At STG, we’ve had to keep evolving our offering to meet the needs of our customer – and we’ve seen the plant hire industry go through many changes and evolutions over the last 30 years of building quality Australian-engineered plant and trucks for the construction industry.
But this era – this post COVID19 new normal (as Scomo keeps calling it) – has us witnessing the most profound array of changes occurring to our industry at once. And, if I know anything about building a business across such a long period of time – you adapt, or you die.
What we are seeing is the forced digitisation of the industry – through new ways of working online and remotely – alongside vast shifts in demand for services, and the creation of entirely new types of services needed by our communities. We are seeing some financial stresses and changes in our ability to manage our business and cashflow – some are negative (like decline in available work opportunities and business credit), and some are positive (like wage subsidies).
We’re expecting enhanced investment from the Government in construction on the other side of this, which would normally inspire suppliers to our industry to feel a collective sense of business confidence – but that is counter-weighted by the lack of certainty, and the lack of a defined ‘end’ to the COVID-19 mess.
What I do know, that amongst all the uncertainty – there are things that plant hire companies can adapt to quickly that make them more market ready for this new operating environment. Here are some quick wins in adapting your business and expanding your offering.
Demand for our vacuum excavation units has grown faster than any of our other product offerings at STG, and exponentially in the last couple of years with demand driven by the massive national NBN project. Notwithstanding the NBN, NDE is becoming more popular as Australia gets more built up in urban areas, and the cost of hitting services becomes more expensive. Its also just thought of as a cleaner form of excavation, and communities are demanding better environmental outcomes from their infrastructure.
Online search demand for vac trucks, sucker trucks and NDE units has also skyrocketed. It used to be the domain of specialist NDE suppliers – but I’m seeing many of my typical yellow machine plant hire customers buy a vac truck and add it to their fleet, to expand their offering. They are a great addition to a diversified fleet, and real money maker truck than can be running around town doing 3 jobs a day and bringing in that all important cash run-rate work.
Its amazing how quickly how we’ve all forgotten the devastation and displaced communities wrought from the bushfires at the beginning of the year. Well, I can tell you that the local towns that were most effected haven’t forgotten – and they are all still in desperate need of support and assistance to remediate their towns, their parks, fields and roads back to suitable condition. Last week, I researched all the applicable grants, funds and schemes available to enterprising plant hire companies who were able to partner with local businesses to cause these remediation efforts to happen. If you are based in one of these towns, then partner up with local community groups and get to work.
Floats and Machine Mobilisation
I always have found it so surprising how few plant hire companies invest in their own floats and drop decks to mobilise their plant, preferring to pay someone else for mobilisation services. Also – so many customers will tell me that they wish to widen their work radius, but at the same time complain about the mobilisation costs being prohibitive for them, and their clients.
Well, let me tell you something about online retail – about 10 years ago retailers had to make their peace with paying for their customers shipping – because it was the only way to sell their products to their customers as more customers moved online. What they had to rationalise – was the fact that they were no longer paying the massive overheads associated with shopfronts and retail staff – so the cost of paying for their customers shipping, was a fraction of lost gross profit, by comparison.
I see mobilisation in that same way – if you want to expand your work radius, work for more customers across a town or state, and increase your utilisation, mobilisation is something you have to cop. If you do it enough, it makes sense to invest in your own heavy plant carrier – save yourself the ongoing fees for external mobilisation providers and increase your yield for every machine that leaves the yard.