Ferguson Ship­ping

Cel­e­brat­ing 60 years

Fish Farmer - - Contents -

WHEN staff at Ferguson Trans­port & Ship­ping en­counter a new chal­lenge, they write it down on boards in the com­pany’s of­fices so that ev­ery­one can see it. ‘If we can’t sup­ply what the cus­tomer is look­ing for, we share it be­cause there might be some­one else in the com­pany that can come up with a so­lu­tion,’ said group man­ag­ing direc­tor Alas­dair Ferguson.

This way, they all bounce ideas around and col­lec­tively cre­ate work­able lo­gis­tics for the aqua­cul­ture in­dus­try, which rep­re­sents 50 per cent of the busi­ness, or the other sec­tors, such as forestry, agri­cul­ture, alu­minium and whisky, that they serve.

It is this kind of prac­ti­cal ap­proach that has seen the fam­ily firm grow to be­come one of the High­lands’ big­gest in­de­pen­dent hauliers and con­trac­tors, and reach its mile­stone 60th an­niver­sary this sum­mer.

To­day, Ferguson em­ploys around 200 peo­ple- rang­ing from HGV driv­ers and me­chan­ics to marine staff, shore based engi­neers and of­fice man­age­ment staff- and had a group turnover last year of around £18 mil­lion.

There are three gen­er­a­tions of Fer­gu­sons in the busi­ness now, with Alas­dair and his sib­lings, Carol (group com­pany sec­re­tary and fi­nan­cial direc­tor), Jack (op­er­a­tions direc­tor) and Les­lie (group direc­tor), at the helm.

It has been ‘an in­cred­i­ble jour­ney’, said Ferguson, from the mod­est ven­ture his par­ents set up in Ar­dr­ishaig, Ar­gyll, in 1959.

Th­ese days, the com­pany, head­quar­tered in Cor­pach, has a fleet of more than 170 trail­ers, 70 trucks, six ves­sels and its own port and ware­hous­ing fa­cil­i­ties at Kishorn in Wester Ross.

It is far re­moved from the firm’s ori­gins, which in fact can be traced back al­most 100 years, to 1920, when Ferguson’s great un­cle, An­drew Grin­law, be­came one of the first haulage con­trac­tors in Ar­gyll, op­er­at­ing horse­drawn carts and coaches.

Ferguson’s late fa­ther, Archie, worked with his un­cle af­ter com­plet­ing Na­tional Ser­vice, with the fo­cus then on agri­cul­tural sup­plies, forestry and coal.

Archie, with his wife Anne, even­tu­ally took over the lor­ries and, af­ter much of the forestry in Ar­gyll was flat­tened in a storm in the late

1960s, they moved the busi­ness North to Spean Bridge, Lochaber.

‘Once the tim­ber was ti­died up there wasn’t a lot of work in Ar­gyll and most of my fa­ther’s work was up north,’ said Ferguson, talk­ing to Fish Farmer last month from his board­room in Cor­pach.

The move took place in 1974 when Ferguson was 11, but just four years later he would be join­ing the fam­ily firm too.

In Lochaber, the busi­ness was mostly load­ing and un­load­ing ships at the Cor­pach Basin for Wig­gins Teape Pulp and Pa­per Mill, as well as trans­port­ing Round­wood to Rid­doch of Rothe­may Sawmill at Cor­pach, the sawmill site that Ferguson Trans­port & Ship­ping now owns.

But then, about 50 years ago, a new in­dus­try be­gan to emerge on Ferguson’s doorstep, with the first salmon farms es­tab­lished by Marine Har­vest at Lochailort.

‘Be­cause we had tim­ber lor­ries with grabs on them suit­able for han­dling the cage sec­tions and rafts, my fa­ther was ap­proached to help out with some of the cage build­ing and move­ments,’ said Ferguson.

They trans­ported and helped put to­gether the first wooden and poly­styrene fish cages for Lochailort, made by a lo­cal joiner.

As the in­dus­try grad­u­ated to steel, Ferguson shifted the steel cage sec­tions from Black­hall En­gi­neer­ing in Ed­in­burgh to the gal­vanis­ers in El­gin. Once gal­vanised, the haulier then de­liv­ered them to the fish farm sites. Some years later, the in­dus­try moved on to cir­cu­lar plas­tic pens.

‘We’ve seen the whole in­dus­try adapt over the years,’ said Ferguson, ad­mit­ting he was ‘chuffed to bits’ at how his busi­ness has evolved along­side the aqua­cul­ture sec­tor. From mov­ing cages around the lochs on the west coast, Ferguson Trans­port & Ship­ping es­tab­lished strong links with the grow­ing salmon farm­ing in­dus­try. They soon pro­gressed to lift­ing and mov­ing smolt tanks and then trans­ported feed by road, as well as fish har­vests and bins.

