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Life After Lockdown With Nixon Hire

17 September 2020

Nixon Hire were fortunate enough to trade throughout the COVID-19 period. Whilst a number of staff were furloughed, many staff worked throughout lockdown on key projects supporting essential services, whether that be from home or from a Depot all whilst strictly adhering to safety measures.

With all staff back at work, we met with Managing Director Graham Nixon to find out more about how COVID -19 affected the business and how it has impacted plans for the future.

Graham, how did you find trading throughout lockdown?

I think it was a learning curve for us all. Not only were all business owners and employees faced with a very different work environment – there were so many new processes to contend with too.

We remained open and trading throughout lockdown however, like all businesses, we had to mobilise new working practices and establish new processes very quickly to support our customers and ensure the safety of our staff.

We ensured that priority for equipment, both hire and service, was given to those delivering essential services and also adjusted the minimum hire periods of equipment to minimise deliveries and collections.

I’d like to thank all of the staff who worked so hard to minimise disruption to customers and to keep things ‘business as usual’ as much as possible.

We have worked closely with our customers throughout this period and I think navigating the context of COVID has made relationships between suppliers and customers stronger. Thank you to all of our customers for supporting us throughout these unprecedented times.

What was key in adapting to the changes?

Aside from the resilience of our fantastic people, a key feature of the business which allowed us to respond rapidly, was our dedicated hire desk. 12 months ago, we made the decision to centralise our Hire Desk and base all staff in Newcastle. This decision wasn’t an easy one and although we had some teething issues to iron out, we have a very stable and knowledgeable team. Understandably, some customers were nervous as to how a centralised hire desk would work, but having managed accounts in this way for over 10 years we were confident that this concept would work and would ultimately offer our customers a better service. We’ve had some fantastic feedback and it’s been a vital component in our COVID-19 response allowing us to continue to hire site equipment to our customers with little interruption.

Based in Newcastle, we have dedicated regionalised teams as well as teams for Major Accounts and rehire. These teams are the key point of contact for any hire enquiry for a customer in that region. We also have a dedicated transport team, responsible for ensuring collections, deliveries and servicing is carried out as efficiently as possible and allows depots to concentrate on fulfilling the hire, ensuring that every piece of equipment sent to customers is of the highest quality.

It means that we have quicker response times, fantastic communication between hire desk, transport and depots and importantly we have been able to move resource from region to region to cope with fluctuations in demand. One central desk also made the deployment to home working very slick.

We would never have been able to do this as quickly and as efficiently if we still had hire desks located within each depot.

Did you see a change in your customer base throughout lockdown?

We did yes. When lockdown first happened and sites were shut, we expected a downturn in business, however due to demand for products to support social distancing, we saw lots of enquiries from many new customers and new industries. Whilst we are of course predominately construction based, it has been interesting to see how our customer base has expanded and diversified.

So, were Nixon Hire products used in the fight against COVID-19?

Yes, we were pleased to supply site equipment to a number of key projects to support essential services, this included site accommodation at the Nightingale Hospitals, sanitisation products in schools, onsite sleeping accommodation at power plants, welfare facilities located on hospital grounds and testing stations, welfarevans used by water and power companies undertaking emergency repairs and much more. We were extremely proud to have been part of the nationwide effort to keep the country’s essential services running and are grateful to each and every member of staff for their hard work and dedication in what have been exceptionally challenging circumstances.

Have there been major changes to the business as we emerge from COVID-19?

In short, yes. I expect most businesses will have used this time to evaluate how their operations need to change to ensure efficiency and sustainability, Nixon Hire are no different.

During lockdown, we decided to create Multi Product Hub Depots for our equipment. Hub Depots of this type means we can offer a wider range of products from one location, deploy product experts to ensure our equipment is not only maintained to the highest standard, but that we can meet the increasingly sophisticated needs of our customers. As we see demand increase for; larger and more complex site setups, bespoke unit configuration and bespoke corporate branding, we need to develop how we deliver this.

The creation of the Hub Depots does impact on the current Depot Network and we have made the difficult decision to permanently close three Depots; Berwick, Sunderland and Suffolk.

Why were some Depots not suitable for Hub locations?

Size and efficiency. The Depot plots meant that we could not expand the product range which we offered to customers. Berwick had long since outgrown its premises and has separate sites for Plant and Accommodation, which does not lend itself to a Hub Location. Sunderland and Suffolk were also very restricted in size and only offered a single product from their respective locations. 

How will the Depot closures affect customers?

As these Depots were closed throughout lockdown, orders in these areas were fulfilled by much larger 'Hub' Depots throughout this period. We have demonstrated that we can successfully continue to provide services in these areas with no disruptions to customers.

As hires are managed by our dedicated hire desk and equipment dispatched from the closest Depot, there shouldn’t be any changes to the level of service or quality of products which the customer receives from us.

We hope that customers will respond positively, however, I am aware that change can be difficult, and some customers may not be sure on our approach. We saw a similar reaction with the creation of the central hire desk, however the past year has shown what a fantastic asset it is to the business and continue to receive testimonials from customers who have welcomed the changes.

Are there any changes to your product fleet that you’d like to share?

Yes, as of 1st September 2020, we have a new deal in place with a national tool hire company for the provision of small tools nationwide. Previously, Nixon Hire only offered small tools from Depots where we carry stock of each item however now, we can offer small tool hire on a national basis, all executed via your Nixon Hire account. We think this is a positive addition for our customers, not only due to the increased geographical coverage, but also because of the vastly increased range of products customers will have access to.

Are Nixon Hire withdrawing from large plant?

No! Nixon Hire have absolutely no plans to withdraw from plant hire. Plant hire has been part of our fabric for 53 years and will continue to be for many more years to come!

I have been asked this before following our decision last year to remove plant from Aberdeen, Highlands and Warrington (with the exception of contract hires). The reason for this was simple. We had seen higher demand for plant equipment in other areas of the Depot Network. It was therefore more commercially viable to move our plant to the areas of higher demand and fulfil plant enquiries for Aberdeen, Highlands and Warrington via our strong network of rehire partners.

Across the sector, we’ve seen a downturn in the demand for large plant during and after lockdown. The majority of sites suspended plant equipment immediately and whilst sites are returning to work, demand is not as high as before. This has resulted in large plant utilisation falling, however we have reacted quickly to this by selling the lower utilised items and when construction levels return to normal, we will be placing orders to further enhance our reputation as one of the industry's major plant suppliers.

Has Nixon Hire made any commitment to invest in products this year?

We have yes, last month we announced a multi-million-pound investment in welfare cabins and welfarevans. These products have been so popular in the last 18 months and particularly throughout COVID-19, it was time to increase the fleet size.

Are you positive about how Nixon Hire will recover from COVID-19?

I am yes. Nixon Hire have a fantastic workforce who have repeatedly shown positivity and resilience in the face of challenging times and I think this helps us overcome tough times together as a team. Whilst it may be a while before the world returns to normal, I’m confident Nixon Hire have responded well to our ‘new norm’ and will continue to do so.

I’d like to thank all of the Nixon Hire team, our customers and our suppliers for continuing to support us throughout this period.