Moving with the times

Paul Johnson of Johnson Partners with Becky Ralph and Reece Lee. Picture by Tom Banks

You can’t beat personal service, especially when you’re trusting a company to move thousands – sometimes hundreds of thousands – of pounds worth of your cargo across the world.

There are many freight carriers in the UK, but a small family business in Middlesbrough takes its work so seriously that they say their customers “don’t need to worry when they hand their cargo over to us because we do the worrying for them.”

These words of Becky Ralph, operations manager at Johnson Partners Freight Forwarding, are endorsed by managing director, Paul Johnson, who is very clear about the company’s place in a competitive industry.

“We’re a family-run business that offers transportation services for sea, road and air freight, along with all the associated services within the supply chain. Our focus is to be sensitive to the needs of our customers, and we all get personally involved.”

Johnson Partners will move almost anything, anywhere, but they specialise in abnormal loads, project cargo, and out-of-gauge cargo, which requires specialist knowledge and experience for the more complicated jobs from engineering or manufacturing companies.

While much of their work comes from well-established industries, they also offer the same professional service to less-experienced shippers who need someone to do everything for them.

“Because we have the experience and knowledge, we are happy to take the initiative for these companies and to be proactive,” explains Paul. “We can identify the company’s needs and provide a complete service.”

Johnson Partners was established by Paul’s father, Bernie, in 2004, after he had worked in steel stockholding and then the transport industry. His intended to create a working environment where he enjoyed coming into work and the staff felt valued.

Paul originally trained and worked as a secondary school music teacher, but left the industry in 2005. He worked part-time in Johnson Partners to help out, before joining as a full-time employee in 2006.

“I slowly got involved in doing all the different roles you would find within a small business, which prepared me for when my dad retired five years ago,” he says.

“I was keen to develop the working environment that my dad created, by trying to involve the staff as much as possible and allow them autonomy over their job roles.

“I believe we have a positive working environment in an industry where that’s not necessarily an easy thing to do.”

Paul has also spent time in other businesses to see how they operated and has done worked closely with Teesside University, which he cites as being a great help to the business.

He has completed a Leading Growth leadership and management programme with the university and is currently in the middle of a Master of Business Administration course, which, he says, has taught him how to focus on the way that he will lead the business.

“We’re flexible and work in a give-and-take environment, which creates mutual trust. Working in a positive, friendly and supportive office culture is one of the reasons why we come into work, and we feel that that’s reflected in the service that we offer to our customers.”

As a testament of their customer service and professionalism, much of the work that comes to Johnson partners is repeat business or from referrals.

Despite their success, they feel that they lack recognition, and are not so well known in the industry. They are hoping to raise awareness of what they do, and why they do it, to help grow the business.

Paul says they are very mindful of how lucky they’ve been – although it has undoubtedly been through hard work – to have businesses they’ve worked with recommending them to other companies.

“I now feel we have the capacity and expertise to bring in several more staff to take it to the next level without it affecting the services we provide,” he predicts.

“Although our plans from a year ago have naturally had to change, so our immediate challenges are to negotiate our way through coronavirus and Brexit.

“We feel confident that once we’ve entered into the new Brexit regime and coronavirus has less impact on our day-to-day situation, we’ll be able to start looking at growing the business.”

Find out more about Johnson Partners at