Owner and Managing Director of Clare Distribution Services, Mark Clare, is a busy man. Now with trucks operating in all of Ireland’s 32 counties, covering everything from dense city traffic in central Dublin to distribution in the Irish countryside. Even though employing a total of 95 staff, Mark remains heavily involved in the day-to-day operation. After two decades he still enjoys the ‘buzz of it all.
“I have a hands-on approach to my business and still step in wherever I’m needed. Anything from following up on a sales lead or getting into the truck as a driver. However, providing great service through finding solutions to our customers’ challenges and trying hard to exceed their expectations is what I’m passionate about,” he says.
As we got busier, we realised that it wasn’t making sense to have used trucks in the fleet because of all the down time regarding maintenance.
That Mark Clare would become the owner of the largest independent food distribution fleet in Ireland happened to some degree by chance. Following on from graduating in 1986, he began work as a store manager in a major retail department store. It was here that he learned the importance of great people skills and customer service. During this time, his father had his own business delivering milk, and for a brief period of illness Mark stepped in to manage his father’s business.
Realising he truly enjoyed the early morning milk rounds, Mark decided to buy his own business next to his father’s and so CDS was born in 1997. It didn’t take long before Mark discovered a gap in the market place for chilled and frozen distribution that would set the spark for the success story his company is today.
“While I was carrying out the milk run, people kept asking me if I knew anyone in the business who could do the chilled deliveries to the department stores. My wife Ann-Marie and I discussed the matter and decided to invest in our first dual temperature vehicle. It proved to be a great decision as we soon got so busy that the milk became the part-time job,” Mark Clare recalls.
The business quickly went from strength-to-strength and in 2001 Aryzta Foods, the biggest supplier of pre-baked bread in the country, became one of their blue-chip customers. CDS has grown alongside them over the years and it has seen them double the fleet and upgrade it to a pristine standard. Today, all Mark’s equipment is temperature controlled with the majority being dual temperature, and the average age of equipment is less than five years.
“Before we started to work with Aryzta Foods we didn’t have the economy to buy new trucks, so we operated used trucks that were all different brands. As we got busier, we realised that it wasn’t making sense to have used trucks in the fleet because of all the down time regarding maintenance,” he explains.
Mark then met with several manufacturers before deciding to initiate a collaboration with Volvo Trucks, placing his first orders for the Volvo FE and FL models.
“We soon found that these trucks had great performance and that they were perfect for our city centre operations due to their manoeuvrability in the tight city streets. So we went back to Volvo to buy more trucks, deciding that the Volvo FL would become our city distribution truck. Today our fleet consists of 90 per cent Volvos, so the Volvo brand has become our brand as well.”
The choice of city distribution truck was of crucial importance to CDS, since driving in central Dublin is a challenging task. It is a very busy city centre with a lot of interaction between trucks, cars, cyclists and pedestrians, and the CDS drivers are running on tight time schedules.
There are no second chances when delivering food, and doing around 35 deliveries a day, it must be easy for the drivers to get in and out of the trucks and to navigate in the tight city streets. Apart from the driving challenges, the drivers are also expected to serve as brand ambassadors, not just for CDS but also for all their customers. They therefore often operate the same route in order to build a personal rapport with the stores personnel in each store.
It’s not a one-man job – our success belongs to everyone that is part of the company.
“When we recruit, the first thing that we’re looking for is great people skills. We view the drivers as our ambassadors and the ambassadors for our customer’s product – they need to engage with the people behind the deli counters and the store managers, making sure they are happy with our deliveries. We therefore engage in a lot of training, making sure our drivers know exactly what’s expected from them in terms of customer service and driving skills.”
Providing a stellar service has been his goal from day one, and Mark believes his company’s success is mainly due to the willingness to please the customers by being flexible and adapt to their needs.
“We don’t manufacture or produce anything; we’re a customer service-based business. And as such, we must strive for continuous improvement. We see how customer demands are changing in the industry and we are constantly working to adapt to these changing requests. It is of utmost importance that our service levels remain at the highest level in order to fulfil our obligations and commitments to our customers,” he says.
Apart from a clear vision of what he wants to achieve in the business, as well as using good processes and trucks, Mark believes an important factor behind his company’s success is that he understands the importance of listening to his staff, constantly taking in their opinions and advice.
“I’ve got some of the best people in the business working for me, and they’ve all brought their individual skills and qualities into CDS, playing a huge part in the result. It’s not a one-man job – our success belongs to everyone that is part of the company. So, winning the National Haulier of the Year 2017 prize a couple of months ago was an amazing feeling for all of us. The hours, the endless days and effort – all paying off in one night in front of 800 of our peers,” Mark Clare says with a wide smile.
History: Clare Distribution Services (CDS) was established in 1997 by Mark Clare with the aim of providing a top class, unrivaled haulage service.
Services: The company specialises in the distribution of temperature controlled products delivering chilled, frozen and ambient products as well as a small percentage of pharmaceutical goods.