To be­gin with, the feed was in small vol­umes, com­ing up by road from a sup­plier in Nor­wich and Bury St Ed­monds, be­fore the big feed com­pa­nies such as Ewos, BioMar and Skret­ting started man­u­fac­tur­ing in Scot­land.

By 1997, Ferguson was com­mer­cial direc­tor of the busi­ness and had been in­vited by Marine Har­vest to over­see the lo­gis­tics of its en­tire feed dis­tri­bu­tion.

His fa­ther was in­ter­ested in the ven­ture and was due to at­tend the meet­ing with Marine Har­vest ex­ec­u­tives, when he was killed in a forestry ac­ci­dent.

‘He had recog­nised the po­ten­tial in the grow­ing in­dus­try, and it’s good that he was a part of it,’ said Ferguson.

On the evening of his fa­ther’s ac­ci­dent, Alas­dair phoned the driv­ers and ex­plained what had hap­pened; he asked them to come back to the yard in the morn­ing and park up.

But later that night, walk­ing around the yard with his sis­ter Carol, they re­alised that life would have to go on. They had wages to pay, con­tracts to ful­fil and cus­tomers to re­as­sure.

Ferguson called all the driv­ers back at mid­night and said: ‘You all know what you are go­ing to be do­ing in the morn­ing, so please go ahead as planned and we will take each day at a time.’

Re­call­ing those days now, he said: ‘Ev­ery­body rolled their sleeves up and pulled in one di­rec­tion, which is what our fa­ther would have wanted, and it was this gal­vanis­ing of the team and the fam­ily that is one of the core strengths of our busi­ness to­day.

‘We’d grown up with the busi­ness and didn’t know what we were ca­pa­ble of be­cause my fa­ther was al­ways there to deal with any is­sues.’

It was still a small com­pany, with a staff of 35, but the Marine Har­vest

“My fa­ther recog­nised the po­ten­tial in the grow­ing in­dus­try and it’s good he was a part it” of

con­tract was soon se­cured. Ferguson said they had ‘great fun’ go­ing out to the is­lands and along the coast ‘to places you wouldn’t be­lieve lor­ries could go to’.

How­ever, within a cou­ple of years driv­ing along sin­gle track roads de­liv­er­ing feed, with the trail­ers get­ting big­ger to sup­ply the grow­ing salmon farm­ing in­dus­try, Ferguson re­alised that the tra­di­tional road based trans­port op­er­a­tion was not sus­tain­able in the long term.

His plan was to de­velop Cor­pach as a cen­tral lo­ca­tion for trans­port­ing feed by sea; how­ever, for a num­ber of rea­sons, this didn’t work out and he had to think again.

‘A light bulb flick­ered on,’ he said. ‘One Sun­day morn­ing I woke up at 6am and asked my wife if she wanted a day out in Kishorn.’

He had re­mem­bered the mas­sive dry dock, a for­mer oil and gas fab­ri­ca­tion yard which, in its hey­day, had seen 3,000 to 5,000 peo­ple work­ing on the site.

The yard had closed in the mid-80s and by 1999 noth­ing much had hap­pened there for nearly 20 years, apart from some work on the Skye Bridge in 1995.

Ferguson- un­ac­com­pa­nied by his wife, Jill, also now a gen­eral man­ager in the com­pany- headed north to ex­plore Kishorn’s po­ten­tial.

‘I jumped the fence and walked the whole site, about 2.5km long, with four big deep wa­ter berths and the dry dock. It was quite di­lap­i­dated but breath­tak­ing at the same time.’

Af­ter con­tact­ing the Crown Es­tate and the Ap­ple­cross Trust (who were keen to re­gen­er­ate the area), he de­ployed his ma­chin­ery to tidy up the yard even be­fore he had a stake in it.

Ferguson said he had to prove his con­cept for feed dis­tri­bu­tion by sea and, if it worked, he would take out a lease on the port and dock area.

He char­tered a small, 300-tonne ves­sel, the Von, to show the pro­duc­ers and feed man­u­fac­tur­ers that they could de­liver feed di­rectly to the hop­pers on the barges by sea.

As the Von made her trial voy­age, Ferguson, fol­low­ing by road, filmed the trip, from Cuddy Point to Mull, to demon­strate how dis­tri­bu­tion by sea could work. The cus­tomers were duly im­pressed and soon Ferguson Trans­port & Ship­ping was op­er­at­ing as a fully in­te­grated land and wa­ter based trans­port busi­ness.

