Evolving a regional specialist into an international family

Mark sits down with Casper Group's MD, Michael Shakesheff, to discuss 150 years in business, the importance of brand and recent growth.

2nd February 2023

2nd February 2023


Estimated Reading Time 7 Minutes

Mark Easby

Mark Easby

Mark Easby

Written by Mark Easby,
Managing Director

Mark is our founder and MD. When he’s not out and about networking and building connections, Mark is behind the scenes managing the engine room. He’s also a very proud Teessider and Chairman of the High Tide Foundation.

Since 1872, Casper have delivered a comprehensive shipping and maritime service with a professional and personal approach. Drawing on vast experience to offer a proven, ever-ready service, they blend the best of international scale and independent spirit.

Spearheaded by Managing Director, Michael Shakesheff, the group has experienced consistent recent growth, transitioning from a regional sector specialist to a corporate, national structure with multiple divisions and an international reach.

He spoke to Mark about the part that brand has played in their progress, as well as return on investment, plans for the future and more.

For those who don’t know you, can you tell us a little about yourself and Casper Group?

"Casper Group is a maritime services organisation with a global reach. As well as being a ship owner and operator, we provide a comprehensive range of end to end shipping solutions across Europe and beyond.

"Our origins date all the way back to 1872, when Danish brothers Hans and Harald Casper arrived in Teesside. 150 years on, that same spirit of independence and innovation is still alive. In that time a lot has changed, but as technology and society has shifted, we’ve managed to keep pace every step of the way. Today, we’re the UK’s leading independent maritime services company."

Michael Shakesheff, MD, Casper Group.

"My role is Group Managing Director, overseeing our 11 sites nationwide. Since my father was appointed Managing Director in 1992, Casper have gone from strength to strength. Over 30 years and two management buy-outs later, I’m now heading up a diverse and ever expanding group that includes Casper Shipping, Casper Logistics and Casper Chartering."

What's Casper’s WHY and what are you famous for?

"Our WHY and purpose is simple: Always On. We’re always ready to adapt and always ready to react; we’re there when our clients need us and ready to do whatever it takes to get the job done. It’s a powerful statement that we use for our strapline as well as external campaigns.

"We’re there to offer a proven, always-on service wrapped in a practical hands-on approach. In an uncertain world, we’ve been a constant for 150 years."

"From moving our fleet of ships around Europe, to providing services such as customs clearance, crew changes and documentation, we make sure that our customer’s cargo is moved from A to B, and that it arrives when we say it will.

You mention that ‘Always On’ became the strapline for the brand. How does this represent the business and you as a leader?

"Always On has very much become our strategy – it’s so much more than a strapline on a business card or website. The theme was uncovered as part of the Discover phase during our initial rebrand, before added meaning brought it to life – taking it from a simple value to an all-encompassing attitude, commitment and proposition.

"As well as reflecting our approach to services and clients, we’ve used Always On as our internal GPS over the past five years. It’s helped shape our strategy and reinforced our restless nature to always look for that next opportunity.

"It’s very much at the core of our culture. So much so, I’d say Better have helped us to ‘rebrand’ our way of thinking, which in turn is having a major commercial impact on our business."

Casper Group - Always On

What makes you different and how do you stand out?

"We’ve proven to be a particularly agile business. We’ve been able to pivot according to the demands of our customers and move quickly to adapt to their requirements, whether that was linked to Brexit, COVID or general market conditions.

"At the same time, we always have an eye on what’s next; constantly exploring and searching for new ways to evolve. This helps us chart a course and prepares for the opportunities as well as the challenges of the future.

"Service wise, it’s undoubtedly our practical and proactive nature. By drawing on time-served experience and expert knowledge, we’re able to solve any problem — whenever or wherever it occurs. That’s blended with a personal and professional approach that develops long-term partnerships and gets to know our clients inside out."

The business has a track record of investing in brand. Why is it important, what does it mean to Casper and how has it evolved?

"We transitioned to a group offering in 2016. The brand process and strategic recommendations from Better at the time were the catalyst for this – helping us to realise our potential and provide consistency and alignment across the organisation.

"The rebrand brought our diverse, but often siloed services under one roof. A simplified visual identity, restructured hierarchy and unifying proposition, added clarity, while elevating the wider brand presence in-line with already established divisions. Since then, business acquisitions and new openings have further complemented our family of companies.

"We’ve evolved from a regional sector specialist to a national business with European satellite offices, numerous divisions and multiple revenue streams.

