“Expertise and good service”.
Transport

“Expertise and good service”.

An interview with Stahl‑Express boss
Nadine Franke.

Nadine Franke, director of Stahl‑Express Franke, on the Actros and how even smaller players can hold their own in the market.

Ms Franke, your company is called Stahl‑Express Franke. Do you only transport steel?
Not at all. When we were founded, we did indeed only transport steel. But today this segment is merely one of many. Our customer structure has been broad for some time now.

Are only niche markets left over for smaller German hauliers?
Unfortunately yes! The major players are already dominating. They are buying up any company with its own fleet. In addition, digital hauliers are sprouting up out of the ground, and they can certainly be appealing to some customers: if a truck full of pallets merely needs to drive from point A to point B, you need neither a particular vehicle nor a well‑trained and German-speaking driver. The driver simply shows their smartphone at the unloading point and that’s it. But certain transports can only be handled by specialists – like us. You can’t ship 24‑tonne coils across three different logistics centres and then have them delivered by a third-party haulier. It requires specialised equipment and good planning. This also applies to transporting hazardous goods, which – for us – is an important pillar of our business.

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Expertise in hazardous goods: At Stahl‑Express Franke in Düsseldorf, coils, sheet metal and pipes are still an important pillar of the business. Hazardous goods has now become the largest segment, with loads – as pictured here – generally transported in intermediate bulk containers (IBC).

“As drivers of hazardous goods, they have a very special responsibility. Drivers needs to understand exactly what they are driving.”

Nadine Franke, Managing Director at Stahl‑Express Franke GmbH
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Clear strategy: Nadine Franke scores points with her company in niches where major hauliers are often unable to offer the necessary service quality due to their rigid processes.

What makes hazardous goods customers tick? 
Expertise and good service are what counts. It is a highly sensitive area that is dependent upon reliable and competent partners. Our commercial employees, for example, take care of the customer’s needs from A to Z – so someone requesting documentation doesn’t get passed on three times; the matter is taken care of immediately, whether it is that person’s responsibility or not. Or take our drivers for instance: they bear a special responsibility as hazardous goods drivers. A driver has to understand what they are transporting. They sometimes call the customer themselves to arrange the unloading times. Our driver is the one who takes the customer’s goods to their customers, so a polite and well‑groomed impression is important. Having our own fleet is also important. Only with this overall package – staff, perfect equipment and the right attitude – are we able to offer the level of reliability which is important to customers. We regularly achieve a loss rate of less than 0.1 per cent, which speaks for itself.

Why did you opt for the Actros?
Reliability is the most important factor for a truck, and we are very happy with the Actros in this respect. Both with regard to the vehicle itself as well as to the corresponding service. We don’t make our buying decisions purely based on the acquisition price alone. Any price advantage other manufacturers may have quickly becomes relative if the truck often breaks down on the road and no workshop can be found to help at short notice. In the worst‑case scenario, customers might even be lost due to continued unreliability. So a good truck brand includes so much more than just a good price, which is why we feel quite comfortable with Daimler. The outstanding product is complemented by quality service.

“Reliability is the most important quality for a truck and for this reason we are very satisfied with the Actros.”

Nadine Franke
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What do you think of the innovations of the Actros?
The Actros is making huge advances towards the future. We were very excited to see semi‑automated driving and MirrorCam, in particular. Our expectations were exceeded in this regard. The systems increase the driving convenience as well as safety. Our tech‑savvy drivers also quickly fell in love with the Multimedia Cockpit. These days, knowing their way around a smartphone is a matter of course. Our decision to go with the Actros is also meant to help us keep drivers.

How are you combating the lack of drivers?
A good corporate climate is important. We are a family-owned company – no one is just a number with us. Our door is always open when it comes to personal problems and we help when we can. Additionally, we look for drivers throughout Germany and are not limited to drivers living in the Düsseldorf area. Our dispatching team organises the transports so that every driver is able to spend the weekend where they live. On request, our drivers can take their trucks home with them if there is a secure place to park it there. Finally, we will soon be entering the realm of driver training to take care of our next generation of drivers ourselves.

“The systems increase the driving convenience as well as safety.”

Nadine Franke
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Increasing advertising efforts among women might also be something that could be done! 
Absolutely! Many women are not even aware that the job can be done as part‑time work or that there are even jobs in local transport where you are always at home in the evenings.

What do you think about the proportion of men to women in the haulier industry?
There are plenty of women working on the commercial side, but men still dominate the trade side. It’s too bad, but it was also the case at our business. My father initially hadn’t planned me in at all as a potential successor. I had training in a different field entirely, after all. Then, 20 years ago, when I helped out at the company for a few weeks, I didn’t want to leave.

Actros.

Actros.

Everyone talks, one delivers.

A truck ahead of its time. The Actros meets the continually growing demands in long-distance and heavy-duty distribution haulage more effectively than ever.

Find out more

How do people treat you in the industry today? 
New business partners are taken aback. It seems to be an exceptional circumstance to negotiate with a woman in a leadership position. A customer recently said to me: “Kudos – I hadn’t expected a woman!” I used to get insulted when I heard something like that. Today, I take advantage of the surprise and then impress them with my competence.

What types of clichés do you have to deal with?
One time, someone said to me that I could just sell the company and live the good life, spending my time shopping. I was speechless at the time, but I can laugh about it today. How does someone even come up with an idea like that? No one would ever think to say something like that to a man. And when it comes to the male clichés: the environment at a haulier business is often typically masculine and somewhat rougher. That’s precisely its charm, and I can thrive in that type of environment. I like it when people are honest and straightforward with one another. But a feminine touch is often advantageous here, too. The interactions among men are suddenly much friendlier when there’s a woman present. But to me it ultimately doesn’t matter, man or woman – every person is different and has their own characteristics regardless of their gender.

Public discourse periodically brings up the subject of a binding proportion of women. What do you think of the subject?
It would be terrible for me to have to hire employees simply because they are of a particular gender. Instead, there need to be much better policies in favour of flexible childcare during non‑peak times. We need all‑day schools with great offers, and fathers should get more involved in their families’ lives. Then women would be better able to see to their own careers. Because, if we’re being honest, even today most women are forced to choose between children and a career, because there’s just no way to do both.

The person and her company.

Nadine Franke is the managing partner and director of the haulage company Stahl‑Express Franke. Although she trained to be a travel agent, this Düsseldorf native manages the business together with Michael Robertz, who heads up operations, while she takes care of customers, staff and suppliers. Nearly 50 employees ensure that the company’s own 30 trucks and 35 coil trailers always have enough work to keep them busy, with business focusing on hazardous goods and steel, among other areas. Today, her company works largely without paper and is “in the middle of different digitisation processes”, says Franke. Along with her work, she is active in the women’s leadership group of the North Rhine-Westphalia hauliers and logistics association.

Thank you for your time!

Photos: Ralf Kreuels