Claudia weeks, content creator for Fuel Oil News, met with Alistair Clugston, CEO, for a chat about the business and to hear about future plans as they reflect on 100 years in transport.
The history of Clugston
“My great-grandfather (JG Clugston) bought his first truck back in 1922,” began Alistair. “We believe he was involved in the haulage business even before that, but we are celebrating the 100- year anniversary of the purchase of his first truck.”
“JG Clugston Ltd began trading as a timber and builders’ merchant in 1922 from its base at Carlton Street, Scunthorpe. The original business was mostly commercial, dealing with, and delivering, a range of goods in the construction industry.
“The first vehicle purchased by my great- grandfather was by a British manufacturer called Maudsley; this would have been a two- axle rigid flatbed and fitted with a petrol engine, solid tyres, and belt or chain-driven!”
“In 1937 the family business became involved in construction,” Alistair continued. “During the second world war we were supplying aggregate for the Air Ministry.”
A new central depot
Clugston Distribution Services opened its central transport depot on Brigg Road, Scunthorpe on the 28th November 1966 and it is still the headquarters for the company today.
Alistair explained: “Our main base is still in Scunthorpe, it is where we’ve always been and it is our home. We are still one of the largest employers in Scunthorpe, employing 180 people and with over 100 trucks.
“We have upgraded the workshops and the facilities at the Brigg Road site. The yard was 15 or 20 acres at one time and stored thousands of tonnes of steel. We have also operated bag-to- bulk operations from here, and it is where all our fleet is serviced and maintained.
It was designed originally for servicing tipper trucks – back in the 1960s when we had hundreds of them. We have since changed the design of the doors as tipper trucks are vastly different from what we use now.”
In 2012, Clugston ventured into the bulk fuel distribution sector, and successfully succeeded in penetrating a challenging market with Clugston Distribution Services now one of the largest independent fuel hauliers in the UK.
“I was not actually with the company in 2012,” Alistair clarified. After the demise of the Clugston Group in 2019, the logistics sector, which was part of the group, continued trading. This was sold to a consortium, and I was invited to join and was appointed CEO for Clugston Distribution Services.”
Where everybody knows the name
Customers are the lifeblood of every business, and we asked Alistair how his business has grown, both in terms of customers and geography, and why they choose Clugston Distribution Services as their supplier.
“Customers hear about us because our name has been out there for 100 years, and people know it. Clugston is an unusual name, very well recognised – it is memorable!
“In the Scunthorpe area, we are one of the largest employers, so the name is recognisable and people are loyal to the Clugston name.
“Our fleet manager has worked for the company for 31 years, his father for 39 years and now our fleet manager’s son is also working with us on a commercial vehicle apprenticeship scheme making this the third generation.
“It is said: ‘If you break them in half, they will bleed Clugston!’ Our employees are very loyal, committed, and passionate people – it is very humbling for me and my family.
“The wider community is also supportive. We have depots around the UK and are becoming more widely known. We are engaged in other areas of transportation such as bulk food products and industrial powders, wide loads and modular buildings and the transportation of steel – long products which we have been transporting for over 70 years.”
Alongside caring for its employees, customers and community, caring for the environment is also one of Clugston’s core values and they are committed to minimising the adverse environmental effects of their activities.
Alistair talked through the actions they are currently taking to reduce their environmental impact: “We have solar panels on our workshop roof. We are also planning new buildings in the yard and will make sure that they are as green as possible.
“All our fleet are Euro 6 trucks which are the most low-carbon vehicles we can use and, in years to come, our fleet will have to move to electric or hydrogen powered trucks. This will be the next step, but we anticipate it is still at least 2 to 3 years away.
Most of our travel is long distance, and the technology at this time will not allow us to travel the distances required efficiently.
“Certainly, when that technology is there, we will make the switch and move to an electric or hydrogen fleet.
The future for the supply of diesel, kerosene, and gas oil
With the transition to future fuels, Alistair shared his thoughts on likely changes in demand for diesel, kerosene, and gas oil: “I think it depends on how fast the hydrogen and battery-powered technologies progress – that to me is the real key. Clearly, we do anticipate a decline in demand for diesel, kerosene, and gas oil but not for about 4 or 5 years – I think demand will be consistent until then.
“We know that we need to be looking for alternatives in the fuel market that we operate in as we will not be able to grow anymore in that sector, but we will look at other types of distribution. I had a Chamber breakfast with the Governor of the Bank of England last week, and had the opportunity to meet with Andrew Bailey directly, and discussing some of the long- term plans from the government was incredibly useful.”
Challenges or opportunities?
Alistair considers the future challenges the business is likely to face.
“The move to low-carbon and non- combustion engines will be the biggest challenge,” he shares. “But, with big challenges comes opportunity.
“From the maintenance point of view, it is more dangerous to work on a battery-powered vehicle than a combustion vehicle so there are huge challenges there.
“We will have to do some enormous upgrades to our workshops to improve the facilities for dealing with electricity and all our staff will have to go through completely new training. We are already in a market where there is a short supply of technicians and qualified mechanics, so it is going to put greater strain on business.”
Asked what keeps him awake at night Alistair replied: “We work around the clock; we deliver all through the day and night. Some sectors of our businesses operate almost 365 days a year. You are always concerned for your driver’s welfare. There is so much compliance, so much paperwork, so many boxes to tick, it is a never-ending job to make sure compliance is adhered to but it is essential to maintain those high standards.”
Plans, expansion, and the next generation
“I’m always looking for opportunities to grow the business,” Alistair enthused. “In June last year, I acquired a logistics company in Hull, which focused on wide loads and transporting modular buildings.
“I am always looking at other opportunities because, when I took over Clugston Distribution, it had not been in profit for 30 years and I am delighted to say that we are now returning to strong profits.
It was not an easy time to turn a company around as Alistair explains: “I think when I joined, in January in 2020, I had six weeks in the business and then covid hit. It was a particularly challenging time for someone that had limited transport experience. I had just familiarised myself with who everyone was, and then we had to send 85% of people home due to the pandemic.
“One of the sectors continued to operate throughout this period and this was our bulk flour fleet. This was incredibly busy as, obviously, everyone still had to eat. Unfortunately, the fuel fleet was stationary as no one was on the roads, so that was a big problem for us especially as I had just bought a million pounds worth of brand-new tankers. When I joined, we had 62 trucks and we now have over 100, so we’ve increased the size of the fleet, mainly in the steel sector.
“I’m always looking at other avenues that are specialised as I want to be involved more in work that involves specialised equipment.
“The future vision for the company is to grow in different areas, new markets. I want all our staff to continue to be well trained with the best technology available to us. I am looking forward to the future.”
Clugston – a new generation
As with many family-run businesses in the industry we asked Alistair if Clugston has someone in the next generation that would be keen to take over the running of the company.
“We do indeed,” Alistair answered proudly. “My son Alexander was born in April 2022! I do not know whether Alexander will want to run Clugston Distribution Services in 20 or 30 years’ time, as it is a long way down the line, but it is certainly a possibility.
“One of my new-born son’s first gifts was a t-shirt and a mug with tankers on it from Feldbinder!”
Fuel Oil News congratulates Alistair on the wonderful addition to the Clugston family and wishes the team at Clugston a very happy 100th anniversary.
We look forward to interviewing Alexander in 20 years’ time!