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Executive Report : All systems Go
Go Hire has established itself as a thriving independent in Hull. Dan Jenkins talks to its dynamic owner about her journey from council employee to successful entrepreneur.
With its brightly-lit and well-appointed premises, Go Hire is certainly striking and this sense of standing out from the crowd is prevalent throughout the company’s culture.
A few years ago, the business was up for sale and meandering along when it caught the eye of Sally Wray, who was looking for a career change after working for two local authorities. “At the time there had been a lot of unemployment in our area,” she said. “I worked in a jobs skills club, with skilled men in their 50s from civil engineers to welders, all of whom had never been out of a job before.
“I felt we were patronising them, sending these men on ‘functional skills’ courses. There were a lot of untapped skills in that group. I told my boss that we were failing these people, and that we
should set up a not-for-profit recruitment company to help them get back into |work. I was told to forget it.”
“You have to rescue yourself”
Feeling despondent, it was a discussion with her daughters over a bedtime story book which changed Sally’s life. “One night I was reading the bedtime story to my older two daughters. It was
a Ladybird book about Will and Kate’s wedding. We were talking about how in essence he had married a commoner and how unusual this was for the Royal Family. My youngest daughter was expecting more of a traditional fairy tale and asked, ‘When did he rescue her, Mummy?’ Her sister immediately piped up, ‘Sometimes you have to rescue yourself!’ That really resonated with me. I decided the next day that I was going to change my life, do my own thing and be my own boss.”
After looking at businesses for sale, she chose Arnott Plant Hire, an established independent in Hull that required some love and attention. “It was a backstreet, tin-roof building, covered in dust
and muck, but it clearly had a lot of potential: for example, it didn’t have a website and wasn’t in a great location.”
The Wrays re-mortgaged their house in order to purchase Arnott and signed the paperwork in January 2015. “The first two years were the most challenging. I couldn’t even pay myself a wage. Everything went back into the business. I inherited three staff and two of them clearly did not like having a new boss. They knew that I needed them more than they needed me, so I had to very quickly change that dynamic by learning everything I could about the hire industry. I spent the first two years doing the deliveries, so I got plenty of experience at the sharp end.”
By April 2015 Sally had already re-branded the business as Go Hire and, in November, moved it to much bigger, better-located premises in Goulton Street. The new site was a former college, and she set about finding other tenants to fill it. The building is now home to a self-storage business, established by her husband, and a café called Go Stop, which Sally set up and then brought in someone else to run.
Two of the employees she inherited had left during this transition, meaning the business then relied on Sally, fitter Paul Upton and two apprentices. In May 2017 Rob Thompson was recruited as Depot Manager. He had worked for A-Plant for 20 years and has been in the hire industry for 30 in total.
“It was a challenge to convince Rob to come, but he has thrived here and so has our business since he arrived,” said Sally. More staff followed, including Hire Controller, Kylie Uttley, who joined last year. Go Hire now employs ten people on a mixture of full and part-time contracts.
The clientele comprises predominantly contractors working in construction, but it also includes some industrial customers and a thriving offshore business. In 2018, Sally set up an innovative satellite operation at Humberside Airport, serving offshore contractors.
“We have built really good relationships with the hotels on the airport site,” she said. “This means that we can supply tools and equipment from survival suits to grinding discs directly to the hotel room where the contractor is staying before they go offshore. We can even deliver our kit directly to the helicopter terminal or the docks if they are taking a ship out of Immingham or Grimsby.”
No lack of opportunities
Sally was recently accepted onto a Goldman Sachs programme aimed at helping companies to grow. “One thing I have realised is that small businesses don’t generally suffer from a lack of opportunities to grow. It is more that they have too many options. The key is to figure out the most profitable opportunities to go for and focus on them.”
During 2019, the business will add a second depot in the east end of Hull, extending its reach into the East Riding and part of Lincolnshire. The new premises will also give Go Hire the room it needs to invest in a small fleet of excavators.
“We bend over backwards to make sure our customers get what they need, when they need it. One of our company values is that our computer does not say no. As an independent we are autonomous and make decisions very quickly.”
Go Hire has built strong relationships with some of its peers. Sally inherited a relatively small fleet, ranging from Stihl cut-off saws and Altrad Belle mixers, to hydraulic breakers and pressure washers. However, she has transformed the business into a full-service provider by re-hiring from a select group of partners.
“Customers trust us to solve their problems”
Rob Thompson expands on this theme. “These days, you don’t have to have everything under one roof. Customers trust us to solve their problems - and that is what this business is about at the end of the day. We have regular clients now who hire diggers and dumpers, access platforms and, even, site cabins from us. If you offer a fair service at a good price, people will always do business with you.”
Sally adds that, “If a customer wants a compaction plate for one day, but needs it on-site the day before and can’t get it back to us until the day after, we still only charge them for one day’s hire. This type of service is how our customers have become our advocates. We treat them with respect.”
Sally took on the business shortly after giving birth to her third daughter. Her girls are now aged 13, 11, and five. “I am blessed with a really supportive husband and two sets of grandparents, who are really hands-on when it comes to childcare. Of course, you feel a tinge of guilt at missing the odd school play or sports day when you are working all hours to establish a business. However, it is also extremely important to me to be a role model for my girls.”
Go Hire supplied the children’s primary school with air conditioning units to cool the hall for its summer show. “The units had our branding on them and this generated a palpable sense of pride in my daughters. They were able to point at the machines and tell their friends, ‘that is our Mum’s company’.” •