A real job: Access International talks to Access Plus founder George Marriott

By Maria Hadlow04 November 2008

Access Plus founder George Marriott (left) with fellow director Dave Hall.

Access Plus founder George Marriott (left) with fellow director Dave Hall.

George Marriott has been renting aerial platforms in Scotland, UK, for the last 10 years. Now he is ready to expand his Access Plus business into other parts of the UK. Murray Pollok spoke to Mr Marriott and fellow director Dave Hall at the company's head office in Stevenston.

George Marriott hated the idea of working in the rental industry. "It was the last job in the world in the world I wanted to do", he tells Access International, "It was wet, miserable, greasy. It really wasn't attractive to me."

Even so, after a career in the oil and gas industry, Mr Marriott found himself turning to rental as a way of starting his own business. In doing so he was following in the footsteps of his father, a plant hire veteran in Ayrshire, Scotland, where the Marriott family lived.

"My dad joked ‘You can't do a real job like I do', so I bought 11 Genie machines", says Mr Marriott.

That was in 1998-99, and now, ten years later, he has transformed himself into a rental obsessive, deeply immersed in the day to day running of his company Access Plus, a business with a fleet of around 280 platforms operated from a base at Stevenston, on the Scottish coast just one hour's drive west of Glasgow.

Getting a company off the ground is always hard work, but Access Plus benefitted from some big retail developments in the west of Scotland. "They were building Braehead [an enormous retail park near Glasgow] at the time - we lived off that project for the first 18 months, then we got another retail project", says Mr Marriott.

That initial focus on big retail jobs set the course for the company - it remains a specialist in large commercial, school and hospital projects and its fleet reflects that, with dozens of small electric scissors as well as 80 of Braviisol's small Leonardo vertical mast machines, which Mr Marriott thinks could be the third largest Leonardo fleet in Europe.

That specialisation on small machines and commercial/public projects hasn't stopped Assess Plus from investing in a small number of larger machines - three new 60 ft (20 m) JLG booms are the most recent additions to the fleet - but George Marriott knows where the company's strength lies.

"We'll keep the focus on schools and big hospitals", he says, "We've been good at that. My vision is to be like a bridge between [tool hirer] HSS and Nationwide Access".

There is definitely a sense that Mr Marriott is now ready for a bigger challenge. Having grown rapidly in the past nine years - averaging 70% growth each year and with revenues forecast to reach just under £3 million for the current financial year - Mr Marriott recently boosted the company's management by bringing in an old friend and IT specialist David Hall as a director and shareholder. Mr Hall has extensive experience of growing small businesses and his IT expertise has already helped Access Plus install a new rental software systems.

With a stronger team and the business format in place, the next step will be expansion of the business outside of its native Scotland. "There is a lot going on down south, and we see opportunities to open depots down there", says Mr Marriott.

The first depot is likely to be one in the north east of England, and a second Scottish depot, in Glasgow, is next on the agenda. The company is keen to adapt a ‘hub and spoke' model for its expansion, with plans for between five and eight locations within the next two years, including others in England.

Dave Hall says the company will grow cautiously; "The last thing we want is an aggressive move against everyone...we don't see this as an aggressive strategy to take market share. We would say we are an ambitious company, but it is a realistic growth strategy founded on sound business practices.

"[An aggressive expansion] would be such a foolish thing to do - the bigger players could put you out of business very quickly. It's about making decisions that are sustainable. It's not about quick wins", says Mr Hall.

If small machines is one defining characteristic of the company, another is Mr Marriott's championing of the latest techniques of rental management. He will talk to anyone and everyone to get the latest ideas, and he then goes off and implements the ones that he thinks will work.

It is normal for big rental companies to talk about key performance indicators (KPIs) and to have delivery drivers with hand-held computers, less so for a local renter with less than 300 machines, but that is the reality at Access Plus. Both men carry devices that alert them when a piece of equipment is delivered or collected; when a service job is completed and how long it took and what it cost. All drivers and service staff have PDAs, they are tracked in real time, and drivers - to give just one small example - can raise a purchase order for a part.

There is a particular focus on reducing call-outs, and measuring response times and turnaround times and how long it takes to do a pre-delivery inspection. When a machine comes in it has to be ready to rent within 24 hours. Access Plus also tracks how customers assess their performance, and specifically how well their account manager understands their business. "We measure to the point of insanity", says Mr Marriott.

That focus will stand it in good stead during its expansion project. It is also the polar opposite of the traditional view of the "wet, miserable and greasy" plant hire industry. Still, there is no doubting that it is a real job.

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