50 and up: One father’s dream becomes a solid family enterprise
Not many snap decisions last the test of time. In Wixey Transport’s case, one man’s dream in a ploughed field is still going strong five decades on.
25th January 2023
Tucked away in the heart of the Midlands is a family run transport business who are celebrating their 50th anniversary.
It’s some achievement, but they’ve had to work hard every step of the way. This story is one of toil, naivety, sharp focus underpinned by a family-centric approach.
Wixey Transport’s Wellsbourne location is inconspicuous as the business itself. Keen to run under the radar, the team that runs the company are keen for their reputation and name to do all the talking.
It’s just a family affair
Run by a brother and sister team, Richard and Claire Wixey, the former who also celebrates his 50th birthday this year too. Coincidentally. Took the reigns together in 2005, when their father and founder Paul decided to take a back step. It was a return to a familiar home for both.
During their childhood, they would often help their parents run the business. Richard in the yard with Paul, while Claire would help her mother with the books. Mixing life with business came naturally to the pair as the yard and office was also the family home.
From an early age the business was ingrained into their minds, as they got older they began to recognise the potential of the company and learnt how to run it efficiently.
Claire said: “We were brought up with it. It was something that became part of our lives. And seeing our parents grow it, then being able to carry it on and grow it ourselves, is pleasing.
“For a transport company to have their own premises is a big achievement. We are incredibly proud of the company and what we’ve done and got through. It’s been a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and hard work.”
That same family feel runs through the business and to the staff. Everyone is part of the bigger Wixey family. Richard explains that without everyone’s buy-in, it’s hard to maintain a reputation that’s taken years to meticulously build – being reliable and punctual.
“We treat our employees the way we want to be treated and we wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything none of us would do.”
What helps bring this business together and gives them share unity with the team, is the fact that the family are hands-on. Paul and Richard both have experience of driving and being on the tools, while Claire has the knowledge of running a business efficiently and financially.
This makes it easier for employees and the Directors to relate to and respect each other’s jobs.
While the business may be flying today, it began from much more humble beginnings.
The grass is greener on the other side
The Wixey story begins back in November 1972. Little did young Paul Wixey know at the time it would prove to be the start of a tough, but ultimately rewarding career.
“I was a tractor driver for an agricultural contractor and I used to do a lot of ploughing,” he says. “I was working by a main road one day when I saw all these lorries go out in the morning and come back at night.
“I thought to myself: ‘they’ve been somewhere, and done something, and I’ve just been up and down between these two hedges’. That’s when I decided to get a truck and give it a go.”
With no prior experience or knowledge of running a logistics firm, Paul remembers it being a real struggle.
Initially to get work, he did his own marketing by handing out flyers to the local community to build his customer base. Something both Richard and Claire were involved in during their childhood.
But it was the climate of the late 70s and early 80s that proved problematic. The UK was awash with discontent, recession and the notorious three-day week. As timings go, starting a business during this period could be seen as a poison chalice.
Paul says: “It was awful starting a business at that time. Being a farmer, I had a regular job working 14 hours a day on the farm. But I really didn’t know what was going on in the world.
“All I was interested in was providing for my family. We had the strikes and three-day week, but we got through that and built it up. During the 1980s, I went from eight lorries to one within two weeks during the recession under Maggie Thatcher’s tenure, and I lost a lot of work.
“That was a struggle for two years. But slowly built it up again with hard work, dedication, and working whenever the work was there.”
Being in the office, you can sense that hardened resolve and resilience that saw business boom during the 2008 recession, and has seen the business grow by more than 25% in 2022 alone.
Those hard lessons endured by their father has given Richard and Claire solid foundations to build on – with crises seen as potential opportunities.
Crises are temporary, Reputation is permanent
The COVID pandemic was the only time the world has come to a standstill. An unprecedented event that’s destabilising as it is unexpected.
Most businesses struggled during this period, especially smaller family run businesses. Wixey’s wasn’t immune either. Overnight they lost 80% of their work as their two main clients shut up shop under the Government’s furlough scheme.
But Richard says although it was hard, it gave Claire and himself a chance to reflect on the business and streamline it. Fortunately, days before the pandemic locked the country down, Wixey Transport moved to its new premises – which Claire and Richard own. This six-year project was a blessing in disguise as it took away a major risk.
In the background, their reputation was paying dividends. As word of mouth saw and continues to see the company build a diverse portfolio of customers.
In 1997, the business was put on hold temporarily. A hiatus of six months brought doubt as to whether they could start again. This time with Richard at the helm, the company’s reputation associated with name on the side of the trucks and trailers, meant the enquiries were forthcoming once people knew the Wixey family were back in business.
Should another crisis unfold – there’s no doubt this battle-hardened family will be prepared to ride it out.
Reputation is a fundamental value that runs through the business. Everybody from the directors down to the drivers, understand the importance behind nurturing this important trait.
Claire says: “Wixey Transport is safe – we own the yard, we own most of the vehicles, we’re not a massive company, but we are solid.
“Our reputation is our crown jewel, because alongside that, customers know we are approachable, friendly, hardworking and honest as both a business and a group of people.”
With that Wixey’s future looks bright – with 50 years of trading under their belt. No matter what the future throws at them – one thing is for sure they will be ready and agile enough to deal with it.
Relationship for the ages: Scania and Wixey Transport
Back when Founder Paul Wixey started out, he knew very little about the general haulage trade and the vehicles required to do the job. But keen to learn and meticulous with the detail, he was adamant to find out which was the best vehicle for him.
He bought a selection of second-hand trucks from six manufacturers, including Scania to see which one would come out on top financially. Paul takes over the story:
“I evaluated them and kept a record of the running costs and resale values. Every time the Scania came out on top. That’s when we went – right we’ll have Scanias. Eventually I started buying new ones and that is what we’ve done ever since.”
But what has kept Wixey Transport investing in Scanias?
In Director Richard Wixey’s case, it was enjoying getting hands on and fixing them. While for both Richard and fellow Director Claire, it is the level of service and support they get from Scania when they need it. Richard recounts an instant with a Scania rigid body truck in Bournemouth:
“The clutch went when it was only around the corner from its delivery point. The driver limped it around to his destination, and while he was doing that I phoned up Scania Lifeline (now known as Scania Assistance).
“They sent someone out who said the clutch had gone. They towed it back to Southampton, put a new clutch in that lunchtime and he carried on and finished his deliveries for that day. You can’t beat that.”