Cullimore Mix thinks big after testing year

March 25, 2021
By Guy Woodford
Moreton Cullimore, managing director of The Cullimore Group
Moreton Cullimore, managing director of The Cullimore Group

Cullimore Mix, part of The Cullimore Group of companies based in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, West England, is proudly celebrating a landmark 50th anniversary in 2021. The landmark year is being marked with fresh fleet investment and new staff members as part of ambitious expansion plans. The exciting future for both Cullimore Mix and the wider Cullimore Group comes after a severely COVID-19 pandemic disrupted trading year.

At 8pm on Monday 23 March 2020, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to the nation in a television address. He told the public that a UK-wide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic would begin that evening, with citizens told “you must stay at home,” bar shopping for necessities as infrequently as possible, once-a-day exercise, or travelling to and from work, but only when this is absolutely necessary and if work cannot be done from home.  

Listening to the address, Moreton Cullimore knew it was likely to have a significant impact on Cullimore Mix and other Cullimore Group businesses. But nothing could prepare him for what he experienced the next day on arrival at the Group’s Netherhills HQ, between the villages of Frampton on Severn and Whitminster, nine miles south-west of Gloucester.

“I came in at 5.45am as I knew our people would want to know what would be happening. I had a meeting at 7am, came out of it at 9am and walked down to the transport office. All the people in the office were in shock. By Wednesday lunchtime, we had no work! It was a case of ‘What the hell are we going to do?’ Everyone was cancelling. There was nothing for nearly 60 vehicles to do.

Moreton Cullimore in front of two of The Cullimore Group’s haulage trucks
Moreton Cullimore in front of two of The Cullimore Group’s haulage trucks

“Thankfully, that Wednesday afternoon, the Government announced that there would be a furlough option available to businesses. By Thursday night, I had walked around most of the business and talked to groups of people to reassure them that we would be using the furlough option. By Friday night, we had 70% of staff on furlough.

“The week before [Boris Johnson’s lockdown TV address], the Six Nations rugby was on, and final preparations were being made for the Cheltenham Festival [horse racing]. Life was buoyant, and we were anticipating that 2020 would be our busiest year since the 2007-2008 financial crisis.”

Moreton recalls that during the financial crisis of 12 years ago, The Cullimore Group went from two very successful years to a 30-35% reduction in trade in 2009. “I was in my early days as a Cullimore Group director, and I had to make a few people redundant. It’s a process that I said privately to myself that I never wanted to go through again.

“After the first lockdown was announced last March, I did have to make three staff redundant. Two were part-time weighbridge operators who were not dependent on that income.”

Returning to the present day and Cullimore Mix’s 50th anniversary-marking new investment, the introduction of William Swidger, a new 21-plate truck mixer, continues the tradition of all Cullimore vehicles being named after Charles Dickens characters – a legacy dating back to the first days of The Cullimore Group. Karl Friston has been recruited as the new manager of Cullimore Mix to oversee the next stage of its expansion. This will include a new site near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, and at the two sites Cullimore Mix already operates, underpinning the company’s development despite the impact of COVID-19.

Commenting on the significance of Cullimore Mix reaching its 50-year trading milestone, Moreton says: “We kept quiet at the start of 2021 about the 50th anniversary. I didn’t know how things were going to pan out as Lockdown 3.0 had begun. We were going to do some business rebranding last year, but COVID knocked that. It has felt weird to celebrate stuff. I wanted to make sure there were green shoots of recovery. This time of year is when a very big light gets switched on for us trading wise, and I wanted to make sure that was still happening before we talked about the 50th anniversary.

“What it meant to us 18 months ago is different from what it means now. Personally speaking, it’s a relief to get there. Cullimore Mix was my father’s baby. He set it up. I understand there was initial resistance from my grandfather to setting up a concrete company. It’s the only part of the Cullimore Group of businesses not handed down to my father in a positive way.

“It’s similar to when we marked the 90th year of the transport side of The Cullimore Group a few years ago, in that it’s a reassuring sign that we are doing something right. Cullimore Mix lives in a market dominated by multinationals who can draw on cement supplies from their businesses. In terms of the cake mix for making cubic metres of concrete, we’re already negative in comparison as we have to buy cement from one of our competitors. We want to crack on in the next few years and do things a bit differently.”

