Derek Sawyers founded Sawyers Transport in 1970 with one vehicle transporting meat throughout Northern Ireland. The family business grew rapidly to become one of the leading temperature-controlled transport and logistics providers to the UK, Republic of Ireland and continental Europe.
In November 2015, AGRO Merchants Group acquired Sawyers and its cold stores in Lurgan and Annesborough, as well as the leased operation in Dublin. AGRO already owned a cold storage business in Monaghan (Castleblayney and Lough Egish), previously known as Castlecool. The addition of an integrated transport service complemented the warehousing business perfectly, as the company could offer a wide range of services including value add such as blast freezing, tempering, cross-docking and packaging.
In 2017, AGRO acquired the Whitchurch-based Grocontinental, which expanded the company’s geographic coverage, service offering and capacity on both coldstorage and transportation. Grocontinental, now AGRO Merchants Whitchurch, has a capacity for storing 172,000 pallets and also offers a range of value-added and transportation services.
Almost five years on, we are catching up with Derek Sawyers to talk about the company’s journey from being a local provider to being part of a large global organisation
Derek, please tell us a bit about the early years of Sawyers. What did it take to build up the company?
It takes a lot of commitment and determination to build a company and a solid customer base. We have always been focused on prime customer service and gaining the trust of our customers. Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without a great team of dedicated people.
What made you decide to join AGRO Merchants Group?
It wasn’t a decision that we took lightly, but we felt like it was the natural next step in the development of our company. If we wanted to have a truly international reach and expand our cold stores and transport fleet in Ireland, to be able to service our customers at multiple locations, we decided to join forces with other companies to achieve that. We felt like AGRO was a great match for us in terms of values and culture.
What has changed after you became part of the global network?
We started working closely with many of the AGRO’s sites on new opportunities and solutions, especially with the sites in Co. Monaghan. It did take a fair amount of integration for us to be able to work together seamlessly and it is a continuous process, but ultimately we are now in a position to provide a better service to our customers with additional solutions and geographical coverage.
What do you think are the key benefits to the company’s customers?
One of the key benefits is definitely our geographic coverage. With facilities in Lurgan, Co. Monaghan, Dublin, Whitchurch and all over Europe, we can service our customers at a much larger scale. We are also the largest cold storage operator on the island of Ireland. The reach goes beyond Europe, for example we just supported an Irish customer to enter the US market and one of our cold stores is receiving and handling their product once it arrives in the US.
Another key benefit is all the integrated services we can offer, such as blast freezing, packaging, quality control, order picking and of course, transport and distribution. AGRO is financially robust, so we are prepared to invest into new solutions and tailor them to the demands of the market and our customers.
Can you tell us about any future investments or expansion plans?
AGRO bought a new cold storage facility in the Dublin Food Central in 2019, we are finalising an expansion there and also building a new greenfield site in the same park. Dublin is an increasingly important import and export hub. In addition to that, we expanded our transport fleet, enhanced the transport management system and worked on reinforcing some of the key areas of the business. We are also planning further investments into our facilities and value-added services.
Is your business feeling the impact of some of the current events, such as Brexit and the coronavirus?
Any events that have an impact on our customers also have some impact on our business, but we are doing our very best to be proactive and support our customers in any given situation. We have the resources and the capabilities to cope with unforeseen circumstances in most cases, which is another benefit of being part of a large scale company.