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Market Report: Garden & Grounds Care

World of opportunity

By offering the right products backed by dedicated service, grounds care equipment hirers are continuing to expand. Alan Guthrie reports.

The concept of grounds care equipment hire has surely had no better advertisement recently than the World Cup Finals in Germany. To ensure a consistent standard of playing surface quality, governing body FIFA approached Ransomes Jacobsen, asking if it could hire equipment to supplement machines made by the Ipswich-based manufacturer that were already being used at several of the stadiums. The hire was arranged through The Turf Care Co GmbH, Ransomes’ distributor, and included five Jacobsen Tri-King ride-on mowers and three E-Z-Go MPT turf utility vehicles for transporting personnel and equipment.

The machines were used at ten of the 12 tournament venues, including the Berlin Olympiastadion where the Final was played on 9 July. By hiring, FIFA obtained the equipment it needed, quickly and efficiently, exactly when it was required. It is a concept that continues to grow, with increasing numbers of grounds care professionals hiring to reduce capital costs, particularly among local authorities and contractors.

Steven McInroy, Managing Director of SGM Hire, the UK’s largest specialist grounds care equipment hirer, contends “we continue to add council customers, including The Highland Council, Northampton Borough Council and we have recently won other contracts with the local authorities for Thanet, Merthyr Tydfil and South Lanarkshire.” For the £1.5m, four-year contract with Northampton, SGM Hire (www.sgmhire.com) has established a new service depot there, adding to its existing network of 16 such specialist facilities throughout the UK.

"These contracts underline the sea change taking place amongst local authorities, where users are moving from outright purchase to contract hire as their preferred method of procurement. Demand for short-term hire is also increasing, with users seeking equipment like triple mowers, tractors and out-front rotary mowers to meet seasonal peaks. This minimises the size of their owned fleets and reduces long-term storage requirements.” Overall, the company’s client base includes approximately 200 local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales, along with golf clubs, contractors and facilities management organisations.

Swan Plant Ltd, once the undisputed leader in grounds care hire, has been refocusing its operation since its change of ownership last January. As well as its Knutsford head office, it currently has depots in Hinckley, Washington and Strathaven, with an outlet in Sussex expected to relocate within the county by the end of next month. “Local authorities are obviously our main target market and we are positioning ourselves to compete strongly in this autumn’s round of tenders for contracts next year,” states Director Graham Bradshaw. “Our current client list includes Wyre Forest District Council and we are approved suppliers for the several West Midlands authorities within the Black Country Consortium, supplying equipment for use in parks, highways and housing estates. We have also become an authorised supplier to a major support services organisation.

“We have good relationships with major manufacturers like Ransomes and John Deere, and we source equipment from a wide range of suppliers as appropriate. We recently bought a sizeable quantity of Klippo walk-behind mowers from Pinnacle Power Equipment for a contract with Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council. They are designed particularly for low HAV.” Swan (www.swan-services.co.uk) will launch a new-format catalogue at the Institute of Groundsmanship’s Saltex exhibition at Windsor Racecourse from 5-7 September. The company is also staging an open day at Tatton Park, Cheshire, on 27 September, enabling grounds care professionals to meet Swan personnel and supplier representatives.

Local independent hirers also continue to successfully serve this market. The Hire or Buy group (www.hireorbuy.co.uk) has four depots in St Neots, Stevenage, Huntingdon and Biggleswade, and Operations Director Jon Masterson reports brisk business amongst local landscapers and small builders. “One of our strengths is our service. Customers often want machines delivered to site early in the morning and collected at, say, 4pm the following day. Our staff have the necessary flexibility and enthusiasm. There is huge demand for compact equipment that can gain easy access to back gardens. We have ten JCB Micros, as well as Ammann Yanmar mini excavators and TCP tracked dumpers. Other popular items include Ammann compaction plates for block paving work, Camon power scythes and Timberwolf chippers. We achieve good rates for equipment like the Hire Supply Company’s Barreto trenchers and rotavators, which are rugged and easy to operate.”

Similarly, Francis Harrison, Managing Director of Harrison Hire (www.harrisonhire.co.uk) in Milford, Surrey, states that demand for landscaping and grounds care equipment shows no signs of diminishing. “It is quite staggering how the enquiries keep coming in. One reason could be that we are located near the popular Merrist Wood horticultural college, which trains many landscapers. These professionals often find it easier to hire in equipment as required, rather than purchasing it. This removes the costs of maintenance and storage.

“Demand remains strong for compact plant for work in domestic gardens. We have 22 mini excavators up to 3 tonne in our fleet, comprising Ammann Yanmar, Kubota and Hitachi models. We also offer Thwaites wheeled dumpers. We do not supply ride-on mowers or other large grass cutting equipment that is of a highly specialised nature. However, we successfully hire out Honda rotary mowers that have a rear roller to provide a neat, striped finish.

“Other popular items include the Camon C10 rotavator with power scythe and harrow attachments, as well as Hire Supply Company’s Dosko stump cutter. We get very positive feedback from users of our Barreto rotavators, which are ideal for really demanding ground conditions. They feature separate drives for the wheels and the rotor so that they can be set independently. “We are always on the lookout for new fleet additions. We will be visiting Saltex next month to look at scarifiers and other lawn care items. It is an excellent show and there is always a great deal to see.”

Specialist niches

Other hirers specialise in particular niches. Morris Leslie Plant, part of the Morris Leslie Group (www.morrisleslie.com), hires utility vehicles throughout the UK. The line-up consists of John Deere Gators and Kawasaki Mules, and the business recently added the JCB Groundhog. The fleet is complemented by trailers, forklifts and compact tractors, which can all be supplied on turf tyres. “We can also provide mini excavators and dumpers on rubber tracks for optimum ground protection,” states Events Manager Stuart Couzens. “With a customer base ranging from local landscape gardeners and builders, to organisers of major music and sporting events, we understand that the care of the ground on which our clients are working is paramount.”

According to Andy Lathwell, Hire Manager with Browns Groundcare Hire (www.browns.gb.com) based in Leighton Buzzard, “machines like utility vehicles can extend the equipment hire season because they are used for many different tasks. We find that Kubota’s RTV vehicle is popular with local authorities and event organisers. At Saltex, we will have a fully equipped RTV as the highlight of our stand, complete with a top-specification cab, mesh sides and a range of attachments like vacuums and blowers that can be used with it for autumn grounds maintenance and clearance. We will promote other machines like compact tractors that are in demand virtually all year, and chippers that typically have a 40-week hire ‘window’. Demand is up across our entire fleet, and we are taking a 30% larger stand at Saltex this year.”

Executive Hire NewsArchivesAugust 2006Market Report › World of opportunity

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