A journey of global expansion and resilience in freight forwarding

As we celebrate the launch of the E2E International 100, we spoke to Adam Collins, Managing Director of PFE Express, a freight forwarding and logistics company, to gain further insights into his international business journey, discovering some of the challenges faced in the industry, and what strategies were implemented to help the business thrive in its sector.

Can you provide a brief overview of your business, its core activities, and how it was founded?

PFE is a freight forwarding and logistics company, covering the end-to-end supply chain from factory to final delivery. Services offered include transport, warehousing, logistics, distribution, and customs.

We were founded in 1984 with just one location and six employees. Now, we have a team of over 150 across four UK offices, and are celebrating 40 years of PFE this May.

What markets did you initially target, and how did your international expansion strategy evolve over time?

Originally, PFE imported to the UK from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea – these were the core origin hubs for importers into the West.

Initially, the majority of our customer base was in the textile industry, toys, and some electrical goods.

As European manufacturing costs increased and shipping costs reduced, together with lower labour costs in Asia, our customer base grew in line with the global shift of manufacturing.

We always had to be one step ahead of our clients, so we were prepared to ship their goods from wherever their next manufacturing location appeared. This allowed us to be positioned wherever demand arose and grow our customer base.

How has your business successfully expanded into international markets over the past few years?

Success is not built overnight, but instead is a culmination of years and years of hard work, fostering relationships, and a relentless desire to continuously improve.

Building the relationships we have with our customers, and suppliers, gives us the foundations to grow.

It provides new opportunities as they arise, new markets, new projects.

We never stand still. A constant evaluation of our processes and ways of working gives a platform for continuous improvement. The moment you think everything is perfect and we are the best, you fail.

What key strategies or partnerships have been instrumental in driving this international growth?

Having a brilliant network of partners across all our origin locations, from Far East to Indian Sub-Continent to USA, allows us to service our customers’ supply chain from start to finish.

We have spent years building strong relationships with our customers, no matter how big or small they are. Some customers have been with us for 40 years now, which is the result of our unwavering commitment to service excellence. We operate and view ourselves as an extended part of our customers’ teams, under the ethos that if our customers do well, so will PFE.

Could you share some insights into the challenges faced and lessons learned during this expansion phase?

COVID was a huge challenge for everyone. Working from home in an industry that relies on physical handling doesn’t go hand in hand. The industry faced major challenges to keep everything moving, quite literally, amidst a massive increase in consumer demand.

However, our differentiator is being able to thrive in challenging times when others may struggle. We strive to deliver impeccable customer service for all our customers, at all times. We do this through only taking on business that the size of our company is equipped to handle – that doesn’t mean not pushing ourselves, but rather working within our means.

Alongside this viewpoint, as the saying goes, “cash is king”. It is vital to always maintain a healthy cash flow to service your suppliers.

This period reinforced PFE’s core principles of always being dynamic, agile, and able to respond to any situation at pace, even if that means ripping up the rule book or ways of working.

How has the spirit of entrepreneurship shaped your company’s culture and decision-making processes?

At PFE, we have industry experts throughout the entire organisation, many who have been with us for 20+ years. Being offered the freedom to manage departments how they see fit and according to their years of experience fosters an entrepreneurial mindset.

Additionally, we operate quite a flat hierarchy for the size of the company. This empowers quick decision making, whether that is for a large structural change, implementing a new system or software, or delivering a customer improvement – decisions are made at pace that larger organisations may not be able to achieve, setting PFE apart from our competitors.

Can you highlight any innovative approaches or initiatives that have contributed to your international success?

We have always prided ourselves on our data quality, IT systems and digital innovation, which underpins PFE’s operations. Operating an in-house IT department allows us to tailor our tools at pace, whether that is for customer specific requirements or in response to changing market conditions.

Not being bound by rigid and inflexible systems supports continued growth, enabling us to deliver success for our customers.

Looking ahead, what are your ambitions for further international expansion and growth?

We are always looking for new opportunities as buying patterns and models change, so we can remain at the forefront of the industry and always be ready to deliver. That means proactively setting up in new markets and locations even before we have large demand – this is particularly important now with geopolitical tensions around the world.

For example, there has been a large growth in ecommerce recently, and accordingly, PFE now offers a comprehensive range of global services, ensuring we are positioned to meet the evolving needs of ecommerce businesses.

Based on your experience, what advice would you offer to entrepreneurs aiming to expand globally?

Relationships are key. It is a phrase that is said so often but that is because it could not be truer. You can have the best product, systems, or marketing in the world, but success will not come without building trust, being honest and proving your integrity.

There are more pessimistic people than those with a positive attitude. Always believe you can do it and whilst being careful, go for what you believe.

Finally, time and patience. Never be focused on achieving a quick profit, success does not come overnight.

What does it mean to your organisation to be included in the E2E International 100 list for 2024?

We are not a business that broadcasts our achievements, so it is especially welcome to receive acknowledgement of success from an unbiased and independent body.

To find out more about E2E, visit https://www.e2exchange.com/

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