An imposing yet charming six-footer with a large amateur rugby club forward build, Moreton, who is in his 40s, is pleased to be working with Karl Friston, having known him for many years from their work in the West Country building materials supply sector.

“Karl is a unit of a man and the same age as me. He shares a similar energy, and we are looking for maximum energy within Cullimore Mix for the next ten years. He comes from Aggregates Industries, a very structured environment, where he ran several of their Cotswold Water Park-Swindon quarries. I’ve known him for six or seven years through work, and we’re also both big Gloucester rugby club supporters. He has always complimented me for the work I do to promote and campaign for our industry, and he has always expressed an interest in working for a family-owned and run organisation. He will complement our old school feel and give us a nice balanced approach.

“Karl will initially be getting to know and understand our people and learn our many different concrete mix designs. With our BSI kitemark, they have to be right. He will also be getting to grips with and reintroducing himself to managing a fleet of 14 to 15 trucks. He may also go and do a Transport Manager CPC qualification.”

Karl is replacing 60-year-old Nigel Clack, who has been with Cullimore Mix and the wider Cullimore Group for 30-plus years. “Nigel will still be working as a Cullimore Mix adviser, allowing us to tap into his wealth of concrete technical knowledge,” explains Moreton.

“Cullimore Mix has always worked well. It’s a pre-packed concrete business that always makes a profit. It has a nice exterior to it, but we need to start taking some next growth steps. I want Cullimore Mix to be a regular £5 million-a-year business and then hit the next benchmark of a £6 million-a-year business. From what we get asked for, we need to develop a screed product and look at whether we can supply customers with our own concrete pumps.

Speaking of his appointment, Karl Friston said: “I’m delighted to be joining Cullimore’s at such an exciting time in the company’s development. I have been inspired by the fact that it is still a family-run business – a rarity in our industry – and the connection it has had with the local communities. Though Cullimore’s has developed and expanded throughout the past 50 years, it has always retained its Gloucestershire identity, which is something I am proud to be a part of for the future. I’m looking forward to helping Cullimore Mix continue to grow as we come out of the COVID-19 period.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Cullimore Mix achieved annual sales of £4.5-5mn – representing around 30-35% of the Cullimore Group’s near £15mn sales per annum. Of other Group business area sales, Moreton C. Cullimore (Gravels) brings in around £5mn, a further £4-£5mn is generated by Moreton C. Cullimore & Son Transport, the Group’s haulage-related business, and Cullimore Farms, for whom Moreton works as managing partner, brings in several hundred thousand pounds more.

A Cat excavator loading a Cullimore Group Terex Finlay 883 screener
A Cat excavator loading a Cullimore Group Terex Finlay 883 screener

“In a wider Group context, we are better known for our tipper trucks and our haulage work. But Cullimore Mix has always made money, albeit a modest profit,” continues Moreton, who is also a Road Haulage Association director. “Before I came into Cullimore Mix, it didn’t have the BSI kitemark and was more of a general concrete business. Since we’ve had the BSI conformity, we’ve really pushed the business on.

“We’re not producing concrete at the cheapest rate. It’s not where we win with Cullimore Mix or any other one of our Group’s businesses. Where we differ is that our customers are not serial numbers; they are people, and they are faces. If we promise we are going to finish a job with them, that’s what we do. If someone has a concrete pour on, then we need to work with them until 7pm that night on, for example, that warehouse floor job. If the multinationals have a bigger job elsewhere, they chase the money and don’t give each customer that commitment.”

Moreton says a final decision on Cullimore Mix’s application to open a new site north of Tewkesbury is due to be made later this year. He is confident the site will get the green light. “The application was filed over two years ago but has been discussed formally and informally for three to four years. We are moving closer to the end of a long and tiring process.

“I would love the site to be ready to go in 2021, but it’s more likely we will start operating there in 2022. That gives Karl [Friston] nine months or so to bed in. It will give us a new market in Worcestershire and the West Midlands. It’s a new challenge and expands the Cullimore Mix footprint.”

A continuation of the encouraging increase in Cullimore Mix and wider Cullimore Group business in recent weeks will result in Moreton hiring more truck drivers. “There are plenty of drivers asking for work which is a marked difference from a couple of years ago when there weren’t enough drivers to fill jobs. I’m proud that, to my knowledge, our haulage business was the only one in this area that hasn’t make any drivers redundant during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

For more information on companies in this article