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April/May 2018
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Executive Hire News › Archives › April/May 2018 › Executive Report : Powerful performers

Executive Report : Powerful performers

Just like the area it serves, there is much on-going development at Didcot Plant. Alan Guthrie reports on the busy hirer’s latest plans.

The iconic cooling towers of the former Didcot Power station that dominate the local landscape will eventually disappear as the site is redeveloped. However, this will add to the construction activity and business opportunities that have seen the town grow in recent years. Similarly, there have been changes at the impressive Didcot Plant hire operation since EHN last visited in 2012, and it has robust plans to ensure its on-going growth.

To recap briefly, the original Didcot Plant business dates back to 1967 and was acquired in 1992 by the late Fred Tarrant. The company moved to its current 1.3-acre site in 2001. Fred had stepped away from daily involvement in his role as Chairman when he passed away suddenly in 2015. Didcot Plant has obviously continued to flourish under the direction of his son Matthew and Co-Director Martyn Birch.

Best practices and safe systems

Technically, although Martyn Birch will retire in May, he will maintain his contribution to the company by overseeing Health & Safety matters. He told EHN, “Health & Safety is such a crucial and important part of our industry with, at the last count, 22 different sets of regulatory influences that direct and guide us in everything we do. Having achieved NEBOSH qualifications several years ago,” he added, “we must always ensure we continue best practices and safe systems of work. This attitude allowed Didcot Plant to achieve HAE SafeHire accreditation last year.”

To fill in the void, Matt and Martyn have appointed Steve Palmer as Depot Manager, who has previously worked for GAP and HSS, and the management team has also been further strengthened with the appointment of Nick Pollock as Transport Controller.

While he is not leaving our industry just yet, Martyn can look back on a fascinating and successful career. “Apart from being born and getting married, everything else important that has occurred in my life has happened during my time in this industry of ours. It has dictated and influenced all things personal and professional.

“Nearly 40 years ago, I found myself walking into a branch of HSS ‘Hire Shop’ in the Kings Road, Reading, for an interview with a gentleman called Monty Williams in response to an advert for a trainee assistant. I vividly remember walking through an array of equipment that I mostly failed to recognise, including something that looked like it had come out of The Ark with a blue frame on wheels with Broomwade written on the side, and some gold-painted, Kohler-engined bit of kit also on wheels with funny-looking round yellow and blue sockets attached. In the corner was a pile of what looked like rusty metal ammunition boxes with red and white stickers spelling ‘Kango’, and a pair of what I later found out to be ladder crittles hanging off some wooden racking that looked like they belonged in a medieval torture chamber.

Becoming a hireman

“An hour later, I was successful in gaining a job offer, which I accepted, and from that moment I was a hireman. From there I progressed, in order, to Assistant Branch Manager, Depot Manager, Area Manager and Divisional General Manager with HSS, then Owner & Director of independent Acorn Hire in Reading, before joining Didcot Plant as Business Development Manager, then General Manager and ultimately Director.

“Apart from the aforementioned M. Williams, I could list a number of people who I consider as primary career influences for the decisions they took involving me and my family. However, there are two I have to mention namely Ted (EJ) Jones at HSS, and Fred Tarrant.

“Depending on how long ago the reader is able to refer to, I began in a time of hand-crank starting without anti-kickback, no recoil starters, steel scaffold towers (absolutely lethal - if anyone can remember loading, unloading or erecting 20ft of ten by ten with board bearers, they will know), not forgetting folding beds and babies’ high chairs. COSHH was something the police carried to hit people with.”

After co-founding Acorn Hire from 1992, Martyn Birch joined Didcot Plant in 1997. “I had known Fred Tarrant for years, having re-hired from him during his time as owner of Axworthy & Co., and we were both ardent Reading FC supporters. He created a position for me in the company and that gamble quickly turned into a success as I brought my extensive knowledge of small tools and equipment and business development to the hire operation. We have always viewed how important it is to continuously invest in our fleet, ensuring it is new, reliable and well-looked after. We now have over 150 diggers and dumpers comprising Kubota minis up to 3 tonne, 6 and 9-tonne Volvo machines, Thwaites dumpers and Bomag rollers, and we recently added four Manitou MT625 compact telescopic handlers which fit well into our plant range.

Quality of service

“We are a bit like International Rescue, as in the old ‘Thunderbirds’ TV series. Someone will ring up basically asking us to help get them out of a hole. We have that reputation in our area. Once we had an emergency request to supply all the temporary fencing and crowd barriers for a large Oxford university ball because the original hirer ‘forgot’ about the contract - we got the kit there within an hour, and have kept the customer since. Our customers know that our quality of service means we do not get into price matching or discount battles.”

The local area is a hive of construction activity. “More than 10,000 additional homes are planned and there is much development in Didcot town centre. The old power station site will accommodate housing and leisure facilities, the railway station is to be redeveloped, and a large car park is being built opposite our depot. Many contractors tell us they have ten or 15 years work ahead. And we still serve homeowners and members of the public, which is reflected in the breadth of our fleet.

“One thing that has remained a constant over the years is the requirement to provide our customers with the best possible service. This is the prime factor that separates those who care and those that don’t; those for whom it is a career or livelihood, and those for whom it is just a job.

“I have to say that I have come across both national and independent hirers providing both extremes of top quality and embarrassing rubbish where standards of service are concerned. This latter observation is 99 times out of 100 caused by promising something that you knowingly cannot fulfil.
“The entrepreneurial skills of the traditional hireman were usurped by the ‘cloneism’ style of management, which began to pervade the industry throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, which resulted in many top class middle and senior managers being levered out from positions of importance and influence to the detriment of those businesses. Fortunately for the industry, most of them reappeared fronting either new ventures or bringing their skills into the emerging independent hirers,” continued Martyn Birch.

“Our industry is a one-off and must always be seen as one with its own culture. A culture of placing our customers, staff development and teamwork equally at the top of the pyramid and not one hidden behind or lower than the other. We now have the best possible products available that modern technology provides. We must ensure respect for and observance of Health & Safety regulation and compliance. There are no excuses nowadays. Never forget how simple and honest the goal is, and how to manage and achieve it. Carillion did.” •

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