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Q&A: Tim Garland

30 April 2021

Q&A: Tim Garland

Tim Garland is managing director of Elvington Plant Hire near York. He recently became its owner after the retirement of his parents, who founded the business. His approach is very much hands-on, can-do and flat out.  

How’s business? 

Summed up in one word: ‘crazy’. We had a slow start in January when the third lockdown was announced, and the bad weather in early February slowed us a bit. However, it’s been all systems go since, with no signs of a slowdown at all. 

What products are in particular demand at the moment? 

We have seen a real uplift in call for 800kg excavators in the past six months, but we have basically seen great demand for everything in our fleet: excavators up to 20 tonnes, dumpers, rollers, compact telehandlers and powered access. Everyone’s busy, from small builders and contractors, to home owners and civil engineers. 

What is your standout memory from the past 12 months? 

Shutting up shop at 5pm on Tuesday, 24 March in line with the first national lockdown. Whilst it was unclear if we were duty bound to stop, we took the moral decision that we had to do our bit and help in any way we could. Going home that evening not knowing what was going to happen was terrifying. Our customers were fantastic and understood our decision. And our staff pulled out all the stops on that last day to get as many machines back as possible. They fully supported my decision too. 

What happened next? 

We re-opened with a skeleton crew three weeks later and gradually brought back others as demand picked up again. We were back to full strength and normal business levels in June so looking back the temporary halt wasn’t too much of an issue. 

What are the main challenges facing your business or the wider industry? 

Something that comes up a lot: hire rates. When will some people in this industry learn that rates have to go up! They haven’t moved in 20 years on some kit, yet the purchase prices have increased. And many of those who moan about it are usually the same ones who will quickly drop the rate just to get the hire. Don’t they understand how much it costs to purchase, run, maintain and service kit? The old adage of weekly hire rates being 1% of the purchase price seems to have gone out of the window years ago. 

Is there a solution?

It’s an easy fix: just don’t do it! Add value to the hire by upping your service levels. If people persist on sending kit out for less than it’s worth, then we will see some big names go under in the near future. Things have to change as an industry. We don’t drop rates just to get a new hire. Yes, of course, we will adjust the price if it’s a long-term hire with a good paying client, but you won’t find us sending a 1-tonne hi-tip dumper out to a new customer for £75 for a one-week hire. OK, rant over. 

What are the biggest hire opportunities? 

Powered access hire. The days of using a ladder appear to have gone. Many enquiries we get for one-day hires of access machines are from customers who say they simply won’t take risks. 

Anything else?

We’ve also successfully grown the operated hire and contracting side of our business over the past eight years. We recently secured a term contract with Yorkshire Water, which is real testament to our team and their efforts. This aspect of the company now forms a big part of our workload. 

What one thing would make business easier generally? 

Machines and wagons not breaking down. You service and maintain equipment as much as possible, but there is always a gremlin that will catch you out when you least expect it. 

What annoys/frustrates you? 

Telling people things twice. 

What’s the oddest or most challenging hire request you’ve ever received?

It was actually quite sombre. We once supplied a 1.7-tonne excavator to drive in front of the hearse at a funeral. One of our retired operators had sadly passed away and his family said it would be a good tribute if a digger could lead the procession into the crematorium. We gladly assisted and my dad, who was MD then, drove it. 

What was your favourite school subject?

Probably A-level Design, purely because of the practical side of it. Classroom academic learning never really struck a chord with me. 

How did you get into the industry? 

The business was originally owned and run by my parents, Ken and Sue, as a service division of their building company. I vividly remember sitting on my dad’s knee at the controls of a JCB 3C as a three-year-old: there and then an obsession with all things ‘digger’ was born. They kept the business on for me as I had always shown an interest. I studied Construction Management at Northumbria University, spent six years as a site manager in London and then returned to take over running the business in 2010. 

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

Probably a bricklayer. I do sometimes wonder whether it would have been a simpler life!

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

Don’t promise things you know you can’t deliver. Enthusiasm is good, but if you can’t do it, just be honest. Mind you, I do still struggle with this sometimes.

Tell me a surprising fact about yourself or your business.

I once got railroaded into buying a £900 wallpaper stripper from the most persistent saleswoman I’ve ever encountered. It had abrasive plates to remove the paper. I was young, impressionable and I allowed myself to be convinced it would make me a fortune. I hired it out once and it took all the plaster off the customer’s wall. I still keep the machine on the shelf as a reminder. Lesson learnt.

Do you follow a particular sport? 

Rugby Union - or posh kids’ rugby, as some of my employees call it.

What’s your favourite music?

House music/disco. I do have quite an eclectic taste in music though. Before lockdown, you would find my wife Michelle and I travelling all over the country (and beyond) to go to house music events or, as some people like to call them, ‘raves’. 

What new skill would you like to learn?

Funnily enough, I had this exact conversation with Michelle recently. I’d like to play the piano. I would have to learn in a soundproofed room, though, without anybody watching me. 

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

The pub and seeing the many friends in person who we have only seen via a computer for the last year. Going to music events and generally getting back to the life we once took for granted. 

What’s the secret of success? 

Hard work and not biting off more than you can chew. It’s too easy to be a busy fool. The phrase that always sticks in my head is ‘turnover is vanity, profit is sanity’. At the end of the day, what’s the point of working 100 hours and making only a meagre return? I’ve been guilty of this in the past and it does neither you nor the business any favours. There is certainly something to be said for a healthy work/life balance. 

What would you do if you won the lottery (after charitable acts)?

Pay off any outstanding machinery finance, fill the garage with new motorbikes (I’ve only got one at the moment), and take long-suffering Michelle and our four kids – Finlay, Gabriel, Izzy and Ruby - to Whistler, Colorado, for a two-week skiing holiday over Christmas. 

What’s the current trading outlook? 

It’s pleasing that we are so busy now after a strange 2020. However, I keep one eye on what’s round the corner and cautious optimism is how I would describe my view at the minute. 

Finally, do you have any future plans?

We just completed a business ownership transfer. My parents have now fully retired and so Elvington Plant is all on my shoulders going forward. They have provided me with an extremely stable footing to go from, and for that I will be forever indebted to them. It’s daunting to say the least, but I cannot wait to see where we are in ten years’ time. I have a very definite picture of where I want the business to be in 2031, and what I want my life to look like. I just hope it pans out that way! 

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