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April/May 2018
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Executive Hire News › Archives › April/May 2018 › Market Report: Low-Level Access : Opportunities within reach

Market Report: Low-Level Access : Opportunities within reach

Alan Guthrie visits Snorkel’s impressive Tyneside factory and discovers that the manufacturer is successfully targeting smaller hire operations supplying low-level access products in the UK.

While Snorkel is a famous name in powered access machinery manufacture, it is only comparatively recently that the company has actively sought to raise its profile amongst smaller tool and equipment hire businesses with a range of models for low-level tasks. Now, however, it is developing this market quickly and sees considerable growth potential for hirers serving this market.

Founded in 1959 to manufacture fire-fighting equipment, Snorkel expanded into general powered access machinery through various acquisitions and has itself been the subject of several takeovers in the past. In 2013, the Snorkel business was acquired by US-based Xtreme Manufacturing LLC, whose two main product lines are Xtreme telescopic handlers and Snorkel machines, and it is owned by Don Ahern, who also owns the powered access machinery hirer Ahern Rentals. Operating in more than 90 locations throughout the USA, Ahern Rentals is a general rental company, specialising in high-reach equipment like aerial lifts and forklifts/telescopic handlers, while also offering plant and tools for earthmoving, landscaping and other tasks.

Snorkel’s Vigo Centre factory in Washington, just south of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, produces access machinery for Europe, Middle East, Asia and beyond. It is also the base for Snorkel UK, the distribution division that sells machines in the UK and Ireland. Snorkel UK was established in 2013; previously the company worked with independent distributors to service this market. The impressive Vigo Centre site incorporates a factory covering 250,000ft2 and employs 175 people.

Considerable experience

In March 2016, Andrew Fishburn was appointed as MD of Snorkel UK. He has considerable experience of the powered access industry, having started as an engineer and having previously held senior management roles with companies such as Instant Zip-Up and JLG, as well as forming manufacturing and supply businesses like Bravi UK and HLS (Height Lift & Shift).

“I could see the developments that were taking place at Snorkel under its new owners, Xtreme Manufacturing,” Andrew Fishburn told EHN. “Here was an organisation that was prepared to invest in the business and was willing to listen to what customers needed. Being a hirer himself, Don Ahern knows what machine qualities the market requires, which he describes as ‘rental toughness’. Products are designed to meet the rigours of heavy usage and to last many years.

“We looked at the strategic opportunities in the market and identified customers who would appreciate the heavy-duty qualities of the machines Snorkel offered, and they can perhaps be best summed up as ‘owner occupiers’: managers of companies with a hands-on attitude who know their customers and have a passion for quality equipment. These include independent tool hirers, as well as specialist access machinery providers and end users. In many ways, the best vehicle for promoting Snorkel UK is our factory, and we welcome hirers on virtually a weekly basis to see the facilities here and the pride our team take in their work. The majority soon place orders afterwards.”

Proving popular

Two models that are proving particularly popular for this market as entry-level machines are the self-propelled S3010E electric scissor lift and its push-around counterpart, the S3010P, both designed for use in diverse indoor workplace environments. The former provides a working height of 5m and a lift capacity of up to 227kg. The machine S3010E itself weighs 495kg, meaning it can be used on Kingspan raised access floors, and it is narrow enough to be carried in a lift. It has a zero inside turning radius and major components are housed in a push-out lower drawer for easy access. A multi-directional, proportional joystick control is incorporated, and the digital display has a self-diagnostic function. The battery can be charged from a 110V or 240V supply.

The S3010P also offers a 5m maximum working height but weighs in at 195kg. It has non-marking castors and an automatic braking system secures the lift when working at height. As on the S3010E, saloon-door gates provide easy entry to the platform, even when carrying tools. Push-around models with 4m and 4.5m maximum working heights are also available, namely the S3006P and S3008P.

Other machines that are in demand include larger electric slab scissors such as the S3215E, which can be driven through a standard doorway and can be used outdoors, offering a maximum 6.6m working height. Snorkel’s range also encompasses electric boom lifts, material lifts and personnel lifts, rough-terrain scissors, telescopic boom lifts and trailer boom lifts.

While much has been said and written in previous years about the number of powered access machines already in hire fleets and concerns about market saturation, Andrew Fishburn contends otherwise. He believes that too many companies concentrate mainly on the same sector, namely construction. “There are still many opportunities. While construction represents a high proportion of the market, there are many other customers in offices, factories, warehouses, schools, hospitals, shops and railways, and the facilities management contractors serving them. It is tempting for a rep to see a construction site and talk to the manager about supplying similar machines to those they can already see on site, but the only factor they can negotiate on is price.

Challenges and opportunities

“These other opportunities may be more challenging, as the hirer has to work hard to identify who is in charge of procurement. However, the rewards can be significant, as hiring low-level access machines can lead to demand for other tools and equipment. Furthermore, managers of PFI (private finance initiative) contracts in schools or hospitals need to sort emergency situations quickly - price is not their main concern, but rapid and reliable supply is. Health & Safety is also a key driver, and a safe workforce is a more productive one. We can talk with hirers about these opportunities, and many of us in the Snorkel UK team have worked in the industry ourselves. A lot of hirers tell us they already re-hire this sort of equipment, which shows them the potential.”

The Washington factory includes an in-house powder coating plant which operates 24 hours a day. Every component is painted prior to assembly to avoid any risk of untreated corners on finished machines. “Every piece is shot blasted to achieve an optimum surface for the paint to adhere, and we apply a primer coat for extra durability,” said Andrew Fishburn. “The final paint layer is deeper than on many other machines, giving resistance to abrasion and rust. Hirers tell us this is one of their main concerns.”

A special part of the facility is devoted to hydraulic oil leak detection (Hold). During manufacture, the oil is treated with a dye that shows up under infra-red light. Every machine is tested and any leakage will be visible, even in hidden areas, which can be remedied prior to despatch. The hydraulic oil is also cleansed to remove any fine swarf, rather like a dialysis machine, to again improve the quality of the finished product.

Snorkel UK says it is steadily adding more hirers to its customer base, many of which it has met at the Executive Hire Show. “We have exhibited at the past two Shows and we have already booked up for the next two. It is the ideal event for meeting the dedicated, enthusiastic hirers we are targeting. Recent customers include Alide Hire Centres, the BSS Industrial Division of Travis Perkins, Yeovil Hire Centres, Banner Plant, Dromad Hire, Lord Hire Centres, Hares Hire and P.E.T. Hire, and the list has grown by more than 100 in the past two years.” •

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