Alan Guthrie fires off a series of questions to Carl Bartlett, General Manager of Newcastle-based Lord Hire Centres, the Winner of the 2018 Executive Hire Show Passionate Hirer Award (Multi-Depot Hire Centre category), about the company’s latest developments and wider industry issues.
Q. What did it mean to win the Passionate Hirer Award?
A. It gave us a tremendous sense of achievement. The Awards ceremony during the Executive Hire Show Party at the Ricoh Arena is a prestigious event where you feel the whole industry is watching you. I think the Award raised our profile amongst our peers, and suppliers certainly recognise us more. I have to say it is the efforts of both our long-serving Hire Centre Managers and their teams for maintaining the highest industry standards and customer service levels which contributed to achieving such an accolade. We are proud to display copies of the Award on the walls within our Hire Centres, and we have made a lot of our success on social media. Overall it has created a great deal of interest.
Q. How are you continuing to develop the Lord operation?
A. We were delighted to gain accreditation earlier this year to the revised ISO 9001 :2015 quality standard, which places additional emphasis on risk management – everything from potential supply chain disruption to the impact of political events. We have compiled an extensive manual of procedures for each of our depots to consult, and it ensures operational consistency even if personnel move between locations. Having this accreditation makes it easier to complete tenders, streamlining much of the application process.
Q. Tell us about your commitment to staff training.
A. Last year we achieved two staff training days each week, doubling our training target for the year with over 120 training days achieved by our 58 employees. That ranges from specific product training to general fire safety and first aid courses. We also have team members who are trained as banksmen – we receive regular deliveries of equipment by articulated lorry, which have to be supervised as they reverse safely into some of our yards. Overall, we have very little staff turnover, and several of us have 30 years’ service or more.
Q. You’re also building a new website. Why’s that, when your previous one was already impressive?
A. It’s not that we weren’t happy with the former version. The old one was good, but we are making it even better. This year we re-designed our printed catalogue with a fresher, modern look and the new website (www.lordhire.co.uk) reflects that. Wherever practicable we have always aimed to include pictures of the real equipment in our fleet with our livery or decals, not just generic images, and the contents page even has emojis to quickly identify different product categories, which we have designed in-house. Pricing structures are laid out in a grid style that is easier to follow and, more importantly, the new site is built on an entirely different platform which enables us to add facilities for frequently asked questions, specialist information, product videos including working equipment demonstrations, safety advice and news bulletins, as well improving search engine optimisation and the overall user experience. Unfortunately we couldn’t achieve all of this with the old framework. We’re also about to start working on an improved version of our separate tool sales operation (www.lordtools.co.uk).
Q. What have you added to the hire fleet recently?
A. We have just taken delivery of a considerable amount of Hilti equipment across many product categories, from cutting and drilling tools with dust extraction, to breakers and nail guns. We have also added Hilti’s rotating lasers, including models with green-beam for internal use, and others with red-beam for outdoor applications.
It’s the first time we have offered products like these, which have always been regarded as somewhat delicate. However, Hilti demonstrated theirs by literally dropping them on the ground and rolling them hard across the floor like a bowling ball; when checked immediately afterwards, they were still calibrated correctly – ideal for our customers working on refurbishment projects and on construction sites in a variety of conditions.
Q. Are you aware of any product trends?
A. We recently introduced Husqvarna’s K3000 cut-off saws with innovative dust extraction shoes which are continually growing in popularity due the effectiveness of their dust control. On-site dust management continues to be targeted very vigorously and we are prepared for this gaining further enforcement moving forward. Many sites have banned brooms but still can be found using domestic grade vacuums and we are able offer them purpose-built solutions. Other recent additions include Snorkel S301 OP compact pusharound scissor lifts (which we first saw when we visited the Executive Hire Show Scotland in Glasgow a year ago) and Cormidi compact tracked dumpers. We have also been evaluating the Peco-lift and Eco-lift nonpowered work platforms manufactured by Power Towers (part of JLG Group).
Q. Are there any particular challenges ahead?
A. We are currently examining the implications of the government’s Making Tax Digital proposals, which initially apply to businesses from April 2019 in meeting their VAT obligations. Companies will need to keep records digitally and provide VAT return information to HMRC through compatible software. However, the government’s aim is that, eventually, Income Tax and National Insurance will be brought within scope, too. We are currently exploring software solutions to run alongside our existing hire management program that will provide a suitable platform to facilitate the potential for having to scan significant numbers of invoices we both send and receive. Making Tax Digital is described as “a whole new way of interacting with government” and I would be interested to hear how other companies respond.
Q. What other current issues are important?
A. All hirers must be vigilant about plant theft and fraudulent hires which is evidently on the rise. We have recently fallen victim of fraudulent hire activity on several occasions. Our CCTV recordings aided the capture and custody of the perpetrators in the most recent instance; however, we have lost some valuable equipment which has not been, and is unlikely to be, recovered.
Q. What one thing would make our industry better?
A. Hirers maintaining sensible rates! Some companies drive their prices down to quite ridiculous levels which make a mockery of them having a catalogue in the first place. Some of our customers have told us that they have been targeted with offers of equipment from competitors at discount of more than 80% from the listed rate. However, there will always be some companies that insist on using the cheapest source possible – often driven by accountants who sit behind a desk rather than a hire counter – even if it brings hidden pitfalls. Construction professionals working for contractors that have an agreement with a specific hirer might have to wait one or more days for a tool we could supply immediately. It might be cheaper on paper, but they have wasted time in getting the job done, and that must be inefficient and uneconomical in the long term. We are prepared to walk away from a deal if necessary, and our customers report that they value our service and the way we do business.