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Q & A: David Johnstone

15 January 2021

Q & A: David Johnstone

David Johnstone is managing director of the busy award-winning independent hirer Y.E.S. (Your Equipment Solutions) based in Falkirk. Prior to establishing the business in 2012, he was northern divisional managing director of HSS.

How’s business?

It’s been a strange start to the year, to be honest. We came back all guns blazing because we had ended 2020 with record turnover levels. We had a full delivery schedule for the first week back and excellent forecasts for this year. However, some contracts were postponed or delayed due to the uncertainty around what the Scottish Government would introduce regarding lockdown measures in their announcement due at the start of January.

Did any other factors have an influence?

The timing of the festive holidays also meant that our customers have had a wide range of start and finishing dates over a three-week period, which is normally a consistent two weeks for everyone in construction. Local quarries and builders merchants opened at different times also, which resulted in an inconsistent and slower start to construction than usual. Another factor is that a number of people have accrued an increased amount of holidays than normal due to being furloughed and took more time off after the festive period.

What products are in particular demand at the moment?

We have several routes to market and one of these is utilities, so a number of our customers are classed as key workers. Before the end of the first week’s trading, all our excavators were back out on hire. The adverse weather also gave us a run on heating products, albeit not in as high volumes as usual due to people who would normally be in offices currently working from home.

What’s the best part of your job?

Recruiting and developing our people. We will soon be in our tenth year of trading and I am immensely proud of what we have achieved in such a short space of time. Colleagues who started straight from school with us or came from different industries are now an integral part of what we do consistently each day, which is particularly pleasing. We also need the older ‘hire industry players’ and we have a few of them on board. I am thankful for their counsel and experience, which allows me and my wife Lisa [also a Director of Y.E.S.] to step back from the business every now and again.

And what’s the worst part of your job?

Kit being abused and damaged on site without people taking responsibility for it – nor, indeed, wanting to pay for it. This has not changed much throughout my career and it frustrates me immensely.

Who or what inspires you?

Charity volunteers who give up their own time to support individuals and families who require help.

What annoys/frustrates you?

Rate cutting and sales reps selling on price alone. We are a service driven industry, and you should be able to demand a premium for a premium service. However, on many occasions people do not discuss the customer’s needs and simply look to reduce hire rates. I have been in hire for over 30 years and there are some products that are being hired out at the same rates as the day I started, despite significant increases in capital cost. It simply does not make sense!

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given, or that you would pass on to others?

If you think something is too good to be true, then it probably is. On a number of occasions in my career, I have followed my gut instinct and I have very rarely reflected on a bad decision.

What new skill would you like to learn?

To speak another language, maybe Spanish.

How do you relax after a hard day?

In the summer, taking my grandson Jamie for a walk and feeding the ducks at a local pond. In the winter, a quick stint in the gym followed by a relaxing sauna.

What was your favourite school subject?

Accounts, as part of business studies.  

If things had been different, what other career might you have chosen?

I’d have loved to have been a sports journalist. I’m mad about football.

So do you follow a particular team?

Yes, Dundee United. The only British team to have beaten Barcelona at home and away in a European competition - twice!

What is the biggest challenge facing your business or the wider industry?

Ensuring that, as we continue to grow, the ethics and values of our business are maintained. It was easier when we just had four or five staff, but now we have 23 to clone!

What’s the secret of success?

Be consistently candid, honest and never accept complacency. Speaking what's on your mind allows everyone to clearly understand what the issues are and encourages reciprocal conversation in these situations. The hire industry is always changing and evolving. If we let complacency set in, then we may find ourselves obsolete and overtaken by our competitors.

Finally, is there anything you would like to add about the business, the current trading outlook or future plans?

We recently invested in an 18-tonne truck [in the picture above] which will improve our transport efficiency and we’ve employed another two members of staff. Our customers were telling us their order books were full for 2021 so I was excited about the start to the year. However, with the new strain of coronavirus and a great deal of uncertainty in the short term, I suppose we will just have to deal with what comes our way.

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