For many people, lorry legend Edward Stobart changed the face of freight and built up one of Britain’s biggest brands. But how did he create such a phenomenon?
Stobart Group Ltd (trading as Stobart Group) is a large British multimodal logistics company, with interests in Transport and Distribution, Estates, Infrastructure and Civils, Air and Biomass, through operations in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Belgium. The company is incorporated in Guernsey but has operational head offices in Carlisle, Cumbria and Widnes,Cheshire but hopes eventually to re-locate its Carlisle, Cumbria offices to a new, purpose-built building at Carlisle Lake District Airport, where it owns a 150-year lease expiring in 2150.
Started by ‘Steady’ Eddie Stobart in the 1950s as an agricultural business in Cumbria, the company was incorporated as Eddie Stobart Ltd. on 23 November 1970 as a haulage firm, eventually passing to his son, Edward Stobart. After a series of complex takeovers, the Stobart company has developed from a haulage company to an intermodal logistics company, achieving a stock market listing without an IPO through a reverse takeover of the Westbury Property Fund. Following the step down of Edward in 2003, the Stobart family is now represented in the business through Edward’s brother William Stobart.
In 1976 Edward and the fleet of eight lorries moved to Carlisle to be closer to the M6 motorway.
A lot of hard work, never declining an order, and a virtual paranoia about keeping his lorries, characterised by their Tautliner bodies, immaculately clean eventually paid off, and Edward started to get orders from larger businesses. One of the key success factors for the company was its specific emphasis on building a strong reputation and corporate image. For example, in the 1980s and 1990s, if any driver was caught not wearing a tie while on duty, he or she could face disciplinary action. Similarly, the company had a policy that all drivers must wave back and honk their horn in the traditional truck-driver fashion when signalled by a passer-by or “Eddie spotter” to do so.
Other key elements in its growth at this time were the introduction of a new management team in 1986 and the opening, on 1 April 1987, of its first depot in the English Midlands .
If cleaning up the industry’s image was Edward Stobart’s triumph, then giving lorries female names was his masterstroke.
The first was named Twiggy, after the model, and later there was a Tammy and a Dolly, after singers Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton.
Today, the fleet includes a Laura Abbey, an Angela Rachel and an Elizabeth Jane – with the privilege of naming new lorries being that of official Stobart fan club members, albeit after a three-year wait.
So how did such a simple marketing tool – female names and fleet numbers – become such a big phenomenon?
Steve Hayes, editor of Trucking magazine, says an off-the-cuff remark by a BBC Radio 2 broadcaster about 10-15 years ago was one of the catalysts.
“It was just a remark on a breakfast show, but it seemed to fire imaginations,” he says.
Glenn Patterson, marketing manager of the fan club, says Eddie Stobart: Trucks & Trailers, on Channel 5, also boosted the fan base.
But branding expert Jonathan Gabay says sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.
“Stobart is not just names, it is the people behind the names. It’s a brand for the people, being driven by the people.”
But he says Edward Stobart was really “quite exceptional” in what he achieved.
“Very few brands become legend in their own brand lifetime. And this wasn’t the Apple iPad, a cool, technology brand. The idea of a haulage company capturing the imagination is quite remarkable.”
By 2000 the enlarged Eddie Stobart Group Ltd. consisted of three divisions: Eddie Stobart Ltd., Eddie Stobart International and Eddie Stobart Promotions. Today, there are about 2,200 Eddie Stobart trucks on the road and the firm’s official fan club boasts no fewer than 25,000 members.
“He wanted to smarten up the image of truck drivers and the industry – and to his credit, he did,” says Mr Dossetter.