Suffolk: Dooley Rumble owners are in business for the long haul

NEIL Dooley and Simon Rumble founded Dooley Rumble, now based at the Claydon Business Park, near Ipswich, in 1988. In spite of the difficult economic climate, the freight forwarding company, which is looking forward to its 25th anniversary, has moved with the times and continues to find new markets, as SARAH CHAMBERS found out

NEIL Dooley and Simon Rumble were both aged around 17 when they got their first job in logistics.

It was for shipping company Geest, and was the launch of two very successful business careers.

Now aged 51 and 53 respectively, it has been a long haul. Neil and Simon have now racked up 34 years of working together, first at shipping company Geest’s Felixstowe site and later at Dooley Rumble, their own freight forwarding company.

The pair spotted a gap in the market for the service they now offer at their large, multi-purpose site on the Claydon Business Park at Great Blakenham, Ipswich , when working for Geest.

Working in sales, they became frustrated at finding a market for other services, but then not being able to supply it.

They founded Dooley Rumble in 1988, and have continued to develop it over the years, adapting to the market, and adding on other useful services for customers, from export packing to airfreight services.

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The firm’s large warehousing facilities include important add-ons, such as its Enhanced Remote Transit Shed (ERTS) warehouse, and a link to the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system, opened in 2002.

The company also has a workshop which builds very large wooden crates for transporting machinery and other high-cost items.

Three years ago, Dooley Rumble even became an accredited Drive CPC training provider.

It is this willingness to adapt which Neil and Simon believe has been key to their success.

“We were quite young when we started,” recalls Neil.

“It was just the opportunity we saw and the frustration that we weren’t able to offer customers what they really wanted.”

Simon adds: “As young people, we saw sales slipping through our fingers and we didn’t want to see that happen and felt that was an opportunity.”

Based initially in a small portable cabin in Felixstowe, and buying in freight forwarding services, things didn’t go smoothly – even with a business plan.

Both by then were married, but their wives were working, which cushioned them financially. Going from management positions in a large organization, with all the comforts, including a company car, was a big adjustment.

“That was a quantum leap from where we were,” admits Simon.

They needed finance and went to the bank they already had accounts with but were given the knock-back. Fortunately, they had a contact with the TSB and it was willing to back them. But that was only the beginning.

“It was tough and, in fact, the company we based most of the business on ultimately didn’t (sign up) so we were really left with a desperate need to build the business from scratch.”

In the beginning, as they tried to generate business, one of them stayed in the office while the other was out on the road, visiting contacts.

“One made the phone ring, the other answered it. It was as simple as that,” explains Simon. “We knew exactly how much we needed to bring in day by day, we were running it that tight.”

After the first year, they started to reach the levels of sales they needed to survive.

“It was a case of everything going back in at that point, but after a year, we started to see some growth and some possibilities and that’s really when the warehousing became a possibility. Customers said: ‘Can you do warehousing for us as well?’”

They moved into a small 7,000ft sq warehouse at Great Blakenham after gaining some work with a small part of the Schweppes operation, which gave them the platform for expansion. It was the start of a relatively steady period of growth spanning two decades.

Nowadays, Dooley Rumble strives to offer a complete service to customers.

“Basically, the customer has to buy and sell the product and we do everything in between,” says Neil. “We’ll arrange the collection from China, bring it to our warehouse and pick and pack it to go out to the retailers.”

The firm also does re-labelling and re-packaging, and its fleet of six lorries can then take the products to their destination. Initially, its HGVs were operated on a sub-contract basis, but it now owns its own vehicles. It means that Dooley Rumble can maintain control of as many elements as possible in the chain – thereby reducing the possibility of things going awry.

“Our target customer is one that wants to outsource everything,” says Neil. “That’s the way to go.”

From its original Felixstowe home, Dooley Rumble moved first to the small warehouse in Great Blakenham for three or four years, then to a larger one there. It took on another two warehouses in Hadleigh Road, Ipswich, then moved to the purpose-built �1.5million site at Claydon.

“I think the word was ‘scary’ when we came into here, and this building was empty. It was frightening,” says Neil.

But it soon started to fill up, and the business partners are very happy with the location and how it links with the three Haven ports.

For a while they also had an office in Halifax but withdrew after five years after a hoped-for amount of work from a customer didn’t materialise.

“It proves you have to analyse every part of your business and make sure you get a return,” says Simon.

Neil adds: “Possibly Halifax we gave longer than we should have done but we are quite optimistic about things. I think we are realistic, but you have to err on the side of optimism, otherwise you would never do anything.”

Today, the company employs about 46 staff, and has about 65 different customers, of varying sizes. There are two or three large ones, but the risk is spread across a variety of other clients.

It moved into its large, purpose-built head office in Claydon in 1999 and a year later it developed an export packing department.

By 2003, a second warehouse at its head office became fully racked, creating 1,500 racked locations in that warehouse alone and 7,500 racked locations in total.

Last year, the firm clinched a contract to provide freight and warehousing services to designer furniture company Made.com, based in Notting Hill.

As when Simon and Neil started out in business, the economic climate today is tough, but they are seeing growth in certain areas, such as internet businesses.

“It’s very apparent that retail is not going particularly well, so as a consequence we have moved into handling business for internet companies,” says Neil.

“Retail has been tailing off which affected our business but the internet seems to be the way forward.”

When they moved into their present building 13 years ago, it was filled with goods ready for export. Today it’s imports which dominate, says Simon.

But again, they have been able to adapt, and now have a business making export cases, or wooden crates, for large items such as machines which can be worth up to a �1million.

There are always risks in what they do, but for Simon and Neil, it’s important to keep a positive outlook.

“Without the optimism, we would not have started the business, so we were driven by optimism but there are occasions where we have been far more reserved than we should have been. There have been opportunities to purchase other companies that in hindsight might have been a good strategic move for our business,” says Simon.

Neil adds: “We have had major clients we worked for that we no longer work for, not because of our service, but because of a change in their business and we can do nothing about that.” Within a year of moving in to their purpose-built headquarters, their biggest customer was sold to another large company.

As a result, the business with them dried up overnight. What was a minor decision for that company had a major impact on them, and is just one example of how things happen that they simply can’t plan for.

Today, there are other challenges. “In 25 years, this is the most difficult it has been,” admits Neil. “The last two or three years I think it’s the toughest it has been.”

They can’t control the destiny of their clients, and they admit that now, in common with many, they are “working hard for less margin”.

“We have had clients that have gone into liquidation, clients that have been sold to another party and clients that have made strategic decisions to move to other providers based on people wanting to reduce the cost of everything,” says Simon.

At one point, their workforce peaked at 60, but that has now reduced – a sign of the times.

It’s the strength of the Dooley-Rumble partnership which has helped them to weather the setbacks they have faced.

“It’s worked very well. We are very different people, I think it’s fair to say, with a different approach and often different views, but we have always been able to make that work for us,” says Simon.

Neil adds: “I don’t think either of us is so headstrong they will steamroller things through irrespective. The big advantage when there’s two of us was that we can share that problem. You can end up by having a sounding board.”

Neil admits he can’t see growth within the next couple of years in this climate, so now is a time of consolidation. After 25 years, they keep trucking on. “At some point, it has to improve,” he says.

“Of course, we did start in a recession,” adds Simon. “I think in our industry, 25 years is recognized as being a significant milestone and many people have not achieved that. Customers and suppliers have been very complimentary with regards to having achieved that.”

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