Major new dealerships boost streamlined Highland business

Callum Mackintosh (left) with Rototilt sales manager Malcolm Long

THE past 12 months have seen a whole raft of changes at Inverness-based Highland Hammer Hire (HHH).

The firm was appointed by tiltrotator manufacturer Rototilt as its new dealer in Scotland, has landed a deal to sell Xcentric Ripper International’s attachment products north of the border, and has just secured a distributorship with FRD Furukawa.

Following the 2017 strategic business review, HHH founder Callum Mackintosh decided to streamline the business, moving away from areas like the sale of wear parts to concentrate more heavily on attachments.

Callum has also been appointed to the committee of the Scottish Plant Owners Association (SPOA), where he intends to provide a voice for the organisation’s members in the north of Scotland.

“2017 was a good year for me in the sense that it gave me time to reflect on business and to see where I started from, where we developed to and then decide really what path I want to be taking,” Callum told Project Plant.

“Up until the end of last year, I was trying to be all things to all men. That doesn’t work. You can try, but it doesn’t work.

“We’d gone from hiring hammers to moving into other attachments, doing wear parts, buckets, bucket repairs, so on and so on. It just couldn’t continue.

“We’ve stopped doing wear parts altogether. I also tend not to supply buckets now unless it’s a Rototilt product. We just want to focus this year on strengthening our attachment hire side, getting our stock levels back up and also our hammer sales, our crusher bucket sales and our new relationships with Rototilt and FRD.”

HHH is now a distributor for FRD products in Scotland

Callum agreed the plan going forward is to do fewer things but do them better than ever before.

“It was getting to a point where we were busy but spread too thinly across the country,” he explained. “Change had to happen. A lot of customers have been surprised that I’ve stopped doing wear parts but I’ve got to do what’s best for my business and, ultimately, by finishing wear parts it means I’m giving a better service to my attachment customers. It’s allowed me to spend more money on parts stocking and invest in the business better. We haven’t lost any customers over it; they’re just not buying teeth from us. I direct them to my friends at MST.”

The most significant change at HHH has been securing the deal to become distributors of the Swedish-manufactured Rototilt products in Scotland. With the tiltrotator market growing all the time, Callum embarked on a search to find the right brand to work with.

He said, “The search was on to find something that was recognised for its quality and its build – and a product that was available and not already taken by somebody else.

“The Rototilt deal came by chance. Rototilt were carrying out a review of the UK market and wanted to strengthen their presence in Scotland whilst at the same time I happened to be looking for a new supplier.

“What attracted me to Rototilt was they’re well respected globally, forward thinking and very thorough in their product development. They don’t launch a product unless it’s tried, tested and then tried and tested again. They’ve got a strong aftersales service too, which I find is key. For me it was the logical choice; I had other options but my heart was set on Rototilt.”

Callum is now on a mission to help grow Rototilt’s presence in Scotland and provide a local service.

“Our existing tiltrotator customers have told me they like the Rototilt product; it’s well recognised. The only reason they’ve not bought it is because they’ve never had a local Rototilt service before. That’s the big thing.

“The OilQuick option on the tiltrotator is another strong plus for Rototilt. It’s a tried and tested system; it’s pretty much the standard and allows our customers to invest in that product and have a failsafe interchangeability for the future of all their purchases.

The new Rototilt R2 model

“The feedback’s been good; customers are very interested and excited about it. The control system has some great features which none of the competitors have. The local service is 100% the biggest thing that excites customers though.”

Callum isn’t surprised by the growing interest in tiltrotators generally, having spent time in Scandinavia and witnessed first hand the major impact the machines have had in the construction sector there.

“I thought it was inevitable (that they’d take off here). Scotland is the biggest market in the country for tiltrotators, and the north seems further ahead than the rest of Scotland,” Callum added. “That’s partly probably because of our concentration of owner operators; that’s got to be a big contributing factor.

“Am I surprised that tiltrotators have taken off? No, not really. Having visited Norway and Sweden, I’ve seen how anything from a mini right through to a 30-tonner has a tiltrotator. It works for them; we’re just behind the times. It’s the way our industry is going. You can be old school and say they’re for rubbish operators to make them better but that’s not the case.

“Many main contractors are starting to appreciate the benefits a tiltrotator equipped machine can bring to a job. A lot of jobs now specify the requirement for hired machines to be Rototilt/tiltrotator equipped and this is starting to set a standard in the industry. Tiltrotators are here to stay and there’s going to be more of them.”

What are Callum’s plans for growing the Rototilt brand in Scotland?

“Number one: get the units out there first. We’re looking to get a variety of different models out to the marketplace. Number two: I want to be putting a second service engineer on the road in central Scotland.

“As Rototilt and HHH progresses, we’re not going to be able to cover it with one service engineer from Inverness. I see that happening in the next six months.”

At the time of interview, Callum was in the process of finalising a deal to lease premises in the central belt.

HHH will be supplying Xcentric Ripper International’s attachment products

Another matter occupying his attention at the moment is the SPOA. Having attended the organisation’s last two meetings in the Highlands and voicing his views on the importance of hearing opinions of members in the north, he was encouraged to put himself forward for the committee. His appointment was rubber-stamped at the AGM.

“One of the biggest benefits of being a member of the SPOA is networking,” Callum explained. “The last meeting we had in Inverness had double – maybe even more than that – the number of attendees we had the previous year. There were new members there and members who’d never been to a meeting before talking to each other. One member needed the use of an A30 dump truck for two weeks as his was broken. Another member was able to help him out. The chances are that these guys probably wouldn’t have picked up the phone to each other; but because they were in the same room having a pint and chatting away, the deal was done.

“It’s good networking, good business, good for the industry, keeps the wheels moving. I like that – that’s a great part of the association. The SPOA does a lot for the industry. We’ve got great model terms and conditions of hire and free business support.

“These associations are necessary; they allow us all to discuss our common problems; things that we face within the industry like labour shortages and lack of new blood, and allows us collectively to get our heads together and sort out a plan.

“The SPOA is a bit of a powerhouse. If you look at the committee and the support from some of its members, we’ve got some very big names, big businesses and varied businesses right across the board from training to self-drive plant. Absolutely the SPOA committee and its membership can do its bit to help change the direction of things in the future. We have the power, knowledge and experience to deal with important issues. The SPOA as an association can have that voice for the industry and be taken seriously.”

Callum described the “biggest battle” facing the sector is getting people interested to join and help stem growing skills shortages. 

“For years youngsters have been pushed into further education. Getting a trade in the construction industry was made out to be for those who didn’t do well at school and becoming a plant operator worse yet. The reality now more than ever is that plant operating is a very highly skilled job with the increasing use of tiltrotators and machine control.”

Callum said one idea he has is to do more with schools, including potentially taking a plant simulator into classrooms to give youngsters a taste of operating machinery.

He believes that despite the industry suffering a “slow” start to the year, partly due to inclement weather, he’s positive for the rest of 2018.

“In the north, we’ve got the next stage of the A9 to kick off, and the A96, so there’s some good projects,” he stated.

“There’s nothing meaty coming up like the AWPR or Queensferry Crossing that we’ve enjoyed over recent years.

“Many businesses ramped up their plant fleets to provide to these infrastructure projects. I’ve seen a few companies forward thinking enough to see we were heading for a bit of a dip in work and have adapted to suit, diversified into other markets or areas.

“And that’s the key I think: adapt, adjust or diversify.”