Having your finger on the pulse in a plant hire business; where utilisation is a key factor in success.
Martin Ainscough together with his brothers Brendan and James, established Ainscough Crane Hire as the leading Crane Hirer in the UK.
Having sold the business in 2007 for £255million, Martin gave our MD, Diane Banister an interview, discussing the growth and success of the business.
Diane worked with Martin and his Leadership Team for over 8 years delivering management development, sales and hire controller training.
Part 1 of this series charts the growth of the business, through tough market conditions to the glory days.
This is Part 2 where Martin discusses the difference systems made to the business.
What hits me, as I listen to you, is that you know these numbers inside out and back to front and then I remember the conversations we used to have about utilisation. I remember you getting a dashboard for the first time so that you could see the true picture; really have your finger on the pulse.
And if you had a team of younger business managers in the room now would you be saying to them know your numbers, understand the business. Was that one of the things that set you apart?
Yes, without any shadow of a doubt.
Too many businesses in my opinion only ever concern themselves with turnover and you must always always look at the profit.
But it’s more than that isn’t it. It’s understanding what you can do to affect the profit.
Correct, if I look at any business or anything really, the first thing I look at is passion.
I look for attitude, if you look at the people who worked for me; the Andy Stafford’s and people like that, they are just as keen – that business meant as much to them as it did to me.
They weren’t doing it because they earned xk a year they were doing it because they loved doing it.
Yes, they’ve got to get paid and you reward them well, but more than anything you enthuse them with something, that says I care about the fact that crane’s out on hire, we’re doing the right things, that we’re being efficient.
I often ask myself what did we do differently, if you go back to the 70s when we started and the 80s. Crane businesses were almost like corner shops so it’s not dissimilar to what’s happened to the corner shops. There are a lot less crane businesses, there are a few more popping up again but generally speaking there has been a consolidation as there has been in most industries.
We’re all in the same market place, so we must have done something different.
The only thing different is the people, that’s absolutely without any shadow of a doubt, and as you know from the work you did with us, we made sure we were strong on the hire desk.
We enthused everyone who worked with us that you didn’t just take a job for a crane tomorrow and say that’s job done, that the crane’s out, you’d want to know how long is it going to be there, is there any chance I can do another job; that’s where we made super profits by maximising the utilisation.
That becomes more difficult as the business grows, so you’ve then got to have a way where you are measuring for utilisation and as you rightly say we developed fantastic systems over time. I’m not actually a very technical person, I’m certainly a very impatient person as you know, and it’s that impatience that drove me to have the best systems because I wanted to know.
I didn’t want a manager in a different part of the country to be hiring his 70 tonne crane out as a 50 tonne crane. I knew exactly what he was getting for it and I was looking to make sure it was working to capacity and more importantly it was out working and who he was working for.
So by developing great systems, I was the only man in the crane industry who could genuinely tell you if he was busy or not. In a multi-depot business running nationally, I knew the true picture.
I could see how many cranes were out, how many were out on capacity, how many were out under the minimum rate.
By developing those systems, by taking costs out, we set up the National Hire Centre.
Not only was it a massive cost saving to us, it was a massive benefit to the customer. You look at Bison Concreting, they would take 10’s of cranes a day from us all over the country, they didn’t need to make lots of calls; they just send us an email. All the rates were in the system, all the contract terms , all the standard lifting equipment, all we needed was what time do you need it, what date do you need it, where do you want it…end of.
Three things, none of this 20 minute phone call for every hire so it massively reduced their costs, cut down the amount of time people get the wrong address, so if I look at any system now there isn’t anything that can’t be improved by a dose of simplification.
So, your finger was on the pulse all of the time, you knew what was going on and in a multi depot business that is complex.
Absolutely, that’s where your systems and also your structure, going back to people again, because the system can only tell you so much. We were very very good at invoicing, efficiency, paying people, all these things you’ve got to minimise your costs and maximise your revenue, it’s not rocket science.
There was also something in there about making it easy for your customers to do business with you. So understanding your customers and understanding the national picture and they didn’t want to phone Wigan or Hayes, or individual branches.
I can remember a time, we’ll use Bisons as an example, when Bisons would use probably 30 different companies around the country. Imagine that, imagine how much work it took to have someone in their office to book cranes. They didn’t have uniformity of rates, they didn’t have uniformity of standards, and so we looked at how we could improve things for them, and how that would help us be more efficient as well.
Don’t miss out on the rest of this fascinating interview
An Interview with Martin Ainscough Part 1 – Growing the business
We can help with utilisation, protecting price and profits, making the most of the opportunity, business growth, as well as productivity and focus.