As the feed ton­nages built up, the com­pany’s fleet grad­u­ally in­creased to six ves­sels, with more than 90 per cent of its fish feed de­liv­er­ies by sea.

How­ever, change is in­evitable with in­dus­try growth, said Ferguson, and the re­cent de­vel­op­ment by Mowi (for­merly Marine Har­vest) of its feed plant at Kyleakin on Skye has had an im­pact on his firm’s role.

The feed fa­cil­ity, which re­cently be­gan its first sup­plies to Mowi sites, will be ser­viced mainly by two Mowi ves­sels from Nor­way, in­clud­ing one silo to silo boat that elim­i­nates the need for pack­ag­ing.

Ferguson will con­tinue to sup­port Mowi with some of the feed lo­gis­tics by sea, also in­clud­ing trans­port­ing feed to the farms, road lo­gis­tics from the fac­tory and de­liv­er­ing early start up feeds to the hatch­eries and in­shore farms.

The com­pany will also be play­ing its part with

stor­age, ware­hous­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion fa­cil­i­ties at Kishorn and Cor­pach.

‘Whilst the dy­nam­ics are chang­ing, and some el­e­ments of this work we may not be do­ing the bulk of in the fu­ture, through good work­ing re­la­tion­ships, con­tin­ued lo­gis­tics and af­ford­able so­lu­tions, we can still be part of some­thing big­ger,’ said Ferguson.

Be­cause of the Kyleakin fac­tory’s ca­pac­ity, there will be other op­por­tu­ni­ties, he be­lieves. While they have been dis­tribut­ing 60,000 to 80,000 tonnes of feed a year to date for Mowi, the new Skye mill can pro­duce up to 170,000 tonnes.

‘Go­ing for­ward, al­though we may not be do­ing 100 per cent of the work from the fac­tory, even mov­ing a small per­cent­age by sea and road is still a rea­son­able ton­nage and worth­while do­ing and be­ing a part of.’

Mowi’s ves­sels will also use Kishorn for berthing and col­lect­ing cargo for dis­tri­bu­tion. And, of course, Ferguson works with most of Scot­land’s other salmon farm­ers and feed com­pa­nies.

‘Each of our cus­tomers are very im­por­tant to us. We want to con­tinue to dis­trib­ute feed as the op­por­tu­ni­ties arise,’ said Ferguson.

‘We have a very good marine team and marine crew. We knew the fac­tory was com­ing and have looked to see where we can di­ver­sify.

‘It’s a tran­si­tion phase now, and we’re sup­port­ing Mowi with that. We will look to fill any gaps and see what other op­por­tu­ni­ties arise within this in­dus­try.

‘We’re look­ing at ad­di­tional ves­sels we want to put in the mar­ket now, in­clud­ing multi cats and work­boats for the aqua­cul­ture in­dus­try, and also to sup­port the ac­tiv­i­ties we are de­vel­op­ing at Kishorn Port.’

The com­pany has had ves­sels fit­ted in the past with ther­mo­licers and hy­dro­licers and, with the in­dus­try’s am­bi­tion to grow 40 or 50 per cent, Ferguson sees scope for fur­ther in­vest­ment in its ship­ping.

The busi­ness also op­er­ates in the North­ern Isles and it dis­trib­utes cleaner fish, work­ing with other spe­cial­ist lo­gis­tic com­pa­nies.

‘We’re keen to sup­port the whole in­dus­try, we’re a con­trac­tor and a sup­plier in the lo­gis­tics chain and are keen to con­tinue to grow within that,’ said Ferguson.

‘There have been all th­ese changes in the sec­tor and we’ve been very much a part of th­ese changes, which we are very proud of.’

“We knew the Kyleakin fac­tory was com­ing and have looked to see where we can di­ver­sify”

Left: On the quay­side: Carol Mackin­non and Jack Ferguson Op­po­site: Fam­ily firm (from left to right): Alas­dair Ferguson, Les­lie Innes, Jill Ferguson, Carly Ferguson, Jodie Ferguson, Carhie Mackin­non, Kevin Ferguson and Christophe­r Innes

Clock­wise from top left: Alas­dair Ferguson’s brother-in-law Colin Mackin­non, trans­port and gen­eral man­ager, and trans­port man­ager Michael Oliver; the newly de­vel­oped lo­gis­tic hub – 160,000 square foot of ware­hous­ing and hard­stand­ing, rep­re­sent­ing a fur­ther in­vest­ment of £750,000; the Von de­ployed on bin har­vests; the Har­vest Caro­line II at Cor­pach; an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions

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