Powering Ahead With Backing From Santander

AV Dawson had big plans to capitalise on its diverse logistics portfolio – funding from Santander is seeing these plans come to fruition.

In brief

  • Company turnover: £18 million
  • Sector: Logistics
  •  AV Dawson is a multimodal logistics business set on a 100-acre site next to the River Tees in Middlesbrough. It has numerous income streams and has turned to renting out premises as an alternative revenue channel.
  • AV Dawson needed funding to invest in growth and alternative sources of revenue, but its incumbent bank had withdrawn from the market.
  •  A series of term loans and asset finance from Santander helped it invest in securing new revenue streams via rental sites, as well as improve and modernise existing infrastructure to help the business complete larger jobs more efficiently.
  • Santander was prepared to fund the company’s ambitions and to spend time getting to grips with its apparently complex strategy.
  • The business is a big local employer, so the deal was also important for Middlesbrough’s economy.
  • AV Dawson might have succumbed to the recession without funding – now it is in a strong position for future growth.
AV Dawson

Multimodal logistics business AV Dawson enjoyed a successful 2013, in which it celebrated its 75th year of trading. The Middlesbrough-based business is firmly back on track after the economic downturn forced it into a period of consolidation, and is now expecting to achieve substantial growth with help from Santander.

The family-owned business started life in 1938 as a coal merchant with a £50 investment in a horse, cart and a pile of coal. From these modest beginnings, the company moved into road haulage and gradually new services were created as demand grew. This growth naturally led to the need for larger premises. When current Chairman Maurice Dawson became Managing Director in 1971, the business operated from a two-acre site. Today it sits nestled next to the River Tees in four separate sites covering nearly 100 acres. Its diverse portfolio incorporates large crane lifts, rental premises, distribution and much more besides.

Maximising assets

Gary Dawson, the third generation of the Dawson family to run the business, was appointed Managing Director in 2000, and he has overseen further expansion and diversification – such that the business now has 170 employees. “Over the years we have had to look at the infrastructure and buildings we’ve got and work out what we can do with them,” he explains.

The company’s approach to diversified logistics services has required investment in plenty of new infrastructure, including (though not exclusive to) two large deep-water berths, a private rail terminus, two 600-tonne pedestal cranes (as well as a more agile 40-tonne wharf crane), giant warehouses and a fleet of lorries, and other heavy vehicles capable of moving thousands of tonnes of cargo around the country.

On its own, the rail site occupies six hectares while the company’s proprietary IT platform is used by two enormous companies – Corus and Nissan, both clients – to handle all automotive metal coil into Nissan Sunderland on a ‘just-in-time’ basis.

Riding the economic storm

This diverse portfolio is in part the result of some innovative thinking in the face of economic dire straits. In 2009, AV Dawson lost a great deal of business when the Tata steel plant in South Wales was forced to downsize. “We saw turnover drop substantially in a short period of time,” explains AV Dawson’s Financial Director John Young. “So the directors sat down and worked out how to rebalance the business between our traditional activities and our rental stream.”

The strategic response was to create new income to strengthen the balance sheet. The company agreed the solution was to turn to property leases as an alternative source of revenue, but AV Dawson’s incumbent bank had withdrawn from the market. So, in order to fund the purchase of adjacent industrial units, the company secured a £1.5 million loan from Santander Corporate & Commercial.

Funding evolution

“Santander first started talking to AV Dawson in 2008,” says Graham Moore, Relationship Director at Santander Corporate & Commercial. “I had known them from a previous business, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Soon after funding their purchase of some industrial units, the opportunity came up to purchase a former bio-ethanol plant.”

“Since then we have increased the facilities and early this year provided asset finance for five new trucks. We also extended £1 million to them to renovate one of their Victorian quays, so in the future they’ll be able to accommodate larger vessels.”

Banking on the future

Together with Santander Credit Partner Graham Orrick, Graham Moore has developed a deep relationship with AV Dawson, describing the Teeside business as “open and honest,” and allowing the Santander team full access, including regular on-site visits. “The business is so complex and so different that on-site tours are necessary to understand how it all fits together,” he says. “You can’t make sense of it just over phone calls, so we’re regular visitors to see the infrastructure with our own eyes and hear how it interrelates.”

It seems the feeling is mutual, with AV Dawson’s senior management impressed with Santander’s approach to problem-solving and business growth. “As Financial Director it’s my job to find the best deal in each circumstance and we do have relationships with other banks,” says John. “But I found Santander to be incredibly proactive in their approach. They definitely have a can-do attitude.”

“They are great guys to work with and everything is very clear,” he adds. “In the meetings the conversations cover the full situation and how we can work together to create the best outcome.”

All lending is subject to status.

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