Gray & Adams

For Queen and Country: An Interview With James Gray

Interview first appeared in Global Trailer Magazine – reproduced with permission from Global Trailer (

James Gray, Joint Managing Director of Gray & Adams, is proud to be an active player in the UK-based OEM’s legacy of engineering excellence and innovation. In this extensive interview, he talks to us about his start in the family business, its growth to what it is today, the legacy that has been created and his pride in Gray & Adams achieving a Queen’s Award for Enterprise.

“I’ve always been a part of Gray & Adams, with my father having started the business in 1957 in Fraserburgh with Jim Adams, originally as a body repair shop carrying out repairs to early cars and commercial vehicles. Interestingly, we still retain one of the premium car and commercial repair shops in the North of Scotland. My mother was also initially involved in the day to day management of the office, so I do feel as though I’ve always been here, to some degree.

“When I left school, I was naturally very keen to join the family business. I started on the shop floor and learned the business from the ground up. The schooling wasn’t easy and there were no concessions for the boss’s son. But looking back it gave me an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the business in an almost forensic way. This was key in allowing me to develop with the business which is very different today.”

During those years, Gray & Adams built a lot of tippers for the bulk industry as well as dry freight boxes and even a bus.

“We also designed trailers for the whisky industry that delivered grain to the distilleries and bottled and barrelled whisky to customers. I suppose they were one of our first dual purpose vehicles.”

With the strong presence of both meat and fish processing on the North East coast of Scotland, Gray & Adams was inevitably drawn into the food transport industry.

“One of our first customers was Gibbs of Fraserburgh. At first we built dry ice carriers but in the 1960s introduced forced air refrigeration using Petter fridges manufactured under licence from America.”As the OEM’s reputation and business grew, the business began work for customers further afield, spreading South.

“In 1977, we opened our site in Dunfermline, servicing the Central Belt of Scotland. In 1978, I was part of the team implementing a new manufacturing process to enable the building of trailers using one-piece panels, which we still work with today. Subsequent sites were opened in Belfast in 1981 and Doncaster in 1990. I was the Production Director for many years and, when my father retired in 2002, my uncle Lewis Gray took over the reins. When he retired in 2013, myself and my brother Peter took on the role of Joint Managing Directors with plans to build the business in to the £150 million manufacturing group it is today.”

Gray & Adams have four manufacturing sites in the UK employing over 700 people.

“Over the years we have put significant investment in to Fraserburgh expanding its acreage and investing in new CNC machinery such as laser and plasma cutters, routers and saws.”

“We have also purchased and new tractor unit fleet for inter-company transport and a fleet of new 15.6m curtain sider trailers. These transport panels around the group improving efficiency and reducing our carbon footprint.”

“Dunfermline and Ireland have both had significant site improvements and we are currently investing in solar energy and refurbishment at our Doncaster site. Gray & Adams has never been frightened of investing, even in difficult times. I do not see this changing as taking calculated investment risks has made us the industry leader we are today.”

This year, Gray & Adams was recognised with a prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise.

“Winning a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation is a very significant and memorable acknowledgement of our successes throughout the years and a significant moment in our 60+ years of history. This is a milestone which reflects the expertise of our teams and their dedication to building innovative, industry-leading, quality products – the sense of achievement and pride is felt company-wide. We are massively appreciative of our highly skilled engineering teams and our manufacturing operatives that allow us to produce our world-class products. We would also like to thank our very loyal customers and partners, without whose assistance and support we would be unable to enjoy such highly respected recognition.”

2020 has seen the world impacted by Covid-19. For Gray, the global pandemic is the likes of which we have never seen in our lifetime.

“Our people are our most important asset and their safety and wellbeing are upmost in my mind,” he said. “We therefore took the decision to close our manufacturing plants across the UK for a few weeks over the peak of the pandemic whilst we carefully assessed the situation.

“I am pleased to say that we have since reopened, all be it with a reduced capacity, ensuring our staff have full PPE and maintain strict social distancing to ensure safe working operations. As we learn more, and adapt to the new environment, we will ramp up our production but only if we can ensure people’s safety.

“As a key industry ourselves, we are massively appreciative of our National Health Service (NHS) in the UK and we would like to thank all of the frontline workers who are doing a truly amazing job. The situation remains fluid and uncertain, but you can be guaranteed that we will work with our customers to support and inform them in this difficult period.”

Earlier this year, in April, Castell Howell championed its Covid-19 message with Gray & Adams rigids.

