Q&A: Andrew Fishburn
11 June 2021
Andrew Fishburn is VP Strategic Accounts EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Asia) with Snorkel Europe in Washington, Tyne & Wear, and MD of the group’s distributor Ahern Ireland. He has extensive experience of the powered access industry as a sales professional, director, manufacturer and business owner.
How did you get into the industry?
I left school at 16 on a Tuesday and the next day I started an apprenticeship as a plant engineer for the British Crane Hire Corporation (BCHC), which was then part of Richards and Wallington. I even worked on one of the early Grove Starlift machines. Then I got into sales and I joined a company selling forgings for applications as diverse as Rolls-Royce products and Trident submarines. In 1995 I joined the platform distributor Instant Zip Up. I later moved to JLG and then Bravi UK before setting up a manufacturing operation, and joined Snorkel in 2016. So I have been in the access industry at a sales level for over 25 years.
What frustrates you?
The hire industry constantly moans about rental returns, yet makes little real effort to equip its front line sales teams with the skill sets and sales tools to help demonstrate and sell real value to its clients. Too many companies just give someone a brochure and a quick walk-round of a machine and think they can then go out and sell it. It’s more about spending time on developing people, and not necessarily money.
What are the main challenges facing the industry?
Currently, getting supply and coping with increased costs of components and transport, driven by the effects of Covid-19 and Brexit.
How’s business for you at the moment?
Business has been strong since June last year with a high level of demand in the UK and Ireland, and the Nordic region is particularly strong. Mainland Europe is lagging behind a little as it copes with the effects of Covid-19.
What products are in particular demand?
This year we have had had super-high demand for TM12 telescopic mast lifts (always a good seller). However, compact RT scissors in bi-energy format have been, and remain, in high demand.
What are the most recent three products you sold to hire companies?
An S3970RTE rough terrain scissor - our first UK order for the lithium powered compact RT machine; an S3010P (our increasingly popular push-around product); and a large batch of S2755BE units, our special 1.45m wide super-compact RT scissor.
What one thing would make business easier generally?
No single thing here. In my view, we all share a responsibility to work at product and efficiency improvements within our own businesses, which help us cope with events beyond our control.
What’s the most challenging order you’ve ever received?
Rather sombrely, we supplied a S3010E self-propelled mini scissor during the first lockdown to a mortuary. Because the handrails are detachable, the site manager was considering replacing them with a flatbed for stacking bodies. Thankfully, I don’t believe it was ever required for that purpose and it has actually been used for more normal tasks.
What was your favourite school subject?
Metalwork. I was never much of an academic. I made a camping trailer at school when I was 15, doing all the welding, and my dad found a set of wheels from a compressor, which I fitted. I very quickly sold it! That was my first sale and I instantly knew I wanted a career in selling.
If things had been different, what other career might you have chosen?
I did think about the Navy, but I really enjoyed working as an engineer. I’ve had the best time ever and I wouldn’t change anything.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given, or that you would pass on to others?
Not to measure your success against others. Everyone has their own definition of success and this also changes through the years.
Do you follow a particular interest?
I am keen on cycling and motorcycling, so when I have any free time that’s what I like to do. I have a BMW GS1250 adventure bike which I ride on and off-road. During the first lockdown, I started using it to travel to the Snorkel offices in Washington – it’s a 180-mile round trip from my home in Harrogate. It beats traffic jams and the bike’s got a much better carbon footprint. I’ve also ridden through Germany and Italy.
What’s your favourite music?
I am quite eclectic, anything with ‘real’ artists as I call them - not these manufactured bands you see and hear.
What new skill would you like to learn?
I am learning Italian (ongoing for the last 20 years.)
What’s the secret of success?
It’s all about how you measure that success and for everyone that must be different. In business it’s usually about specific key measures and your department or company’s performance against those. In sales specifically you have to live with the fact that it’s 98% frustration and 2% elation, so for me it’s about how you celebrate the 2% and manage that 98%, finding the wins along the way. I get great satisfaction from walking round the Snorkel factory, seeing machines being made and thinking, “I sold a lot of those.”
How do you see the current trading outlook?
I think the future for powered access is looking bright. There are lots of projects underway and more to be released in coming years as the Government spends to quell any prospect of recession. We have low interest rates and great tax incentives for the immediate future which, if you are in this industry, you can take advantage of.
Do you see any specific trends?
There will be a big shift towards eco-friendly equipment as companies step up their net zero strategies. Business leaders have a responsibility to help shape this future and Snorkel are investing in machines that will perform in the real world and make running such equipment a practical reality, not a pipe dream.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
I would set up a business mentoring facility providing funding and helping people start their own companies. I would also like to ride a motorcycle from Yukon, Canada to Ushuaia in Argentina - the extended West Coast Pacific Highway. But I would also need to keep active and working, for sure.