When many plant hire firms decided to scale back on investment during the recession, Eagle Plant adopted a different approach by seizing the opportunity to move into new markets. Project Plant reports on how that bold move is now paying dividends
GLASGOW-based hire specialist Eagle Plant has snapped up a new 40,000 square foot yard as the firm presses ahead with expansion plans.
When Colin Inglis and his brother Alan bought the business in 2005, the company had two employees and dealt mainly with small, local builders.
Today, staff numbers have reached 18 – and are tipped to increase again before the end of the year – while the firm has become a “one-stop shop” for equipment and plant, including running one of the largest Kubota fleets in Scotland.
Eagle operates throughout Scotland, primarily in the central belt, supplying items to everyone from some of the biggest names in the construction sector to DIY enthusiasts.
Colin puts much of the successful growth over the last decade down to the firm’s approach to service and constant quest to deliver whatever the customer needs.
“Eagle Plant was founded in the 1990s but we didn’t come on board until 2005,” he explained. “Our background wasn’t in plant. I was in publishing and property. We saw a real opportunity to build this business up and that’s what we’ve done over the past eleven years. We’ve developed and invested in it.
“Back then (in 2005), Eagle Plant was seen as a local DIY provider for small builders. Now we’re at the stage where we’re supplying the bigger construction companies throughout the central belt. We’ve got as many customers on sites in Edinburgh as we do in Glasgow.
“We didn’t use to be a one-stop shop but we’ve tried to create that. When we bought the company we didn’t have any excavators at all. It was all small tools – heaters, scaffolding, that sort of thing. We’ve just bought our 50th Kubota machine. We’ve also got JCBs. Although now we’re really known for that (the heavier plant equipment), we’re still trying to keep going with our core equipment such as Hilti power tools, Stihl saws and all the smaller types of plant.
“Another area we’ve really gone into in a big way is concreting equipment – servicing the housebuilding and civil engineering sectors. We’re really well known for things like Bunyan tubes, screeds, powerfloats and poker units. That’s one of our biggest areas now. We’re supplying the biggest companies of their kind in that sector now, from a standing start.”
A major turning point for Eagle came during the financial crisis. When many of the national plant firms were cutting back on investment in new equipment, Colin said the business took a “leap of faith” by instigating a surge on new kit – a policy that is now paying off handsomely.
“We saw a big opportunity to really get into the concrete industry,” Colin added. “We made a big investment during the recession and now it’s paying dividends. We looked at where we’d been successful, which was having a good product and really focusing on service and engaging with the customer on a regular basis. We just tried to do more of that with a bigger range of equipment. We started offering customers more equipment that they were previously going to other companies for. If they were happy with us for X, Y and Z, why not come to us for more?”
Despite not coming from a construction background, Colin said he and Alan identified early on that service was going to be key to help the business stand out in what is a competitive market. As a result, they’ve worked hard to build up partnerships with key clients.
“Most plant hire companies provide the same equipment,” Colin said. “We really focus on service and customer engagement. Our customers need to hire plant – that’s a huge part of their daily job. That has to be managed on a daily basis with the equipment going in and out, and the quality and servicing of it. We work with our customers. Obviously we have to be competitive on prices but it’s really the service and how we engage with them on a daily basis that has paid dividends.
“We’re in touch with customers on a regular basis to know what their needs are and to see if we can help with any problems. We’ve got a lot of experience in transport, logistics and getting things organised. If we’re starting to see habits of things breaking down, even though the equipment is good, maybe it’s operator error. We try to engage there and adopt a softly-softly approach, maybe go out and do a bit of training free of charge and show them best operating procedures. That cuts their downtime and people appreciate that.”
The new yard space Eagle has purchased is right across the road from the firm’s headquarters in Glasgow’s east end. Colin said they’d been looking for extra space for a while, as things had become “a bit tight” due to the extra staff and machinery based in the existing location.
“We really outgrew this yard very quickly but managed to get by through renting the odd bit of ground around us,” he explained. “We’ve been waiting to try and get something on our doorstep and managed to secure a yard across the road, which is 40,000 square feet. That’s in addition to what we’ve already got. That’s been fantastic and has given all the staff, including myself, a real incentive to push on.
“There have maybe been some scenarios where we could have got (additional premises) that might have done but this was really the one we wanted. The building’s being refurbished at the moment. A new roof is being put on, and then it’ll be internally fitted out. It’s going to be used predominantly as a service yard and repair workshop to house some of the new lines we’ve gone into like traffic lights, which we’ve gone into in a bigger way in the past few years. This will be an area for the charging and serving of that. We’re also getting a wash bay built for the excavators.
