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Q & A: Neil Bravery

19 February 2021

Q & A: Neil Bravery

Neil Bravery is MD of Skipton Hire Centres (SHC) and has a fascinating CV. In 1989 he started work at Amtool Hire in Kent, acquired by Brandon Tool Hire in 1992. He later moved to the north of England as an area manager. Neil first joined SHC in 2004, before a year at GAP as a national accounts manager, returning to Brandon in 2007 under the ownership of the Wolseley builder's merchant group, as regional manager for the North West. He rejoined SHC in 2011 as MD and led its management buy-out in 2016. This award-winning operation has four depots in North Yorkshire and Neil is currently HAE vice-chairman.

How’s business? 

SHC like most hire companies have weathered the Covid storm pretty well throughout 2020, so we have been very lucky. Since the turn of the New Year we have continued to see a good level of business. Our customers are loyal and have continued to trade with us through each lockdown.

What products are in particular demand at the moment? 

We saw a huge increase over the summer months for landscaping and gardening equipment. Demand for mixers and plate compactors was unprecedented! Clearly the amount of DIYers on furlough has helped. The recent snow, as always, increased the demand for pumps and dehumidifiers.

What are you most proud of in the past 12 months? 

The SHC team. When Covid-19 struck and we were all faced with our first lockdown, it really was all hands to the pump [as reported on the blog]. We all knew we had a mountain to climb if we were to continue trading. Nobody moaned and we pulled together and continued to do what we do best: serve the customer.

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

Some suppliers are still playing catch-up from last year, so waiting times for kit have increased. I know that Altrad Belle, for example, has worked extremely hard to fulfil our orders. New plant isn’t as readily available as it normally is. Hopefully, Brexit won’t add to any supply chain issues from the EU.

And what’s the biggest opportunity? 

Construction won’t stop - we’ve seen the evidence throughout last year. Summer holidays in 2021 are looking less likely, so people will undoubtedly continue to invest in their homes and that means hirers will again benefit. 

Who or what inspires you? 

I am inspired by anyone who has managed to better themselves through sheer hard work and determination. During my 30 years in the industry, I’ve met a lot of people who started their careers as drivers and have gone on to make excellent managers or, even, run their own business. We’ve had examples of this at SHC. They show true grit and energy and deserve every success.

What annoys/frustrates you? 

Poor time keeping. When I was a boy, I was once late for school because of bad weather. I was marked down as late in the register, which really annoyed me because it wasn’t my fault! I always make sure I leave plenty time to get to an appointment and if I’m very early there are always phone calls and paperwork I can do in the car. 

Anything else? 

Yes, untidiness. Everything should have a home. I once did an SAS survival training course in the Brecon Beacons and it makes you realise how important it is to locate things around you quickly. And you should have an organised plan to get things done. There’s a really fantastic speech by a US Navy Admiral called ‘If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.’ It’s truly inspirational and argues that by getting small things done, you’ll achieve greater things [watch the video here].  

How do you relax after a hard day?

I either take Monty our labrador for a long walk in the woods or I row a few thousand metres on my rowing machine. I like watching box sets on Netflix but by the time I sit down my wife Anna has the remote so I usually miss out!

What was your favourite school subject?

CDT – Craft, Design and Technology. I love anything mechanical and making things. My exam project was to design a pneumatic jack lift, comprising an air ram mounted on a base plate with a valve and operated by a foot pump. I machined all the components, made all the seals and we tested it in the school car park by successfully using it to lift a van. I’m also a petrol head at heart. I’m bonkers about cars and I used to be mad on motor bikes.

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

Given the chance again I would have loved a career in the military. I think I could also have been a teacher. At Amtool Hire, I once demonstrated a Hilti DX450 nail gun to a customer and he said it was the best explanation he’d ever seen. I was only 19 but I just loved the equipment I was surrounded by. 

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

Be patient, it is all about timing. Failure is never a bad thing, just an opportunity to have another go and learn from your mistakes.

Tell me a surprising fact about yourself or your business.

SHC is 40 years old this year.

Do you follow a particular sport and/or team? 

I like F1 and I also like to row. I used to row regularly in a quad and a double scull but stopped when we had children. Now they are a bit older, I might take it up again. 

What new skill would you like to learn?

That’s easy: to play the piano. Like many business people, over the years I’ve stayed at hotels with pianos in the lobby and it would be wonderful to be able to just sit down and play a piece at random. 

What are you most looking forward to once life returns to normal? 

Being able to take Anna out for dinner and to go on a family holiday with the children (Edward who is three and Isabelle who’s five in April.)

What’s the secret of success? 

Hard work and a certain amount of luck.

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

I’m very optimistic about the hire industry. It has shown its true strength and value throughout the pandemic. All the hirers I speak to are reporting healthy trading. I personally feel very positive about my business and the future is looking very bright. 

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