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North East Chamber of Commerce: In focus – Driving ahead

Relied upon by companies the region over and beyond, third-generation Stiller Warehousing and Distribution is a literal driving force behind industrial progress. Here, business development
manager Thom Prentice tells Steven Hugill about the North East Chamber of Commerce member’s market-leading support, its unswerving dedication to customer service and its role in boosting social mobility and the prospects of generations to come.

Thom Prentice pushes open a grey door and takes a couple of strides before stopping at a metal guard rail.

Before him, a lazy springtime breeze is blowing through a row of trailer carcasses, their curtain skins peeled back in unison to allow a bustling army of orange forklift trucks, all whizzing hydraulics and back-up sirens, to add a miscellany of pallet-bound goods to their insides.

Across the way, rising notes from a tractor unit’s engine add a baseline to the chorus, with a yellow earthmover, clearing land for expansion, finishing the chord.

Welcome to the sound of industry. Welcome to the sound of Stiller Warehousing and Distribution.

Ever since former German prisoner of war Gunter Stiller sold a herd of pigs to buy his first vehicle 70 years ago, the third-party logistics firm has been a palpable presence across the North East and beyond.

Providing storage, distribution and contract packing solutions from its sprawling Aycliffe Business Park bases, the company is a trusted partner for firms the world over.

And its support is delivered from a blueprint that remains harmonious to its founder’s vision.

“Service is absolutely everything to us,” says business development manager Thom of multi-award winning Stiller, which is now led by Gunter’s grandson Matthew.

He says: “Companies need to get materials into factories and products to market in the right way – and that is what we do.

“From warehousing to distribution and contract packing, servicing clients is our fundamental reason for existing as a business.

“And we are totally reactive to their ever-changing needs.

“Take the global pandemic, for example.

“There was huge demand for home products, like flooring and outdoor furniture, during the furlough period, which meant some clients’ distribution volumes soared to home addresses – and we were able to support that.

“Similarly, when a customer opened a hand sanitiser production line, we provided both warehousing and distribution services to support, and when it augmented its sanitiser business with a portfolio of hygiene products, we helped again.

“Further responding to demand, we have now opened a contract packing service, which allows us to assemble, repackage and re-label items at scale, in ways tailored to clients’ needs.

“It’s really exciting to provide these services – alongside pickand-pack handling – for a number of companies’ on Aycliffe Business Park and further afield.”

Equally central to Stiller’s operational framework is its dedication to moulding services around customers’ nuances, rather than imposing a homogenous structure, and, moreover, its ability to do so at great speed.

“We pride ourselves on providing a prompt and proper quotation following a customer submitting a query,” says Thom of Stiller, whose Aycliffe footprint includes 500,000sq ft of food grade warehousing space, lorry parking and a vehicle maintenance workshop.



He says: “Businesses can’t sit around waiting for an answer, and our team’s decisiveness is fundamental to us securing a lot of work.

“Some questions are more difficult than others to answer – a warehousing solution could be anything because sectors are so diverse – but we nevertheless work hard to provide one.”

“And I get a real kick out of it,” says Thom.

He adds: “I often liken my role to that of Gregg Wallace on the BBC show Inside the Factory; I visit businesses, see how they do things and then come up with a logistical solution for them.

“We work the job through and understand it, which allows us to price it correctly, right down to the penny.

“That then enables the customer to go to market with a workable and cost-effective resolution and, in the process, creates a relationship with longevity.”

The durability, though, extends beyond Stiller’s customer base and indeed its many industrial ties – which include Palletline and The Hazchem Network partnerships – to the futures of its 200 plus-strong team and potential faces of tomorrow.

Thom says: “We don’t just look at our fundamental reason for existing as a business, we make sure we engage with all topics of interest that benefit our customers, staff and partners.”

“In our own little way, we’re making positive change,” he adds of Stiller, which supports The Children’s Foundation by overseeing the creation and delivery of the Baby Box project that comes complete with mattress, bedding, baby care essentials and developmental toys and books.

He says: “We store the goods, put the boxes together and manage delivery to the new mum.”

“It’s all free, and at the moment we’re sending them out daily,” adds Thom, who, over the summer, will represent the logistics sector on an NHS steering group that will push for funding to make the boxes standard across England, as they are in Scotland.

Furthermore, the company, which is a North East Chamber of Commerce member, is driving a local skills agenda.



Frustrated by a disconnect between industry and education, Thom worked with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and Aycliffe Business Park Community – of which he is a board member – to launch the Aspire programme, which prepares youngsters for life beyond the classroom through site visits.

Thom says: “I came from a working-class background and remember school being a bit of a grey area, and that I didn’t get an understanding of university until I was in my late teens.

“However, once that seed had been planted, I was able to grow.

“And that’s the idea with Aspire.

“If children can visit a number of businesses and think, ‘that one suits me’, then we’ve made a difference.

“We had 240 children visit volunteer companies on Aycliffe Business Park during one day in February, and our intention is to have such visits annually – and do it forever.

“We engage with schools properly, providing a myriad of companies and sectors, from ourselves in logistics to firms like 3M, lawnmower maker Husqvarna, façade and rainscreen maker BTS Fabrications and swimming and activity centre The Fish Tank.”

And Aspire has already had great effect.

Thom says: “We had a 13-year-old come in during the latest visit, who said all he’s ever wanted to do is work for a business like Stiller.

“Furthermore, Shaun Hope, the new chief executive of Bishop Auckland College Group, which includes South West Durham Training, is keen to help develop the programme.

“Little things like that will help make a big difference.”

And such moves, says Thom, allied to Stiller’s wider engagement with the local business community, mean it will continue driving forward.

He adds: “We’ll keep on supporting customers’ needs, as we have for the last 70 years.

“That has always been our commitment – and it always will be.”


Photography by Jamie Haslam

May 10, 2024

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