Drive for excellence: Maria Hadlow talks to Rob McMeeking MD of EPL Skylift.

By Maria Hadlow12 December 2011

Rob McMeeking, managing director of EPL Skylift.

Rob McMeeking, managing director of EPL Skylift.

Having taken over as managing director of EPL Skylift (now Nationwide Platforms vehicle mount division) just over a year ago Rob McMeeking talks to Maria Hadlow about the progress the division is making and his plans for the future.

EPL Skylift was formed at the end of 2009 when Lavendon Group bought UK truck mount specialist EPL and combined it with its own van-mount business Rise Hire and its truck mount business Skylift.

Now, after a year under the guiding hand of Rob McMeeking, the division can look forward to around £4 million of investment being made in new units in 2012.

During the recession, Mr McMeeking admitted that Lavendon's UK vehicle mount division had been "somewhat overlooked," with by necessity more focus being placed on the self propelled divisions, Nationwide Platforms and Panther Platforms.

Mr McMeeking very candidly said that during the recession the vehicle mounted fleet had maintenance and aesthetic issues which needed to be addressed. "To win customers you must offer reliable equipment; we fell short in this area during the recession" he said.

So, for more than year EPL Skylift has been working hard on maintenance, a painting programme and renewing machine liveries, to bring them in line with the quality offered by Lavendon's self propelled fleets.

No new equipment has been added for the last two years next year the £4 million will be utilised mostly to modernise the fleet , with just a few new machines to broaden the range

The current fleet consists of 330 van mounted machines and 240 truck mounts with working heights ranging from 14m to 72m. The majority of spend will be on replacing older van-mounts while truck mount disposals will be looked at on a case-by-case basis. In total 90 new units will join the fleet.

There are no plans to add to the under-bridge inspection units already in the fleet nor to add anything larger, as the 100m working height machine operated by Lavendon's German division, Gardemann, can always be brought in for an extreme job.

Mr McMeeking has been with the Lavendon Group since 1997, when there were just 1200 units in the whole fleet. His expertise is financial and commercial and he has operated both at divisional and Group level in the company, being very involved in acquisitions during the company's rapid growth and with fleet purchase and responsible defleeting.

In October 2010 Mr McMeeking became managing director or EPL Skylift and with his team has worked at improving the quality of service and increasing utilisation.

Implementing the same TechX quality programme employed across the Lavendon business Mr McMeeking said, " Is EPL Skylift the finished article yet? - no- but what business can ever say they are? What I do know is that we have made great strides over the last year to ensure the quality of our service is right." Although unwilling to talk figures Mr McMeeking says that fleet utilisation should meet the budgets set this time last year.

In the take over most EPL depots were closed although most employees were retained. EPL's HQ, which was originally retained has subsequently been relocated between the Nationwide Thurrock and Heathrow depots, which the company believes gives more thorough coverage of London and its environs.

Mr McMeeking says that the two businesses sit very easily together explaining that having the two types of machines available from one depot can be mutually beneficial. For example, a customer who wants to hire a self propelled boom for just one day might be better served by a truck mounted machine. "Logistically a truck mount is so much easier for both us and the customer for one day hires, particularly if we provide the operator. It can arrive at the exact time the customer requests it and be off site immediately the job has finished. This ability to be in and out with a minimum of fuss is so important to a proportion of our customers".

The major differences between a vehicle mount and self propelled rental business lies in the number of variables in the application and the nature of the user. In general truck mount customers have to contend with more variables at the worksite: it might be very high, on a public highway, they may need to think about traffic management and handling ground conditions can be quite complex with bigger heavier equipment.

In addition there are differences between van and truck mount applications: van-mounts tend to go out on longer term loans for applications such as street lighting, utilities and council contracts; conversely a limited number of truck-mounts go out long term most are short term rents.

Mr McMeeking is very interested in challenging this and wants to build the market for short term van hire as well. "The spot hire for van mounts is not as developed as that for truck mounts. I'm still thinking it through and trying to establish how best to develop the short term hire market for vans. Any ideas gratefully received!"

In getting vans out on short hire, Mr McMeeking would address the issue of hirers always expecting to rent a brand new vehicle. Mr McMeeking suspects that because a van is more akin to a car than a truck hirers look at it almost like car rental where customers expect brand new models.

Mr McMeeking explains that the Rise-Hire business was built on there being a demand for new vans. Companies would rent any number between one and 20. "Rental provides flexibility; they can sign up for a three year deal but can return the machine without penalty, which is odd, only applies to van-mounts and only in the UK to my knowledge."

Other challenges involve improving rental rates - an objective EPL Skylift has been working towards for the last year - and countering the generally depressed market.

Vehicle-mounts are affected by the construction cycle but more by discretionary spending such as renewing signage, cleaning frequency and, at this time of year, putting out Christmas lights. Councils in general offload these types of contracts to subcontractors which would rent vehicle mounted aerials.

Very wisely Mr McMeeking does not want to predict growth for the next few years, "I can't say for definite which sectors will grow, but I think that we can win by being better at what we do and increasing the sales force. This is also an opportunity to improve prices."

"With truck mounts, especially self drive, you need to be in the locale, EPL has depots in all major conurbations, which gives us the best opportunity to win self drive business. We need to be easy to deal with and on the spot.

"Really is in our hands, we have the biggest [UK] fleet and we have to make sure we punch our weight .

"In making our way back from where we were it takes time to pull customers round. Some have long memories. I am confident that no one provides better service levels but we have to strive to do everything right every day: good order taking, delivering when we say we will from the largest depot network, equipment in excellent working order, looking right with skilled, experienced operators and correctly invoiced.

"I want EPL Skylift to be the premiere vehicle mount business in the UK - measured by service levels - those you would expect from a market leader. We're not a million miles from this goal."

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