One man’s loss is another’s gain, and that’s certainly true of Covid-19’s impact on business. When the pandemic brought the shutters down on the economy last March GR8’s Josh Thompson initially furloughed his staff, only to subsequently receive no less than 48 frantic calls from contractors in just a single week who were looking to place orders. “There were so many people who’d closed their doors that the trades suddenly had their established supply chains severed without warning,” explains the owner of the tool and plant firm. “There are many people in the building industry that just have to keep going, because the work they do is so vital, and we actually opened up again just as quick as we could. Since then revenue each month has been 30 – 40 per cent higher year on year”.
Bishop’s Stortford-based GR8 provides a full range of tool and plant hire services from its Hertfordshire base to the general public and building industry alike, with further depots in Saffron Walden and Cambridge. Its geographical reach extends down the M11 corridor into London, and surrounding counties to the north, where the company’s three thirteen tonne lorries can be found delivering diggers from the Kubota range, and it is a brand in which the business has built considerable faith.
“In truth plant was not our initial focus at all,” admits Josh, “but it has rather taken over of late. We were in a position where we found ourselves cross-hiring for existing clients, so it made more sense to make the necessary moves to become a one-stop shop for our customer base. We can then supply all the equipment they need for a project from groundworks to completion.”
From the initial investment in a Kubota U-17 GR8 has expanded exponentially, with a fleet of 65 units from the Japanese excavator manufacturer now on its books, and a further 12 on order. All are either micro, 1.8 or 2.6 tonne machines – and supplied by Colchester-based Hosplant – together with a number of the same company’s track dumpers. “I really can’t fault the service we’ve received from the dealer,” enthuses Josh. “Continuity of supply is important to us – which is why we’ve also been loyal to Thwaites for our 1 – 4 dumpers, for instance – and Hosplant has always been there when we’ve need them.”
“One of the crucial factors in maintaining that association is that the residual values on Kubota excavators are phenomenal – and can be as high as 60 – 70 per cent after three to five years, in fact. For any hirer that’s always a key consideration. Not only that, but the rental sector is often a harsh taskmaster for machines, which makes durability and reliability the watchwords. There are, of course, always going to be clients who treat the equipment with not quite the respect it deserves, shall we say. We find that providing the best new equipment we can in a well-appointed condition does help in that regard. They’re more inclined it keep it that way if that’s how it’s delivered to them, and none of our diggers are more than four years old as a consequence. As with anything mechanical there are always things that will go wrong, but we make sure that we always have more fitters on hand than we actually need so we can address any issues quickly.”
Rival Construction is one of the larger organisations that make use of GR8’s portfolio of plant with a development of 35 executive homes in east Hertfordshire playing host to one of the hirer’s Kubota U27-4 units since July. “Because of their versatility, and the range of tasks they can undertake, these are the machines that tend to go on hire for longer,” explains Josh. Indeed, these 2,590kg units can multi-task throughout the course of a build schedule, whether on groundworks, utility or landscaping duties, and have a footprint that makes them nimble around tight sites. There’s a dig depth of 2.82m and all hoses for the dipper, bucket and service port pipes are routed through the centre of the boom, reducing potential for damage and downtime – again, a useful feature in the rental sector. The U27-4 also benefits from the largest cab in its class, and expansive field of vision from the driver’s seat. It’s powered by a 21hp engine with maintenance points all conveniently available on one side.
Another local firm, AJD Landscapes is currently in possession of a zero tail swing U17-3a. The digging depth and reach on this 1,650kg micro has been a particularly welcome feature in landscaping the sloped grounds of a substantial Bishop’s Stortford property
“Our plans are to expand the Saffron Walden facility into a superstore where most of our machinery will be based. Lockdown has seen a surge of interest in domestic home improvement in particular and we’re certainly seeing the benefit of that. We’ve had to double our fleet of wacker plates and mixers as a result and, because the excavator range is at the smaller end of the weight classes, we’re in a position to supply homeowners as well as the trades.”
With striking liveried vehicles, and a client centred ethos, this is one company that’s going GR8 guns, and Kubota has proved to be the perfect partner in plant.