Executive Hire News › Archives › June 2019 › Executive Report : Prepared to be different
Executive Report : Prepared to be different
Smiths Equipment Hire maintains remarkably high standards, having achieved a series of major industry awards. What is behind its success? Alan Guthrie talked to Joint MDs David and Thomas Smith, and Marketing Director David Turner at their Blackpool head office.
Q. This year, you won the HAE SafeHire Plant, Tool & Equipment Hire Company of the Year Award for companies with a turnover of above £10m, having triumphed in the category below £10m
in 2018. You also won our inaugural Passionate Hirer Award in 2008, and in 2016 received our Passionate Hirer 10/10 Award in the Multi-Depot Hire Company category, as the outstanding operation re-judged from all the previous Winners. How do you maintain this consistently high performance?
A. We simply have a passion for hire, and everything we do aims to improve the customer service experience. When we won the 2008 Passionate Hirer Award, the lead judge, the late John Jennings, visited us and it was clear from his questions that he wanted to see if we had a commitment to hire that was as strong as that of great hiremen like him. We are constantly evolving and we are not afraid to change procedures, adopt new technology and to question the status quo of the organisation to make them even better.
Q. So what drives that passion?
A. David and Thomas have both worked at Smiths for more than 30 years, so we can’t really compare ourselves against other hirers. We just do what we think will help the customer, and we still enjoy getting involved in hire transactions. All our staff can engage with us - and they basically know that, before they say no to any customer enquiry, they have to ring us for permission! We have regular ‘testing’ sessions where the Directors challenge the way we do things and see if we can do it better - they definitely aren’t backslapping exercises. We also ensure our personnel have pleasant working environments to work in, which in turn has made the depots more appealing to customers.
Q. What developments have you made recently?
A. We opened our twelfth depot in Leeds last year, which is performing very well, and have invested heavily in powered access with over 500 machines on fleet and growing. We have also taken our recruitment process in-house. We were using agencies who too often suggested wholly inappropriate candidates, so we have our own HR person now and the whole operation is much slicker. We advertise, scour job websites and recruitment listings ourselves and identify better quality people. It’s proving very successful. We are also employing more women at our depots.
Q. You are committed to new marketing initiatives. Tell us something about those.
A. We have wholeheartedly embraced social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and we ensure all content is relevant, interesting and engaging. We run blogs that similarly have quality material including the right keywords, and we use SEO (search engine optimisation) and PPC (pay-per-click) techniques to come out on top in web searches. We invite customer feedback online and from within the depot environment, and also employ various more revolutionary marketing techniques to drive hires, but we can’t give too much away about those! We want to make it easy for people to find us and do business with us, and we have built up a strong, consistent regional brand backed up by real family values. In fact, many people believe we present the image of a national operation, and that’s what we wanted to achieve. It shows we can compete with the larger players. Again, it is all driven by service.
Q. Another very new Smiths initiative is Go Green. What’s that?
A. It is our way of promoting eco-friendly equipment. In a sense, hire itself is ‘green’, because one machine can be used by many different people and it will be well-maintained, giving efficient operation. Our new Go Green catalogue lists different options available, such as bi-fuel machines, or electric, battery operated variants that users might consider, in order to reduce CO2 emissions and noise levels on site. We are giving site ‘Demo Day’ presentations to promote the concept. We have invested significantly in greener delivery trucks and vehicles, including three new 26-tonners and a 32-tonner in the past year alone, which again conveys an image of quality when they arrive on site. We are also running hybrid vehicles and fitting dedicated charging points at our depots. This all helps to differentiate us.
Q. Any recent fleet additions?
A. Constantly! From Stihl saws and Fuelproof bowsers, to Kubota minis and Thwaites high-tip dumpers. We want to keep the fleet fresh so customers benefit from new equipment. And we buy recognised brands: you can always find cheaper alternatives, but they can lead to problems, inefficiencies and higher overall costs. Our computer system tracks the whole-life cost of every item, including depreciation and repairs, so we know exactly the hire rate we need to achieve.
Q. How is business at the moment?
A. Very busy and our customer base is growing and diversifying. That is a tribute to the work we have done in building our brand, constantly investing, and the hard work of the staff. We have a lot of accounts with smaller construction professionals and tradesmen who don’t complain about rates but, rather, value our service. We obviously deal with larger contractors, too. Our awards successes have raised our profile and they have made some people wonder why they haven’t hired from us before, so they give us a try. We see some hirers offering free delivery, but it’s a slippery slope. Customers will begin to expect it. We can provide same-day delivery on certain items, but we make it clear there is no additional charge - there still has to be a transport cost element.
Q. What are the key challenges at the moment?
A. Rates. As any hirer will tell you, it’s the perennial problem. Even suppliers tell us they don’t know how some companies can provide equipment for hire at the rates they are offering. Our industry is its own worst enemy in this regard. You simply have to maintain a sensible margin. We are combating the issue through our efforts on widening the customer base, talking to site managers as early on in a project as possible, and the management systems we have in place mean we are in control of what we do.
Q. Any future plans you can tell us about?
A. We are currently looking at two additional depot locations.
Q. Finally, what would your advice be to another senior executive in your position?
A. [David Turner:] Prepare to work hard and the results will follow; and never underestimate the power of marketing in the mix! [David Smith:] Stay organised and be professional at all times. The only way to achieve business success is through efficiency. [Thomas Smith:] Always treat people how you would expect to be treated: with respect. •