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Executive Report : Orange opportunities
Originally specialising in wood chipper hire, Orange Plant has successfully broadened its fleet. Alan Guthrie visited its Newcastle headquarters.
Orange Plant dates back to 1994, when it was founded by David Orange as a dealership offering wood chippers in and around Newcastle, complementing his arboriculture business. Demand quickly came from contractors wanting to hire the machines, which subsequently led to a growing fleet and 150 machines hired over an increasing radius. Other regional hire depots were soon added.
In 2008, the business was bought by Gordon Chapman. When he passed away in 2010, his daughter, Joanna, became MD, having previously had a successful career in marketing. “Dad had previously built up a successful business in Newcastle making flexible pipes and other products used in the oil industry. At one time he employed 500 people,” she told EHN. “He only became interested in chippers when he bought a property with extensive woodlands that needed to be maintained. He eventually heard that Orange Plant was for sale and made an offer for it, and his bid proved successful.”
When Joanna joined the business, she had little first-hand knowledge of machinery or the hire industry, but drew on her marketing experience in identifying customer needs and maintaining a strong commitment to service within the company. “There were a lot of loyal employees in the business then, and many today have been with us ten years or more. We sometimes joke that if were to cut our fingers, our blood would be orange. Customers depend on us to provide the equipment they need quickly and efficiently.
“We decided to broaden the product base to even out seasonal peaks and troughs associated with wood chippers, as demand obviously drops in the spring when birds are nesting. We now have a European distributorship for the American stump manufacturer, Carlton, and we are also dealers for Avant articulated loaders, Toro Siteworks compact loaders such as the Dingo stand-on unit, and for Forst wood chippers. Basically, whatever we sell, we hire, and vice versa.”
Orange Plant has five depots in addition to the Newcastle headquarters, including Bromborough, Cannock, Peterborough, Wetherby and a sub-depot in Glasgow. Newcastle handles both national and local hire enquiries. The other locations were established primarily to support national contractors, but General Manager Phil Blackburn is now expanding each facility to develop more business in their areas.
The chipper fleet includes models from various brands, such as GreenMech and Timberwolf, as well as Forst, so that the most appropriate machine can be supplied to meet the specific requirements of each customer’s project.
Orange Plant became an Avant dealer in 2016 and is also part of the manufacturer’s regional hire network. “We first became interested in the machines when a tree surgeon contacted us with a requirement to move some logs,” said Joanna. “Offering these machines has also enabled us to target new markets outside grounds care, such as events and construction. They can be fitted with more than 100 attachments, from brushes and buckets, to tree shears and augers, and as we are part of the Avant Hire network we can source additional specialist implements from other partner companies. They also offer Health & Safety benefits which reduce manual handling and minimise the manpower required for a job.”
Orange Plant uses a software system which was developed in-house to handle day-to-day hire transactions. It can also generate management reports on factors such as utilisation and return on investment, and it interacts with the accounting system that the company uses.
“Users really appreciate the benefits of being able to hire the kind of specialist machinery we offer,” said Joanna. “We maintain and service it, and we have the experience and depot network to deliver and collect equipment throughout the country. It makes it easier to calculate the cost of a project at the tendering stage, and hiring avoids having to find the funds to buy a machine outright for more specialised jobs.” •