“With customer relationships at our core, our role with Castell Howell’s NHS Livery was in supporting our customer and raising awareness of the positive work they are doing for their communities throughout Covid-19. Castell Howell’s NHS livery was a customer initiative – supported by Gray & Adams but driven and directed by their own desire to respond to these unprecedented times.”

There has been a fundamental change in the way food is procured in the UK.

“Large out of town superstores have declined, particularly in the big cities where traffic congestion is worse. People tend to do one big shop a month, often using home delivery. This has seen a rise in convenience store sales in particular, and high street sales in general. We also see much sharper spikes in demand for large sporting events or in good weather periods. As a result, we are working closely with our customers on urban delivery systems. This includes small rigid and panel vans and also larger trucks, but not exclusively. Many of our customers prefer urban trailers and urban double deck trailers which are seen as more efficient and give greater longevity and payload.”

Gray & Adams’ people are key to its ongoing success. Retaining talent, while also developing talent, is a top priority for the business.

“Gray & Adams dominates the UK cold chain from farm to fork and sea to plate.’’

“The company supplies double deck trailers to most major supermarkets, including Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Iceland, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, as well as blue-chip household brands like DPD, John Lewis Waitrose, M&S and Warburtons. Whatever you can buy in a supermarket, from fresh or chilled produce to frozen products and pharmaceuticals, the chances are it will have travelled in a Gray & Adams semi-trailer or rigid. Over the years, the company has won several awards for its innovative and bespoke products that are extensively used in the UK and exported around the world.”

“The business’ family legacy lives on in current Directors, James and Peter Gray, who maintain that its people are the key to its success. Gray & Adams is proud to have developed many young engineers and skilled tradespersons over the years and is committed to supporting young people through its apprenticeship scheme. Having worked hard to achieve a reputation for quality, innovation and first-class customer service, it places an important emphasis on attracting, developing and retaining the most talented people in the industry and invests heavily in its staff to ensure their continuous improvement.”

“It’s not just a family business historically, we are a business that maintains family-values, with a 700 strong workforce across the UK and a clear focus on quality, customer service excellence and innovation.  We have many long serving team members and generations of families employed here over the years, some of them with 50 years’ service. We are one of the largest employers in Fraserburgh and have significantly invested in the development of our teams.”

“Our apprenticeship scheme has over 40 apprentices every year and has done for a long time. We encourage as many of those young people as possible to build their career with us. Our staff know that they contribute to the development of industry-leading products and services, they are proud of the products they build and the customers we work with.”

Gray & Adams is also proud of the significant rise in female employees as apprentices, engineers and shop floor workers.

“Traditionally, the body building business was seen as a male preserve, but we are very pleased to see this change significantly in the 21st century.”

The OEM is constantly striving to improve its products in efficiency, environment and safety.

“We have won many awards in innovation with our double deck trailers but also for our rigid products using electric fridges, aerodynamics, low-slung cabs, cycle and pedestrian safety systems and low noise. We are also increasingly working with clients on mechanisation and auto loading to improve efficiency in their cold stores.”

Gray & Adams has a long history of working with Carrier Transicold and is a Carrier service dealer for the north of Scotland.

“Large volume double deck trailers running throughout the UK need high capacity, fuel efficient units. It will be interesting to see how the new HE performs but early results are encouraging. That said we also work closely with other fridge manufacturers Thermo King, GAH, Hubbard, Frigoblock and Dearman to ensure our customers have maximum choice in their refrigeration supplier.”

The UK cold chain, according to Gray, is one of the most competitive markets of its kind in the world. “We are constantly evolving and improving. Temperature integrity and biosecurity are two key requirements. Double deck trailers have reduced vehicle movements and CO2 emissions immensely. They are one of our best-selling products. Multi temperature vehicles again reduce vehicle movements allowing a truck to carry three temperature regimes on one vehicle increasing flexibility and reducing costs. The pharmaceutical industry has brought greater demands for temperature control requiring vehicles to be mapped within one-degree temperature variants. The environment has caused us to look at sustainability, improved aerodynamics, reduced emissions and increased safety and manoeuvrability of large vehicles on congested high streets.”

The research and development element of Gray & Adams work is twofold.

“It comes from our expert and experienced teams, who consistently strive for innovation and feedback from customers as part of our strong relationships. Our bespoke build process lends itself to partnership and collaboration with our customers and this feedback loop is something which adds further insight to our research and development facilities.”

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