Three weeks later in 1970, he started a new job with shipping giant Cunard and there he learned all about freight management.
He decided to start up on his own business in 1975 and so Alliance Shipping started life as a specialist boutique operation helping SMEs to export: “We’re like a travel agent but for small to medium exporters”.
Gary built his business picking up jobs considered tiny by big multinational couriers such as DHL, FedEx and UPS. Fast forward 44 years, and Alliance now has three UK offices in Basildon, Heathrow and Birmingham with five additional receiving depots, an office in Atlanta, USA, and 200 agents operating across the world.
Both of Gary’s sons were introduced – initially on a temporary basis – into the business in 2010, but they got on so well that they are still there nine years later, albeit in more strategic roles.
“Basically, Alliance Group helps SMEs who don’t want to export in the volumes demanded by the large distribution companies ferrying back and forth from the likes of China,” says Gary.
“While some larger customers are exporting five or six times a day, a substantial tranche of our customers want to export just a few times a month. But we also have contracts with businesses of all sizes and at different ends of the spectrum. From small parcels to turnkey project movements, we have the capability!”
Most of Alliance’s work comes from referrals which Gary puts down to excellent customer service: “If you wanted an optician for eye surgery, you wouldn’t Google them, would you?”
During almost 45 years at the helm, Gary has seen SME clients swallowed up by much larger companies with bulk contracts moving to much larger logistics companies. “What we often hear in such circumstances is that they just don’t get the same service. Yes, the cost may be cheaper, but there is no room for negotiation. It’s tough to build a sustainable relationship in a multinational corporate environment.
“Our 200+ global agents are our ears and eyes on the ground. They keep us informed on local developments and can also help us out. We can match clients to agents depending upon client needs. You can’t get that level of service working with a corporate logistics company”, he says.
Gary extended the service to hold customers’ hands through the export process: “There are so many hurdles, which can range from plain inexperience, to being unaware of cultural differences, or grappling with challenges around political unrest and instabilities. With our experience in these situations, businesses can outsource their export requirements safe in the knowledge that we’ll be able to do it correctly first time. It helps smaller businesses to rapidly grow in some circumstances and it’s satisfying to know that we have helped.”
Alliance diversified into letters of credit via its proprietary ASL-Flo© payments system, which enables export shipping clients to remove themselves from the documentary credit process, concentrate on core business activities, and secure fast payments from their bank.
The group also offers a liquidation and receivership service for collapsed agencies. Working in tandem with the receiver-designate or liquidator enables Alliance to recover considerable sums of money for the account of unsecured creditors. “We can be a white knight and help to make a real difference given that this is a very specialist industry and very few liquidators have relevant experience”, says Gary.
Like many other businesses involved overseas, Alliance wrestles with the fluctuating dollar exchange rate and uncertainty surrounding Brexit, but neither is stopping it from focusing on helping businesses export.
Find out more about our clients here.