Alison Handling: The Preston storage company thinking outside the box
From boxes and trays to pallets, trolleys, and dollies; regardless of whether you want them to nest or collapse, stack or wheel about, Alison Handling is the largest independent stockist of plastic storage solutions in the UK.
Established in 1988 by Tony and Andrea Dearden, the Kirkham-based company is named after Tony and Andrea's daughter, who is now herself the firm's Commercial Director, and over the past three decades grown to work with some of the world's biggest brands, including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Nestle, Weetabix, House of Fraser, British Gas, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Fujitsu.
"It's a family business," said Glenn Broomfield, the company's Managing Director. "We cover a range of sectors from food - everything from catering to food processing and abattoirs - to engineering: when you look across our range, there aren't many industry sectors we don't feature in.
"Every day is a new challenge; one size doesn't fit all and different companies require different solutions and products," added Glenn, who is from Lincolnshire but who lives in Poulton-le-Fylde. "It's all about understanding your customer and being efficient and adaptable is crucial. Good communication, the right product, responsiveness, and great customer service - that's the key."
Offering storage solutions befitting the needs of everything from manufacturing, retail, and healthcare to everyday domestic products, the company's mantra is adaptability. And having worked at the firm for 25 years, Alison Dearden says that despite being bought by packaging company PPS Group four years ago, the company's ethos as a family business is still 'so important'.
"As a family, we'd had experience in the industry before, but we set the company up because so many people had so many surplus boxes that they didn't know what to do with," explained Alison, who lives in Kirkham. "Rather than them go to the tip, we took them, cleaned them, and recycled them to resell them to people who could otherwise not afford them."
Still on the cutting edge of innovation, Alison Handling's bespoke A-Link Dolly, which took a year to design in-house and which was developed in tandem with major retailers, saw them crowned winner of the Most Innovative Established Business Award at this year’s Venturefest North West Innovation Showcase competition.
"We offer services which are vital but which people don't often think about," said Glenn, who has worked at Alison Handling since 2016. "It makes it an interesting business to be in. For example, our A-Link Dolly was designed to cater for a major retailer who was having a logistical problem within a million square-foot warehouse.
"We went in and delivered a new solution: it's not about selling a box, it's about giving the customer a solution," added Glenn. "We're a Lancashire family business which created a new product manufactured by a Lancashire-based company. There's some real positives in there for the area."
"It's great to see how far we've come," added Alison, with the company now employing 16 people. "When we started out in the garage at home, I was still at school and I'd help out on my holidays, so to now be designing things for major retailers is amazing. We're very proud of the companies we work with."
Glenn agrees. "There's a lot of pride in the fact that we work with some of the most recognisable brands in the world and are part of that supply train," he said. "Every customer is important to us, from a small local business to a multinational retailer, and I think that's what makes us quite unique.
"If you're moving house, you can still buy a single box from us," Glenn added. "But if you need 100,000, we can do that too."