The effect of the Greek debt crisis has dealt a tough blow to the logistics sector. Despite difficult conditions, Marinos Vasilopoulos International Transport is expanding.
We are six years into a debt crisis that has put Greece on the brink. Where previously banks lent to local businesses on generous terms, credit has now dried up. The business climate in the country is brutal.
“Of course, we’ve felt the effect of the crisis,” says Elias Marinos, owner of Marinos Vasilopoulos International Transport.
Overall, the number of businesses registered in IKA, Greece’s biggest social-security fund, has dropped by 119,000, or 38 per cent since 2008.
On the logistics-side hundreds of haulage companies have gone out of business. But amid this tidal wave recession, there are a few businesses that have managed to stay afloat and even expand: one of them is Marinos Vasilopoulos International Transport, a haulage company which operates 62 trucks, transporting refrigerated food across Europe.
“The crisis has forced Greek haulage companies to be extremely well-organised and control expenses to survive, but that’s the way we’ve always done business. We’ve always been very prudent, expanded step-by-step and focused on getting high-quality customers”.
Located in Megara, some 50 kilometres from Athens, the company has faced the crisis, fared well and gone on to grow, adding five new trucks between 2008 and the start of 2014. Marinos Vasilopoulos International Transport now counts 15 Volvo trucks as part of its fleet of 62 vehicles and recently, the company bought a brand new Volvo FH16 – the first in Greece.
During times of easy-credit when some Greek haulage companies, prompted by generous bank lending, would sometimes buy extra trucks as a status symbol, Elias Marinos always waited until he had enough loads secured to keep each new truck occupied.
Being careful when everyone was spending money prevented us from getting into trouble when the crisis hit.
Marinos Vasilopoulos bought its first Volvo truck (an F12) in 1985, just as the company was expanding to do more international transports. Back then, Elias Marinos’ dad, Dimitrios Marinos, owned the business and Elias was working as a driver. The quality of Volvo trucks as well as a strong working partnership with Saracakis Brothers, the importer and distributor of Volvo Trucks in Greece, is why he stays with Volvo, almost 30 years since the first Volvo truck joined the fleet.
“You can buy a cheaper second-hand truck, for example, but Volvo trucks last, even in tough conditions. The quality is noticeable in every detail – the quality of the gearbox for example, is excellent.”
When talking about the new FH16, the first in Greece, his eyes gleam. Shortly after buying the first one in late 2013, he is considering the purchase of a second.
Running a Greek logistics company has never been an easy task. Roads in the country are hilly and narrow, and traffic into 3,8 million strong capital Athens often comes to a standstill. Ferry connections to different islands and countries mean that every truck must always be on time or risk having to wait for hours for the next boat.
I love the pressure of the job, and solving problems. It’s like a game of chess.
One major effect of the crisis is that the high-pressure haulage business in Greece has become even more high-pressure. Liquidity problems have forced many customers to postpone their orders until the very last minute.
“Often, they wait until they have the money. If they don’t have the money, they don’t place an order and we often get order information at the very last minute.”
The retail landscape has also shifted dramatically over the past five years of the crisis. From being mainly smaller family businesses, the Greek retail market has become increasingly dominated by big players. Competition among haulage companies for the clients with good credit is breakneck. The race to lock-in the large supermarket chains such as Makro and Voudouris, the biggest meat producer in Greece, has been tough. So getting, and keeping, these larger customers is key.
“I love the pressure of the job, and solving problems. Fitting all the pieces together: It’s like a game of chess,” says Elias Marinos – a game he also plays. (A chessboard adorned with silver and gold pieces gleams in the office.)
He doesn’t mind the tough and often draining work. Working as a co-pilot for truck drivers as a teenager and later as a driver in his twenties, gave him a view about work and life that was different to his peers.
“It gave me a bigger perspective. The lesson I took from it is that you have got to work hard.”
Vehicles: 62 trucks including 15 Volvo trucks:
Most trucks are fitted with I-Shift.