UNITED KINGDOM: Three British companies are building their businesses with tried-and-trusted partners
by Tony Lawrence
On the face of it, Rod Cockette and Leigh Stevenson have little in common: one specialises in civil engineering, the other in house building. Leigh is in his 30s, Rod his 50s. They are based in different areas of England – and they have never met.
There are, though, things that bind them together. They both work for family businesses which own and operate compact construction equipment. They both like getting their hands dirty. And they have both just bought new Volvo construction equipment.
Rod Cockette has owned Volvo machines for 15 years, since first setting up Kelbec Civils Ltd. Initially just him and his wife, today 40 people, including one of their daughters, work for the company based in Redditch, in the West Midlands in England.
One of his work teams is busy redeveloping a street in Solihull town center, near Birmingham. On site are two new excavators – an ECR50D and an ECR88D – as well as a DD15 double-drum roller, all busy breaking up and removing the worn-out pavements and kerbs.
ON THE UP
“We have been renewing most of our machinery in the last 18 months,” says Cockette. “Confidence is returning after the economic slowdown which weeded out a lot of the less-efficient companies in our sector. Put simply, these new Volvo machines are very good. They’re short-swing radius machines and have the very latest Tier IV engines. They’re fitted with check valves for safe lifting. I don’t think their rivals can compare when you look at reliability, low running costs and holding their value.
“We get very little downtime from our Volvos – and downtime is costly for small businesses like ours. We have to deliver to tight timetables, and our machines also have to deliver.”
If Cockette wants a second opinion on a machine, he talks to his staff. Grant Turner, a foreman who has been with the company for 10 years, learned his trade driving Volvos. “Rod certainly does get feedback from us. Sure, there are other good machines out there, but the Volvos are top-notch,” says Turner. “They’re smooth, responsive, they punch above their weight in terms of power and they’re economical. And, crucially for an operator – especially when you spend all day in one – the comfort is second to none.”
Around 112km further north, Leigh Stevenson is at the controls of a Volvo EC27C compact excavator, ripping up tree roots, shifting soil and starting the groundwork at a new construction site at Clay Cross, near the town of Chesterfield. Kirk Hallam Homes, run by Stevenson’s father Clive, plans to build nine homes here.
Unlike Cockette, Stevenson’s experience of Volvo is just beginning. “We’ve had our EC27C less than a month,” he says. “It’s our first Volvo, but we’re sure we’ve chosen the right machine.”
Stevenson’s father runs the 10-employee business, with two fellow directors: his sons, Jamie and Leigh; a third son, Ryan, also works in the family business. Their father wanted a rival brand. Leigh Stevenson test-drove machines from three manufacturers, then talked to a friend working in the industry.
“He said that if it was his money, he would buy a Volvo,” says Stevenson. “I do most of the operating. The Volvo had a nice feel – it really is a driver’s machine – and it’s powerful. When I test machines, I dig a hole and then drive into it. One of the other models couldn’t get out again, unless I reversed it.
“The Volvo cab and seating is comfortable, the overall build is superior and there are other things which make a difference, like the way you can change attachments easily. Some people think compact machines are toys, but this is a serious bit of kit.
“Dad has had a go in the Volvo since we got it, and he agrees with me now! It has delivered what we expected – and more.”
There was one other key reason for buying Volvo, adds Stevenson. And that reason, he says, was Simon Milligan.
Milligan and his wife Sandie run the Volvo Construction Equipment dealership and sales company SM Plant Ltd – yet another family business based on close relationships, including sons Sam and Mikey. After a successful career with major construction equipment manufacturers and distributors, Milligan stood down as a sales director and branched out on his own. His contacts within Volvo CE got in touch and the rest is history.
Today, 15 years on, he has 18 staff – six of them Volvo CE-trained service technicians – and business continues to grow, with depots in Birmingham and Rugby and a third in Ascot, Berkshire, being developed by Milligan’s eldest son, Sam.
When Stevenson told Milligan which model he wanted – the two-and-a-half tonne ECR25D – Milligan asked why. “He was the only person to do that,” recalls Stevenson. “The others just got out their order pads. We discussed what the machine would do, the swing radius required because of health and safety and how we intended to transport it from site to site.
“Then Simon said we needed the slightly bigger EC27C. And he’s been proved right.” Milligan argues that the Volvo brand speaks for itself. People generally know it stands for quality, safety and environmental care. “Where we add value is by supporting the brand and its core values in the best way we can,” he says. “In the end, it’s all about trust. We have a huge variety of customers. Compact machines and their owner-operators represent a unique sector. They have their own mindset.
“It’s very dynamic. People make decisions fast – once they decide on a Volvo, they want it delivered immediately. And when they phone you up at 6am with an issue, they want you there at 6.01am to deal with it! Successful owner-operators run lean businesses and work hard for their money. They can’t afford delays.
“Volvo is a global brand and Volvo people never walk away. Neither do we. I’m not just selling machines, or arranging for affordable finance or providing service agreements – I’m providing solutions. The key is how we respond to our clients’ needs. I know the area. I make sure we go that extra mile every time – meeting expectations is good. Going beyond them is even better.”
Or, as Rod Cockette puts it: “We look after our own machines but we leave the real servicing and back-up to the experts. If I need something then I make one call to SM Plant. That is all it takes. I know it will be sorted out. If Simon says: ‘I am on to it’, then I can let it go.”