Words by Dan Warden
As the south west’s leading storage and removals firm, it may surprise you that Britannia Lanes was founded on a very different vision indeed.
Mark Lane, Managing Director of Britannia Lanes, sits at the helm of the south west’s largest removals and storage business. But when I ask him how the business was founded 45 years ago, he explains that his parents, Mike and Sylvia Lane’s original plan – having bought a warehouse and eight cottages in Launceston – was to renovate the cottages and turn the warehouse into apartments. When they couldn’t get planning permission for the apartments they tried to sell the premises separately, however nobody could get change of use, which, at the time, was listed as storage. And so that’s the direction in which his father steered, and as Mark tells me: “Back in the 1970s, they were 30 years ahead of their time.” And, he adds, “probably in the wrong town.” His father had also been told that if he wanted to run a storage facility, that he should start a removals company…
Four years later in 1978, Mark and his brother Robert joined the company, at which point the removals aspect of the business moved from Launceston to Threemilestone, Truro. Originally, the Truro site was a small low building that served as an indoor riding school, but soon, Mark explains: “We turned it into a freestanding storage facility, carrying on there until 1986 when my brother and I saw containerised storage happening in London.” The pair persuaded their parents that this was the way to go and soon, having discovered that the building wasn’t tall enough, made the decision to take it down and replace it.
In 1988 the company, called Lanes Storage and Removals, joined the Britannia Group, giving it access to corporate work and an international shipping department. “We then opened a depot in Exeter in 1992 (which Robert now runs with his wife, Emma), and again in Somerset in 2000. “In 2001 we started to see self-storage happening in London and again, we became the first in Cornwall to offer it. In fact,” Mark tells me, “the fitters that put it in said this was the first facility they’d done outside of the M25!”
Britannia Lanes, which currently employs 84 people, has only continued to grow. It now offers a self-drive service, for instance, answering the growing demand from customers who would call up and ask where they could rent a van. It also offers international removals, helping clients to relocate across the globe. “Being part of Britannia Group, we have the Britannia International Department, the Head of which travels all over the world speaking to our partners and agents.” This means that Britannia Lanes have access to partners worldwide, who receive containers, help clients with the necessary paperwork and, ultimately, handle the delivery of their belongings to their new home.
Being such a large business, it’s quite remarkable that family remains at the core of Britannia Lanes. Mark heads up the company and oversees the Truro depot, along with his daughter Sarah and son Matt, while his brother Robert and his family oversee operations in Exeter. I have to ask – what’s it like running such a large business as a family? “It’s far better with it being a family business,” Mark explains, “because you can discuss it and get lots of various input.”
So how do Mark and the Lane family spend their time away from work together? My assumption is that with such a large business to run, it must be hard to escape ‘shop talk’. Mark agrees. He laughs and tells me that, perhaps with the exception of Christmas dinner, “most times when we get together, we end up talking shop.”
“But it’s never in a bad way,” Sarah continues. “We’re all quite different. Everyone has different strengths and I think it gives you a lot of scope. If you’re thinking ‘oh, what do I do about this?’ it gives you plenty of people you can ask to get different points of view on things.” I ask whether anybody in is shy of putting their hands up and saying ‘why don’t you do this’? Sarah laughs, “no, not in our family.”
They have their hobbies, too. Mark, for instance, spends a lot of time cycling, while his son Matt, who is very much into his football, plays for his local team, Perranwell. “My brother,” Mark elaborates, “is into restoring classic cars. In fact, he’s just completed an E-Type!” In short, after 41 years of being part of the business, Mark tells me “we tend now to be able to get our weekend break.”
The conversation winds its way to my final question, which is what Britannia Lanes does to help the growing crisis of climate change. With so many vehicles on the road, Mark explains, it’s important to them as a business that they use the newest vehicles possible, with the latest Euro6 engines. He continues: “All of our main fleet use the Ad Blue system,” essentially a fluid that’s sprayed into the exhaust system, “which means fewer emissions still.”
The company also runs a confidential shredding service, which allows individuals and businesses to purchase shredding bags online. Once full, these can either be collected or delivered back to the Britannia Lanes depot (depending on the number you have), before being sent to a shredding plant on the Cornwall-Devon border. From here, shreddings are 100% recycled and sent to a paper mill.
Looking to the future, Mark and Sarah tell me that while there are plans to continue to grow, the Exeter site was just shy of a £5M development, “so we’ve had to focus on the repayment of that before we can do anything else.” Nevertheless, the future looks promising, with the potential development of a new self-storage facility taking place in the next three to five years.
It’s fair to say then that in 45 years of business, having started out as a property development venture, before quickly changing tack and forging what would become the south west’s leading storage and removal company; with plans for the future that hold family very much at their core, the Cornish success story that is Britannia Lanes, is far from over.