Double turnover with e-commerce

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Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: ECL Kontor

The Hamburg logistics company ECL Kontor has ventured into e-commerce and profited greatly from the online boom in the pandemic. However, any challenge comes in handy for managing director Adam Dachowski: he loves finding individual solutions for his customers – such as a refrigerated container against tobacco bugs.

When companies go down new paths, explore new fields of business, it is always with the hope that this effort will pay off. This was the case with the Hamburg logistics company ECL Kontor: by entering e-commerce, the service provider, which has its roots in customs clearance, was able to almost double its turnover in the past two years: from around 5.2 million euros in 2020 to more than nine million euros in 2021. Around 65 percent of the total revenue comes from e-commerce – although ECL had only started processing goods for online shipping in 2016.

Surcharge for property in Hamburg

“We have always been very traditional in logistics,” reports Managing Director Adam Dachowski. In mid-2015, he planned to buy a branch with its own warehouse near the port of Hamburg, and was actually able to win a tender from the Hamburg port authority for a 22,000 square metre plot of land against numerous other applicants. On this plot, he and his team built a 10,000 square metre warehouse equipped with narrow-aisle racking: The forklifts drive there on induction loops into the aisles, which are only 1.90 metres wide. This way, the floor space can be optimally utilised.

From slippers to kettles

“We then thought about not managing the entire facility ourselves, but renting out part of it. A Chinese trading company from the e-commerce sector showed interest, we got into conversation and realised that our profiles complemented each other very well: As a full agency that can carry out warehouse logistics independently and has its own fleet of vehicles, we were the perfect partner for a cooperation.” Indeed, the Chinese company decided to cooperate, and so ECL took over customs clearance and container trucking for a wide range of products – from slippers to kettles.

»We had to establish completely new processes, this was completely new territory for us.«

Adam Dachowski, Managing Director ECL Kontor

Unknown terrain

These imports from China were offered on Amazon, and soon ECL was also in demand in terms of fulfilment. “We had to establish completely new processes, pick and pack the goods, print out parcel labels and stick them on,” Dachowski recalls. “This was completely new territory for us, but we quickly learned the ropes and realised the huge potential.” In 2021, ECL invested a five-figure sum in IT to give customers the transparency they need: they can track where the goods are at any time.

Liquidity could be spared

When the Chinese partner company moved to a larger property a good three years later, ECL had gained enough experience to acquire new customers itself. “We used this learning effect in 2020, and it gave us a real boom.” The pandemic fuelled online business, and ECL had more than its fair share of that too. “It was the area that kept us afloat as a company in 2020 – the other import businesses slumped. If we hadn’t had e-commerce, we would have had to use up a lot of the funding that we had set aside in the previous 15 years or so. ” From a ratio of 30 to 70 between e-commerce and traditional logistics in ECL’s business, the share of online orders has grown to almost 80 per cent share. “We have jumped on the bandwagon and will certainly continue this business segment in the long term,” explains Adam Dachowski, who is already looking for an additional space in Hamburg to expand further.

Start of a success story

ECL was founded in 2004 as a pure customs agency for the import business. The owner’s family has Polish roots, so Adam Dachowski’s father initially mainly addressed Polish customers and specialised in fiscal customs clearance, where importers do not have to pay the import VAT in advance. In 2008, the company began building up its own fleet of vehicles to bring containers out of the port. Adam Dachowski joined the company in 2011. He calculated that it would be worthwhile to have his own space due to rising external storage costs. So he bought the land in Hamburg – and thus the beginning of a great success story.

Securing staff at an early stage

In this context, Adam Dachowski can only advise one thing: “What we have really learned in the past months is that it makes a lot of sense to proactively recruit staff. At the latest when we know that a new client will join in a few weeks, we look for the appropriate employees.” In doing so, ECL regularly has a headhunter support them: “This investment pays off.” The team has grown from 27 people in 2020 to 46 at the end of 2021.

»I am a person who is always looking for new challenges.«

Adam Dachowski, Managing Director ECL Kontor

Cooling unit against tobacco beetles

“I am a person who is always looking for new challenges,” Adam Dachowski explains his motivation. “That means taking risks, but sometimes that’s just necessary to enable forward development. Besides, I always want to find good solutions for our customers and I’m happy to spend a lot of energy on that.” For example, a challenge recently came from a customer who processes raw tobacco. This product usually has to lie in cold storage for about four weeks after import before it can be processed further, because the tobacco beetle often creeps in. Knowing that this pest is very sensitive to cold, Dachowski experimented and tested various solutions before finally equipping a refrigerated container with a very powerful refrigeration unit. “The result was excellent: after a week, it was possible to prove that the goods were free of beetles.” The customer particularly liked how committed the contractor was to this specific case – after which he quickly sent a contract for the whole of 2022.
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