Executive Hire News › Archives › October 2019 › Executive Report : One Stop reaches ten
Executive Report : One Stop reaches ten
Alan Guthrie puts One Stop Hire MD Steve Hitchen in the Q&A hot seat.
The Chorley-based business is celebrating its tenth anniversary this month and opened its fourteenth hire depot earlier this year.
Q. How did One Stop Hire come about?
A. My father-in-law, Martin Ainscough, sold his Ainscough Crane Hire business (where I was Operations Director for Heavy Cranes) in 2007 and I stayed on for two years. I then wanted to start a good regional hire business serving the north west of England and considered several market sectors. However, I heard that PSL (Power Supply Ltd) - where I had worked between 1986 and 1993 - and Wigan-based SJS Tool Hire might be for sale. We acquired both and that gave us ten depots overnight. This was in the depths of the recession, but we spent a lot on equipment, vehicles and improving premises when other companies weren’t. Customers loved the fact that we had shiny new kit to offer. Now we have 14 depots, five training centres and 152 staff. We started with 34 people - and 25 of them are still with us. And we have great customers. Everything we do is driven by them.
Q. How is business currently?
A. Very strong, especially in the cities. We now have three depots in Manchester, one in Leeds and we opened one in Birmingham last April, which was in profit after just four months. Ironically, we held back for some time because of the uncertain political outlook, but there came a point when we just had to expand to meet customer demand. And our team are so enthusiastic to achieve more success.
Q. Might you open more depots?
A. I can see ourselves eventually having three in the West Midlands because of projects like HS2 and The Commonwealth Games. We could grow in Yorkshire and the surrounding areas, perhaps in Sheffield, Doncaster and Nottingham. But we have no plans to venture south: the market dynamics there are very different.
Q. What drives your team’s enthusiasm?
A. There’s a ‘dressing room’ mentality here. It’s a real team. Several people actually have successful sporting backgrounds - Operations Director Kieron Power was a semi-pro footballer, and Sales Director Darren Smith was a semi-pro boxer. We are very competitive but have a strong sense of fair play. Whenever anyone answers the phone they are ready for a challenge. Our motto is ‘The answer is yes, now what’s the question?’ and we always give a positive response. In truth, your staff are your most important assets. And it’s been great watching so many of them grow professionally and personally over the years, getting married, starting families.
Q. You are also active in attracting young people into the industry.
A. I regularly visit local schools and colleges and attend recruitment fairs to tell them about a career in hire. I talk about the great variety it offers, how the challenge of getting, say, 20 orders delivered in a day is like solving a logic puzzle, the satisfaction it gives, and how you can even start your own business from a parents’ or friends’ garage with the right basic products and re-hiring the rest. One Stop Hire has recruited several people as a result of these visits, including workshop technicians and hire desk personnel.
Q. Is retail a strong area of the business?
A. Yes. Again, this is customer-led. We can buy in quantity and make a fair margin. We have sales displays of fast-moving consumables at every depot, while other sales are handled by a dedicated facility at our office in Wrightington. It makes it easier for customers to have one source of supply and one invoice. Some people buy equipment from internet-based suppliers - but just try getting it serviced or repaired by them! We’ll collect, service and repair items, handle warranty issues and hire a short-term replacement if needs be.
Q. Given this expansion, you must have invested significantly in the fleet?
A. You have to keep spending to keep pace with demand. It’s a steam train and the cap-ex has to burn brightly. Over the last two years, housebuilding has been very strong and this has led to demand for concreting equipment, compaction plates and other ground works equipment. Five years ago we invested significantly in equipment for M&E (mechanical and engineering) contractors, such as low-level access products, heaters and air conditioners, demand for which is less seasonal and unaffected by the weather. This gives a good spread of opportunities.
Q. A year ago, One Stop Hire was amongst the businesses severely affected by break-ins and thefts at several depots. Is that sad saga all over now?
A. Yes, thankfully. Merseyside Police were ultimately very efficient and caught the perpetrators. However, we have had to spend £350,000 on better security at each depot, including enhanced CCTV that is monitored round-the-clock by remote security professionals. Quite honestly, that was the darkest period in our ten years. You can cope with late payers and breakdowns because that is ultimately in your control, but when we were robbed, it initially felt like we were getting no significant police response. It was soul-destroying. Staff were understandably worried about their Christmas bonuses but we ensured we found the money to pay them. They had put in 15-hour shifts at busy times and they deserved it.
Q. What’s One Stop Hire’s biggest challenge?
A. I’d probably have to say Brexit - still! If it keeps dragging on and on, confidence could fall and projects might be put on long-term hold. We all just want it sorted one way or another. And despite everything, other countries still believe in Britain. There is tremendous investment from people based in China and Africa in properties being developed in Manchester, for example. They see the potential; the UK is regarded as a safe investment with a positive future.
Q. What would be your advice be to the next Steve Hitchen?
A. Don’t be greedy and keep everything simple with no fancy corporate structures. Learn about the latest technology, invest in new products to keep the fleet fresh and look after your people. It really isn’t rocket science.
Q. What can we expect from One Stop Hire in the future?
A. In 2016 we acquired a non-mechanical equipment hire business in Newton-le-Willows and that has significant potential. And we look at other possible markets like site welfare, generators and other long-term hire items. We do try to stay under the radar and just let opportunities come our way. So we are aiming for steady growth, perhaps opening one or two new depots annually over the next few years. •