“We’ve gone from 15 to 18 employees in the past six months. We think by the end of the year that will be up to 21. Our latest recruit is a girl called Teigan who works in the office. We took her on as an apprentice in business admin through the Glasgow Guarantee scheme. She came straight from school and has been fantastic. She’s been a great find; she’s a lot older than her years and has settled in really well. She’s just passed her apprenticeship.
“We have a very flat structure. The workshop manager started as a junior fitter. We’ve all grown together, myself included.
“It was my wife Claire, who works in the office, who took that mantle on to get an apprentice in to help out. That has given us confidence to do it again. We’ll probably use apprenticeships on the workshop side as well. Not everyone wants to go to university. You learn on the job and I think you learn a lot quicker.
“As a family business, communication is really good. We can talk over a lot of ideas; you don’t feel as if it’s always just you taking a decision. We have lots of sounding boards, not just from the family point of view but also the staff who have been here from almost day one and have grown with us. We’re all sounding boards for each other. They’ll come to me with ideas, which is great. That really gees me up. Likewise, I go to them and that’s how we push forward. We have toolbox talks, regular meetings – sometimes they’re just off the cuff meetings if something’s happened. We look at how can we improve on something or take advantage of an opportunity.
“Most of the staff are long-serving and the loyalty is great. They know we’ll bend over backwards if there’s anything they need and we tend to get that back as well. The difference in this place since we took over is incredible. It’s a totally different place and all the staff see that. Their careers are enhanced by it. Most of us are around the same age with young families. We’re really tight.”
Colin said Eagle Plant is “constantly” upgrading equipment to stay ahead of the game. Last year the business replaced around 150 Stihl saws and expects to do the same again this year. Reviews take place each December, at which point a lot of equipment has been out on sites for a while. “We’ll see what equipment is getting beyond its best for what we would like to be associated with,” Colin added. “We’ll move it on and reinvest.
“When we first bought the business back in ’05, there was generally a habit (in the industry) of equipment being a lot older. The attitude was that it was perfectly serviceable and in quite a lot of cases it was. But maybe the image wasn’t great. If something looks good, there’s a much better chance of it being good. We took the decision, after a bit of a learning curve at the start, to not wait till that day comes. We establish a cut-off period and move it on.
“We have one engineer who spends nearly all his time servicing Stihl saws because you can put one out on a Monday morning at 9am and by 10.30am someone’s broken it. There is a balance there of general service repair but when it comes to major repairs, we tend to try and replace the item before those major issues come up.”
One thing that has changed over the years is the type of customer Eagle deals with. During the downturn, the firm remained loyal to key clients who were experiencing difficulties. As a result, that loyalty has been reciprocated in the form of repeat business.
“The type of customer we deal with has definitely changed,” Colin explained. “We’re dealing with bigger names in the construction industry who hire on a regular basis. It’s a constant daily turnaround of equipment in and out from them. When we first bought the business and dealt mainly with smaller builders, that’s changed massively for us and dictated the type of equipment we hire.
“During the recession, a lot of people fell on hard times. With the customers we knew were trying to be very loyal but were struggling a little bit to pay, we tried to work with a lot of those genuine customers through it and I think now that has paid dividends and given us a lot of loyalty from them.
“When fresh opportunities come up, they won’t see past us. That has helped us go into new lines. Most of our business is repeat business but we’re constantly attracting new customers, which is fuelling the growth. We’re trying to do it in a very planned approach rather than just saying yes to everyone all the time. We’re very aware that if we do that, then we might be caught a bit thin with current customers.
“If we get a new customer who we think is really going to work and there’s a genuine demand that they’re going to want stuff from us regularly, then we’ll make sure their needs are identified and we don’t let them down. We won’t take on too many customers. That’s the way we’ve found success. The minute you try to spread yourself too thin and please everyone – that’s when things start to creak.”
As well as the new yard and staff, Eagle has also invested in transport. Two lorries are now on the road, allowing the firm to deliver more equipment efficiently.
Not surprisingly given recent growth, Colin is hugely optimistic about the future – both for Eagle and the plant sector generally. He believes the new yard and east end destination leaves the business perfectly placed to benefit from further opportunities.
“Originally all around here traditionally is where a lot of demolition companies were based,” he said. “When we came here that was one of our core areas – catering for demolition companies. Most have moved away but they’re still customers.
“I think people associate Eagle Plant with the east end of Glasgow, which is great as it gives us a bit of kudos there in terms of being the independent company to come to. A lot of people prefer that to dealing with national companies, especially when you’ve been around for as long as us. We cover the whole of the central belt and beyond. Today we’ve got a lorry going to Dumfries for an east end company working down there. When we first took over, they were using a national company when they went that far and using us for local jobs. Now they use us for everything.”
So what does the future hold for Eagle Plant?
“More of the same,” Colin said. “We’ll keep buying the equipment that the customers want and increase staff levels and operations here to cope with demand. We’re really optimistic and feel really incentivised due to the new yard.”