midlands Airport.
2004: Head office moves to new premises at Heathrow, doubling the size of the facility.
2005: Eighth depot is opened at Leeds Bradford airport.