Morris Leslie Plant Hire has been quietly expanding its business to give nationwide coverage, and further growth is anticipated. Alan Guthrie reports.
Morris Leslie Plant Hire certainly raised its profile – and a few eyebrows – last December when it acquired four significant depots that had been part of Hewden before its demise. These locations in Bedford, Willenhall in Birmingham, Whitehaven and Inverness brought its national network to 12 throughout the country, and continues a process of expansion that the business has been pursuing quietly for several years.
The hire activity is part of the Perth-based Morris Leslie Group, some of whose other interests include plant machinery sales and auctions (commercial, classic and modern cars). Chairman Morris Leslie founded the original business in 1974 as a plant sales operation, having recognised an opportunity in the market. Other prospects were gradually identified, including plant and equipment hire, and a number of acquisitions were made to give a presence in Burgess Hill, Woking, Saltash, Plymouth and Exeter by the time of the economic downturn in 2008.
In 2012, as the recovery began, the business decided to significantly expand its plant hire and sales activities. Graham Ogilvie joined as MD of the plant hire operation, having had links with the business for 20 years. “The aim was to concentrate on growing the plant hire and sales business,” he told EHN. “The market for second-hand equipment had changed, with the Internet and on-line auctions offering other outlets for sellers. However, with a significant hire fleet of our own which we keep up-to-date and renew regularly, we have one of the youngest fleets in terms of average age of each asset, which is under two years.” He believes Morris Leslie has become one of the UK’s leading suppliers of direct, nearly-new plant and equipment, and that hire customers benefit from using newer machinery.
“We have repeat customers, worldwide, because we sell high-quality, nearly-new modern machines, not industry cast-offs. The machines that we replace are sold by us direct, not through auctions, to customers in the UK and overseas. We therefore have a natural outlet for this equipment and, by selling it as nearly new, there is regular demand. The majority of the ex-Hewden equipment we acquired either did not meet our standards in terms of age, model or specification. All items dating up to 2013 have been sold, and by the end of the year all 1,650 Hewden machines will have been replaced by our own assets.”
Key Locations Identified
The business identified key locations where it wanted to establish a hire presence, and made acquisitions as opportunities arose. In 2013, it purchased three Ambrose Plant Hire depots in Northampton, Newark and Stockport. The Hewden outlets have expanded the operation considerably further.
“We have been low-key in what we do, and maybe some people did not see us appearing in their rear view mirrors,” said Graham Ogilvie. “We are working on our strategic plan to enhance our UK hire presence. We have spent £200m on machinery over the last four years and we will continue to invest significantly to meet customer requirements and to support any further acquisition opportunities required to bolster our national network.
“Our fleet of 4,000 machines comprises telescopic handlers from 6m to 20m, excavators from micro models up to 20-tonners, dumpers from 1-10 tonnes, and rollers ranging from pedestrian models to 13-tonne units. We are a one-stop shop for essential construction plant, and we concentrate on established brands such as JCB, Manitou, Kubota, Volvo, CAT, Hitachi, Thwaites, Bomag and Hamm. In 2017, we have diversified into access equipment as, not only is it complementary to our existing product portfolio, but we also recognised that Hewden was an access supplier and we invested in new machinery of this type to service its former customers. Furthermore, we provide plant hire service for the events industries, from utility vehicles and pedestrian carriers for use during events, to specialist telescopic handlers and access equipment for setting up music festivals and other attractions.”
The four former Hewden depots are in key regional locations enhancing the company’s model of national coverage with local service. All personnel were transferred and additional people have been recruited to meet planned expansion. When the business took over the Hewden depots, these locations had 40 employees and there are now 58. The Inverness facility, for example, previously had four personnel and now has nine. Overall, the plant hire business employs over 200 people.
Smaller Tools and Equipment
Although the hire fleet is centred primarily on plant and machinery, the Burgess Hill depot has included small tools for several years to meet local demand. In addition, smaller equipment is offered to complement the construction plant at Inverness. Products available at Inverness include the full range of Hilti and Wacker Neuson tools, Belle mixers and MBW surface preparation equipment. If the initiative proves popular, it could be rolled out at other locations in the future. Furthermore, Morris Leslie has an accommodation hire business in Plymouth servicing the south west of the country.
Operations Director Mark Hierons, who was previously Group Operations Director with Hewden, believes that “the quality of service, as well as providing high quality machinery, is increasingly what sets you apart, since many companies are essentially offering similar equipment. Throughout my 30 years career I have never worked with such a modern fleet, meaning that breakdowns are minimal. And what do breakdowns cost our customers?
“We focus on building the local markets we operate in whilst supporting our larger customers nationally,” said Mark. “We have a national team of mobile fitters operating from strategic locations to provide service backup in the field.”
Looking ahead, Morris Leslie Plant Hire plans to open additional depots in the near future to further enhance its network. Indeed, EHN understands that further acquisitions may well take place before the end of the year, raising its profile still further. “We have been low-key in our approach but the momentum created by the quality of our operation is steadily winning us more business,” said Graham Ogilvie. “Our company is still privately owned and family-run, making decisions for the long term and for the right reasons.”