Aerial platform rental in Australia
By Euan Youdale07 March 2022
Australia and New Zealand are seeing many of the same market conditions found across the world. The CEO of Kennards Hire, based in Australia, Bill Whitehouse, shares his view of the access sector in this geographically vast market.
With more than 190 branches across Australia and New Zealand, Kennards Hire has been offering its general rental services for over 70 years.
As such, the company has cemented itself into the rental culture of those two nations and has a clear understanding of where they are heading.
The company’s access equipment fleet stands at around 2,000 units and represents about 10% of the company’s revenue, spread across 160 depots in Australia and New Zealand’s vast combined landmass.
Leadership and company culture
Kennards’ CEO Bill Whitehouse has been with the company for more than 30 years and took over the leadership reins from Angus Kennard, who stepped down as CEO in 2020. He has also overseen the company’s continued growth strategy.
“So, in regard to the values, the culture and the business fundamentals, not a great deal of change has been required,” says Whitehouse.
However, a new leadership team has been put in place, with an emphasis on focusing on core priorities, accountability, clear communication, and the implementation of a three-year strategic plan, along with a one-year plan that allows changes according to requirements as they come up.
Much of it is based around customer satisfaction. “We need to be abreast of changing market conditions, the way that customers want to interact with us and the way that we want to interact with customers.
“So, we need to be aware of and understand the changes in market segments. But we also need to ensure that we don’t lose the basic fundamentals of the business around customer service, reliable equipment and everything that goes with that.”
Australia: Covid update
Australia was plunged into the Covid-19 pandemic, along with the rest of the world, and saw strict lockdown restrictions in many parts of the country.
“Well, it varies by state. We have seen some states go through harsher lockdowns than others, and we’ve seen and continue to see some sectors hit pretty hard - tourism, hospitality, the event hire business.
“While other sectors in Australia have remained fairly buoyant considering the circumstances, such as agriculture, mining and the construction industry.”
Overall, the country’s economy has benefited from large stimulus and investment schemes, Whitehouse says. “I feel it’s performed pretty well. But [the pandemic] has also provided opportunity and learnings.
“We have seen changes in our support office here where people work from home and a new generation is coming through. I’m sure they will embrace that more.”
The adjustment to a new way of working can be harder on the older generations, says Whitehouse, that have spent much of their professional lives adhering to a more office-based culture.”
On the other hand, Whitehouse believes that mixing with your work colleagues holds advantage for a range of reasons, including mental wellbeing.
“I do believe that people need to spend some time in the office to be able to connect with their work colleagues,” says Whitehouse.
How technology can enhance the customer journey
As part of the company’s technology and innovation strategy, which it calls the ‘customer journey’, it has introduced the ability for a customer to sign off on an agreement, including terms and conditions, with no paperwork and no physical signatures.
“That was a big theme over the last couple of years; click and collect and contactless. And we’ve also implemented what I’ll call ‘customer journey two’.
“By the end of this financial year, we’ll have 50 branches set up where customers can return equipment to our branch outside of trading hours.”
Whitehouse adds, “Those sort of things have come off the back off of Covid, and we’ll see more work in this area, moving forward - we’ll see customer journey three and customer journey four in years to come.”
Industry outlook: the future of aerial platforms
On the future of access in the country, Australia will see the same kind of developments as other users around the world.
As Whitehouse points out, carrying capacity of baskets and loads will continue to increase.
“We’ll see the capacity to carry more in baskets and obviously the envelopes will change. We will see higher spec diesel engines coming out from an environmental point of view and we will see more technology around batteries.
“I think from a Kennards Hire perspective, I could count on one hand how many pieces of access that we have over 60ft high.
“So, I think if there was a change in our access fleet, it would be moving into higher access, as we move into more of that T1 space and the larger type customers.”
Access equipment fleet investments
Across the fleet, this financial year will represent the highest capital expenditure that Kennards Hire has seen.
“We are obviously, like a lot of people, forecasting out one to two years, due to the supply chain.
“Going forward, our investment will be more in the niche type of access products, as well as the normal replacement. But we’ve committed a fair bit over the last 12 months.”
And, the lack of equipment has left the market open for new entrants.
“The void created in Australia and New Zealand by the lack of supply has created opportunities for any manufacturer with quality product to bring to market. So, the time is right for any supplier to enter the market.”
Equipment manufacturers and servicing provisions
However, Whitehouse is very clear that newcomers without comprehensive service provision will not get very far.
“It’s more than just the asset from the access suppliers. We have close to 200 branches. So, when we buy a product, that’s just one part of the journey.
“The other part of the journey is that we depend on suppliers to maintain our access fleet. We closed all our workshops down 30 years ago when we asked, ‘What business do we want to be in; do we want to be in a rental business or do we want to have the workshops?
“For us, the suppliers we have in Australia today, maintaining and looking after the life of our asset is really important.”
Rising demand for used access platforms
Access in Australia is subject to a 10-year rule, under which equipment undergoes a major inspection. (Hear more about that in the podcast version of this interview on www.accessinternational.media).
This has the potential to create a tricky situation, with lead times now being so long. Happily, Kennards has a relatively young fleet.
“We’re circa four and a half years. That’s our average access fleet age. We’re in pretty good shape. We know the lead times we’ve done the planning, and it can only get better, so we’re okay.”
The result of the supply chain challenges has also led to another phenomenon, the market for used equipment. “I have never seen such a huge demand for secondhand equipment in Australian market.
“And, that’s a direct result of the supply chain issues that we’re facing. The equipment that goes to auctions and the prices they’re bringing is extraordinary, compared to normal days,” explains Whitehouse.
Asked if Kennards is involving itself in the used market, he replies, “We run the tape over all our assets. If the life of the asset is up, it’ll go to auction and we get good returns on that.
“But, under our brand, we’re about good quality equipment and we make the right decision for the customer as to whether it is the right thing to keep it in our fleet or not.”
Electrification and the access equipment market
How quickly does Kennards Hire believe the access industry in Australia will move towards electrification, particularly of rough terrain equipment.
“I feel the market will dictate the timing around that,” says Whitehouse, “I don’t see substantial changes in Australia in the short term. However, we need to be open to change.
“We need to continue to trial battery-operated machines, lithium, etcetera. And it will come, but, right now, the priority is just trying to get the normal kit into the country.”
In addition to that, while the economy is looking good, there are other pressures. “Subject to any macro environment issues that hit us, looking ahead to the New Zealand and Australian economy, there is a lot of work in the pipeline.
“There’s a lot of stimulus happening and I think and feel we should be in pretty good shape from an economic point of view over the next few years.”
However, Whitehouse adds, “We’ve got pressure around unemployment rates - now 4% and heading south. So, there’s a lot of things to consider in the years ahead.
“So, yes, they will advance and make changes in that area [electric equipment]. But in the short term, I don’t see it hitting.”
Kennards Hire and sustainability
As with many companies sustainability is a key consideration for the future, and Kennards Hire has laid out its own Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Strategy, which includes initiatives like changing its lighting tower fleet to hybrid kit, and the company has LED lighting at all branches. Hand tools are moving to battery operated kit, as too are its lawn and garden equipment.
“When we review products now and moving forward, the whole component of ESG is part of the process and it’s also important to talk to suppliers and see what initiatives and they have to improve their assets around ESG.”
In terms of expansion, Kennards Hire continues its quest to grow. “We continue to expand our network through acquisition and greenfield. We’ve opened up six branches in the last six months, and more is happening as I speak.
“But we’re about sustainable growth, strategic growth - we’re for the long term.”