Ray Cole's father, Johnny, was the reason he and his brothers got involved in the logistics business. In the 1960s, Johnny began collecting milk in the Maghera area of Cavan, for Bailieborough Co-op and Virginia Milk in his Ford 14.9. Trucks were always around and the brothers developed a "massive" interest in them.
In 1982, Virginia International Logistics was founded and today employsmore than 150 people with a fleet of more than 120 trucks and 350 trailers. Every year the company's fleet travels more than 12 million kilometres and Ray Cole, as the company's managing director and transport director, is responsible for them.
The company is committed to its policy of “green logistics” and is involved in a raft of projects in a bid to reduce its carbon footprint. Additionally, it’s expanding its operations, having started construction on a new logistics centre in Kells, Co Meath.
The family-owned business has picked up a swathe of accolades for its work in the industry, including international haulier of the year and Irish haulier of the year at the fleet magazine awards this year. In 2015 the company won environmental haulier of the year at the fleet awards.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
Our back-to-the-wall moment, like many other companies in Ireland, was during the financial crisis. The company had been trading very strongly prior to this but, once the financial crisis hit, a number of changes had to be implemented. Costs had to be reviewed and cut where possible without impacting on the quality of the service we provide.
What are the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
The best piece of advice I received would have been from my parents, who emphasised to us from a young age that hard work and honesty always pay off. When you’re in business, you always receive advice from people but I can’t say I ever received bad advice.
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
Virginia International Logistics does a large portion of its trade in the UK and in continental Europe, including France, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Belgium and the Czech Republic, to name a few. Our future plans would be to further develop our UK depot and increase our market share in the UK and in Europe.
Where would you like your business to be in three years?
We have big plans to have a substantial portion of our fleet fuelled by compressed natural gas in the coming months. We will be the first Irish logistics company to have its own gas refuelling station and presently have 10 gas trucks on order to add to our fleet. We are currently working closely with Gas Networks Ireland on these projects.
What red tape that hampers growth most?
The industry we operate in has a large number of rules and regulations which are governed by the Department of Transport, the RSA [Road Safety Authority] and the Health and Safety Authority. All these regulations, while necessary to maintain high standards within the industry, also come with a cost. Whilst this red tape doesn’t hamper growth, it does hamper profitability in an industry that already operates on very tight margins.
What is the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
A common mistake I see entrepreneurs make is trying to manage too many different projects at once. I believe the key to success, especially when starting out, is focusing on a project/area that you are knowledgeable and passionate about and focus on growing this.