Someone wiser than I once told me that there are only three uses for a van. You carry only cargo (a courier), only tools (a gardener) or a combination of both – which covers most tradespeople. It’s this third use where you have to be particularly clever in your packaging. Loading parcels to the roof, in reverse order of delivery, is an exercise in routine, lashing down heavy mowers and sharp hedge trimmers one of common sense, but organising countless tools, and potentially fragile materials or electrical goods, all in one and the same load space becomes a real juggling act.

Gone are the days when you could drill holes in a van’s panels, or use longer bolts in existing fittings, racking systems must maintain the van’s value and withstand crash situations. One of the latest, the Smartvan system from Bott, conforms to the ECE R17 crash regulation, simulating an impact at 50kph, which is becoming industry-wide. One of the main features of the Smartvan design is that it is entirely no-drill. Whereas some systems require drilling of non-cosmetic panels or braces, Bott’s latest does not, with one eye on electric vans, where high voltage cables may run through ribs and bulkheads. Pre-formed MIG-welded frames to suit individual vans are the basis onto which modular units are then mounted. These consist of shelves, boxes, drawers or even simple perforated panels, the design of which dates back to the 1980 original – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. More recent developments are tool boxes which lock to the frames but release one-handed, to be carried from the van, and can be stacked together. Where heavy items need to be carried, false floor systems allow under-storage and keep the centre of gravity low for good stability.

Although some simple modular systems are available on the market for self-build which serve perfectly well for many trades, the bespoke design and build is still very much alive and well at one of the oldest names in the business; Bri-stor. “The customer is at the centre of every decision we make, day in, day out and it’s our account management team that are the seamless link in every single interaction between us and the customer,” says Nick Tomlinson, Bri-Stor Systems’ head of sales. “But really and truly it’s how we can engage and collaborate with our customers that makes us so successful. Our relationships with customers are far from purely transactional, every single van conversion takes a huge amount of resource and skill and it’s our account management team that bring all these many moving parts together, he adds.”

Of course, large account operators, such as utilities companies, or roadside breakdown agencies will have fleets of vans identically-equipped. For the small business one route can be to source a used van from a similar industry which can then be adapted using interchangeable parts from the big racking manufacturers.

If you are designing your own system from square one, then consider what the basic van offers to begin with. On twin side loading doors your options are limited if you are not to block one off, a standard single side door offers greater scope and ensures you are always stepping out on the nearside. 

With so many LCV designs to accommodate, the industry has embraced modular designs where myriad interchangeable options can be matched into bespoke frames. Modul-System, as its name suggests, has been at the forefront of this thinking and has grown into one of Europe’s largest vehicle racking manufacturers.

As well as conforming to ISO quality standards 9001, 14001 and 45001 it has TUV approvals and products are crash tested. Strength in numbers may be a factor, but continual development is the driver. “Our ambition is to be the best total solution provider of vehicle conversions and racking systems in the UK,” says Modul-System Limited’s sales and marketing director Andy Gear.” To achieve this we have significantly increased output of vehicle conversions by growing market share.” 

“This has been delivered through product development innovation and market leading service levels,” he concludes.

Modul-System products extend from the traditional shelving and racking, through to liquid-resistant floors – useful if carrying oil or chemical-based products and materials – dedicated parcel-delivery fittings, electrical inverters for external lighting or other on-site requirements with opportunities for second-life fitment into the replacement vehicle – handy if you lease or PCP your van.

Long-time front-runner in the market, Sortimo has recently launched its Globelyst4 van racking system. The intelligent organisation system allows a focused workflow and thus contributes to an increase in efficiency in daily routine, the company claims. The system can be precisely adapted to individual requirements and ensures the best possible use of space in your LCV. A wide variety of accessories and mobile units allows Globelyst4 to comply with different trade-specific requirements. The integrated ProSafe load securing system also provides for simple and rapid lashing and securing of transported materials.

With 35 years in the industry, Telford-based QI Van Systems offers a range of flexible solutions including floors and linings, racking, shelving, lockable cupboards, integrated drawers, toolboxes, roof furniture, deadlocks and ancillary products such as lighting, reversing cameras and telematics.

Meanwhile Vantainer has approached the problem from a different angle. With over 50 years experience in the tool industry, the company looks at the accessibility and ease of use for the tradesperson and bases its racking systems around removable, stackable tool boxes with carry or wheel-along designs. The lightweight, fully crash-tested frame system is entirely non-drill and clamps into the van from floor to roof to accept a range of self-fit units. It is also fully transferable into replacement vehicles – a cost saving in itself. It can be purchased in starter kits which can be expanded and built upon as your business demands.

Once you have organised all your tools and kit into a state-of-the-art racking system, consider the van’s overall security. Aftermarket locks have long been one of the most cost effective security measures and while its easy to get carried away with electronic immobilisers and trackers, theft from vans, is far more commonplace than theft of vans.

The aptly named Locks 4 Vans offers a range of physical security upgrades for all makes and models boasting a total of over 7,000 products. These include slam-locks so you can’t forget to
lock your LCV, shielding for standard locks to prevent easy attack, and vertically-moving hook locks which resist leverage far more than the standard factory door locks.

For longer loads and materials you have literally got to think outside the box and roof racks were probably one of the first ever LCV accessories. Never carry more weight than you have to on the roof rack for obvious stability reasons – and one of drag increasing fuel consumption – but a roof rack can be invaluable.

VanRacks, are one of the UK’s leading suppliers, handling brands such as Rhino, Thule, Saunders and Cruz.

Rhino’s new DELTA bars feature a state-of-the-art aerodynamic steel profile, reducing wind noise as well as providing sufficient strength for all normal applications. DELTA system feet provide a tailored fit for each vehicle and have been crash tested to 20kg. Thule too has TUV approved City Crash testing on its roof bars. Roof bars provide a good basic solution onto which pipe carriers, low-sided carriers, roof boxes and full ‘basket’ style racks can be temporarily fitted. A full length high-sided roof rack for a long-wheelbase 3.5t van is a more permanent fit. Although more costly it offers a wide range of options. Sortimo offers several roof rack designs in addition to its comprehensive van internal systems of racking shelving and modular storage drawers.

It’s TopSystem, is fully TUV crash tested and offers such additions as Rear Ladder Lift and Side Ladder Lift. These spring assisted loading arms allow long heavy ladders to be safely loaded and locked into place. Traditionally over the rear of the van but the side lift, as you’d expect, offers the ability to do the same from the side, particularly useful when working in the street, keeping the driver on the footpath or if other vehicles have parked close behind.

With so much choice on the market your first expenditure should be one of time. Myriad options can be mind-boggling, but the opportunity to build your own bespoke system is worthwhile.