"The original rebrand very much built on our consistent progress and laid the groundwork for the next phase of growth. A further major milestone in the implementation of our brand strategy was the launch of our new group website launched in 2021, in partnership with your team at Better. Coinciding with preparations for our 150th anniversary, the platform focused on Casper Group as the master brand, with dedicated sites for each division. While the top level site carries group wide messages and information around history and CSR, individual pages focus more on each division’s specialisms and unique services.

Michael and Mark.

"The new website has provided us with a stronger foundation and underpinned our increased marketing drive, strengthening our digital footprint and significantly increasing our brand communication activity online and offline. Since the launch of the website, we've seen an increase in traffic and improved visibility. It has become a really important tool for us when it comes to developing business both across the UK and internationally."

We know your team and your customers are at the heart of your business, what do they feel about the Casper Group brand and its development?

"Externally, the visual part of our brand gets all the attention. It’s good because we’re now confident that we look and feel like the global, end-to-end group we’ve become. But beneath the surface, it’s had just as much impact. Our vision, mission, values and tone of voice have all been refocused and redefined, enhancing our internal communication and enabling the whole Casper team to become knowledgeable brand ambassadors. Naturally, this seeps out externally to clients and partners through conversations and messaging.

"From the initial rebrand through to digital executions and ad campaigns, our senior leadership team and key customers have helped shape the brand. This buy-in is really invaluable. Not only do they feel as though they’ve been brought along on the journey, they intrinsically understand where we’re heading and what we’re trying to achieve.

"The brand continues to position us for growth, and ensures that our story truly ties together our past, present and future. It also makes sure our communications are accurate and reflective of our reputation, ambition and service offer."

Casper Group, history.

How do you define ROI for your brand investment?

"We measure key performance indicators in the business closely. Our turnover is up by 35% and gross profit is up by 61% since 2021.

"I'd say the new brand, together with the external launch of the group and more effective marketing activity has played a fundamental role in that growth. If you're talking about ROI on investment, then there’s few better measures than that.

"Beyond the cold hard facts, we’ve seen first hand how our brand investment has had a direct correlation with opportunities presented to us. We believe that there’s always opportunities out there; it’s making sure that we’re visible and we act on them. Our brand helps us do that.

"Fundamentally, our partnership with Better has been a catalyst for continued growth. It’s helped take us from an effective, profitable regional business to a corporate, national structure with multiple operations and an international reach."

With national expansion, global partners and fast growth, we know there’s been some big changes and lots of exciting news recently. But what does the future hold for Casper Group?

"2022 was a particularly significant year for Casper. We marked our 150th anniversary with record growth and being crowned the Fastest Growing Large Business at Ward Hadaway’s North East Fastest 50.

"On top of that, we’ve been playing a key role in the post-Brexit economy, becoming the UK’s first designated customs site operator by setting up the primary zone for Teesside Freeport. All in all, the past couple of years have been exceptional for the shipping industry, and we’ve been very fortunate to have been involved with numerous sectors.

"We hope to capitalise on these opportunities by continuing growth in all of our divisions, with a particular focus on customs, vessel operations and ownership. More of the same is our mantra."

Michael Shakesheff, MD, at Casper Group.

And, what about you… what does the future hold for Michael?

"As a business and as a family we’ll continue to support both the High Tide Foundation and Teesside Hospice – two organisations that we absolutely love and are close to our heart. They’re so crucial to our region, and seeing the difference they make first hand is inspiring.

"In addition to my day job at Casper, I’ll continue with my two NED positions which will mean a bit more travel outside of Europe."

What is the best thing about your job?

"I very much see my position as a supporting role. We have an amazing team, driven by a truly incredible senior leadership team. What really makes me tick is seeing the team and our people expand and succeed. There’s fewer rewarding things than witnessing growth in individuals, teams and the business."

What are you most proud of and why?

"At the end of Q1 2020, just as the pandemic kicked in and we were all sent home, we ripped up our budgets and set a new goal of making £1. Like most businesses, we had no idea what path we would take – we just needed to make sure that we were still here at the end of the year.

"We all made sacrifices but we stuck together and became a real team; looking out for each other, sharing and pushing for opportunities. In many ways it summed up our Always On approach.

"When opportunities were presented, we were ready to act quickly. Because of this, we not only survived but thrived. I am, however, constantly reminded by my team of that £1 budget!

"Aside from that, making it to your 150th anniversary is a landmark achievement for any business. A day of celebrations in London, where we paid tribute to our team, clients and partners will live long in the memory. So too will the warm wishes we received from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, just months before her passing."

Michael and Mark.

You can read more of Mark's chats with business leaders from across our region, discussing their organisations, the importance of brand and more. Features include Founder of Visualsoft, Dean Benson; Managing Director at Active, Karl Pemberton; Ian Kinnery; and Jonathan Lamb.

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