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Q&A with Dragon’s Den TV star and Pall-Ex CEO Hilary Devey

The founder and CEO of logistics firm Pall-Ex and Dragons Den TV star talks to Drapers about her plans to target the fashion retail sector with the launch of Retail Plus+.

Last month you launched a new service, Retail Plus+, to target the fashion sector. Why did you decide to do this?

The Retail Plus+ service was launched as a solution to an issue that many retailers face.
 
The problem we found is that many retail outlets are situated in timed pedestrian zones and are not open around the clock. This, inevitably, results in a small delivery window when staff are present and shoppers are not restricted. Space can also be an issue and often pallets need to be split on location.
 
We developed Retail Plus+ to help counteract these issues and to provide a delivery technique that is unique within pallet networks. Retail Plus+ includes timed deliveries into retail outlets and deliveries outside of trading hours, the de-palletisation of goods and the removal of packaging.
 
Up until now, we’ve been working with some major retailers, including ASDA and Lush, but we’re now keen to bring the benefits to fashion retailers too.
 
We haven’t just chosen this sector at random. Not only do many products lend themselves well to palletised delivery, but we also know that storeroom space management and stock levels can be a real headache for retailers in this sector.
 
What benefits will it offer fashion retailers?

We’re aiming to make shipping and stock control easy and efficient via timed deliveries and collections in order to meet the requirements of the individual store, which is crucial in an ever-changing trading environment.
 
By offering a full service solution, we aren’t running a ‘drop and go’ service. As we take the pallets directly into the storeroom, unwrap them and then remove the packaging and the pallet base at the same time, staff aren’t diverted from the shop floor. Plus there’s no need for a separate recycling service. We also specialise in the distribution of one to three pallets, which has proven invaluable for retailers with small stock requirements.
 
The benefits we’ve delivered for other retailers speak for themselves. If you take ASDA as an example, Retail Plus+ has saved the supermarket’s suppliers £100,000 in the space of a year and reduced the distance travelled by 340,000 miles, compared to previous methods.
 
What type of fashion retailer is the service aimed at?

Basically, it will work for any retailer that sells products that can be delivered on a pallet. In terms of fashion, we are mainly looking at shoes and accessories.
 
I’ve already mentioned that the fashion retail market is a key area of growth for us and we’re investing heavily to make sure that we’re able to offer some truly unique services going forward to appeal to the broader market. We should hopefully be in a position to make an announcement on this in the coming months.

What made you decide to launch Pall-Ex in 1996?

Having worked in the logistics industry, I knew that I had a very simple idea that could change things dramatically - to set up a central hub and a haulier membership to quickly and cost effectively deliver small consignments of palletised freight.
 
I was confident that it would increase operational efficiencies and cut costs for both haulier and end customer. Unfortunately, not everyone shared my vision and it’s well documented that I sold my house and car to finance it.
 
Pall-Ex had humble beginnings to say the least, with a base in an old RAF hangar without running water or electricity. This gave me a new goal, to get membership to such a level that we could move into new premises, which was achieved in 2003.
 
Ever since then, I’ve always had a goal to motivate both myself and my team, with the current ones being European expansion and growth in new sectors in the domestic market too.

Who is your mentor and what was the best piece of advice they ever gave you?

My father was the person who provided me with a grounding in the practicalities of business, and also inspired me. When facing difficult decisions – business or personal – I still imagine what he might offer by way of advice. If there is one thing that he told me which has stood me in good stead, it is ‘don’t chase the money’. If your sole motivation is immediate financial enrichment, you just won’t get there.

What advice would you give to any would-be entrepreneurs wanting to follow in your footsteps?

I think anyone starting out needs to look at the type of entrepreneurs that get investments on Dragons’ Den.
 
I look for passion, belief, dedication, sound knowledge and a level head when it comes to potential investments. These are the character traits that enabled me to get Pall-Ex off the ground and turn it into a multi-million pound business and these are the elements needed to be truly entrepreneurial.
 
Of course for every good pitch, there is a shocking one. One of my pet hates is people that believe reading a ‘How to…” type book will equip them for the world of business. You learn from experience and from going out there and doing it. If you want to read a book, read a biography of a leading business figure. Trust me when I say that you’ll learn a lot more from it.

What’s the one item in your wardrobe that you couldn’t live without?

Fashion is a real passion for me and I love everything about it. I’m a big believer in dressing for success.
 
I’m still shocked at how much of a talking point my style choices have become. On my first day in the Den, I thought I would wear something that made a statement. At that point I didn’t realise that you had to wear the same thing throughout filming because of continuity, so I’ve become known for shoulder pads. It did make me laugh when they became a trending topic on Twitter.

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