The spirit of success

In 1988, Ben Jones and Alf Allington, two men who had previously met through their respective work in the warehousing industry, came upon an exciting opportunity to play their part in shaping the next phase in the legacy of one of London’s more historic business sectors, that being bonded warehouses. The opportunity in question arose from the sale of the bonded warehousing business of British & Foreign Wharf, an entity that had been the pre-eminent keepers in the Port of London, serving the wine and spirit trade since 1870. The purchase was duly completed following the establishing of London City Bond (LCB) in October of that year.

In the 30 years that have since past, LCB has grown gradually, yet considerably, into the largest and most successful privately owned tax warehousing company in the UK, now responsible for six million cases of beer, wine and spirits across 1.5 million square feet of warehouse space, and with a delivery fleet of in excess of 250 vehicles. “Today, we have around 8000 customers, from more than 70 different countries, that we serve throughout the year, of which some 6500 are private customers and 1500 are trade customers,” explains LCB’s Sales Director, David Hogg. “These trade customers can be anything from a small independent wholesaler or winery in South Africa or New Zealand, right up to some of the largest players in the industry, such as Boutinot, Hallgarten, Campari, Laurent Perrier and Sazerac.”

At any one time, the company has over 150,000 live product lines in its system, and in December 2017 it not only hit a peak of 23,000 deliveries in a single week, but in the three weeks leading up to Christmas it delivered no fewer than 1.86 million cases of product across the UK. “I know it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but our success really does come down to good, old-fashioned customer service and empowering our people to go out there and take responsibility for their work,” David continues.

As David goes on to detail, it is also the adoption and use of technology that helps LCB serve its customers’ effectively and efficiently. “You can have all the best wines and spirits in the world, but if you can’t get them to their destination on time it is all for nothing. Every day we have at least 250 vehicles on the UK’s roads. Each is manned by an owner-operator driver who is in possession of a hand-held terminal, at present in the form of a Samsung Galaxy smartphone that each have their individual manifests programmed each morning.

“The really unique thing about the technology we use is that orders can be amended right up to the point of delivery, so if there did happen to be any issue with the order itself or if the customer changes their mind about what they are receiving the driver can amend the order and what is signed for is exactly what is received. This not only allows the customer to bill net at the end of the day, but also eliminates the need to raise credit notes for the reimbursing of funds if an order was to change at the last minute. We also have an option built in where customers can receive text or email alerts the day before a delivery is made, that morning providing a time window, and in the event that the vehicle in questions falls more than 45 minutes behind schedule. This is particularly helpful when it comes to delivering to private addresses.”

A unique extension to LCB can be found in the form of its fine wine cellarage and investment business, Vinothèque. Set inside a 19th century Grade II listed building that was originally constructed as grain warehouse to service the local brewing industry, it provides the very best of services to anyone from a private individual collector to an international fine wine broker. “The conditions needed for storing grain are very similar to that for storing fine wines, as they both require an ideal level of temperature and humidity,” David adds. “A combination of metre thick solid brick walls and the most technologically advanced climate control equipment allows us to hold the internal temperature at 13 degrees centigrade 365 days a year and at a humidity level of 68 per cent. These are perfect conditions for long-term storage and provide us with a facility that is unlike any other in Europe.”

As David highlights, as well as a growing interest in fine wines there has also been a surge in recent years in demand for rare whiskies, with some bottles now regularly exchanging for amounts in excess of £100,000. In the hope of expanding its services to this field of the drinks industry,

LCB is now exploring plans for setting up its own bespoke area of the business in Scotland, specifically at its Glasgow warehouse, to cater for rare whisky collectors and traders.

In the meantime, LCB is presently investing in two new warehouses, in Cambridge and the West Country respectively, that it intends to have open in the summer of 2018. Expansion is also currently underway at both its Global warehouse in Burton, where additional high rise racking is being installed to increase capacity, and at its flagship Olympus site in Barking, where a new mezzanine floor is being installed and will be an area dedicated to promotional packaging. On the technology front, the company continues to make improvements to its e-commerce efforts, is in the process of developing new hand held terminals for its employees to operate and plans to bring in a bespoke route planning package for its vehicles.

“As we review 2018 to date there has certainly been no letup in interest or in the number of new accounts that have opened up,” David enthuses. “Our reputation helps bring new customers to us on a constant basis, including some increasingly unique players such as Seedlip, which is the world’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirit, which are coming to us due to our proven track record for supplying the hotel and restaurant trades.”

The emergence of Seedlip is just one example of a rapidly changing market, one driven by various consumer demand trends, however LCB’s tried and tested business model is helping it to maintain its position at the top of its field. “We know that it is important that we keep doing what we know and what we do best if we are to continue to achieve organic growth by taking on more customers in the future, while at the same time maintaining the stability that has proven to be so beneficial,” David concludes.

London City Bond
8000 customers from over 70 countries
20,000+ weekly deliveries made
A stock holding of six million cases