Gulliver's: 50 years in the business

No compromise on quality and service - hire firm Gulliver's has built half a century of successful trading on these principles, as Mike Gerber finds out

Gulliver's, the family-run truck hire firm, is 50 this year and in robust health despite the recession. During a year that has seen major competitors go under, Gulliver's is investing extensively in new vehicles and depots. It continues to run its affairs on the same sound principles on which it was founded by Gabe Harding, who still takes an active role as chairman while son Philippe is managing director.

Sales director Neil Jeremiah explains: "We're not the cheapest in the business, we like to think we're the Marks & Spencers of the municipal hire industry, and we don't undersell. We've seen businesses that have been underselling over the past 12 months disappear."

Gulliver's has recently added 20 new Dennis Eagle refuse collection vehicles to its near 3000-strong general and municipal fleet. Fifteen of these are 26 tonne narrow-bodied RCVs for areas with restricted access, while five are standard-width Twin Packs with a split 70/30 body, all fitted with Otto triple lifts for simultaneous lifting of recyclables and general waste.

In all, Gulliver's has ordered some 72 new Dennis vehicles this year, and is looking at ordering 15-tonners with other manufacturers. "We're already starting to put a plan in for similar orders for next year," says Jeremiah.

The company operates out of eight locations: its Bristol homebase, Cardiff, Newport, Gloucester, Exeter, Thatcham, Tamworth and Airdrie, with new sites planned in Manchester. Municipal clients include local authorities countrywide and several of the largest waste management companies.

Successful trading
"We've been very successful trading over the past couple of years and we're in a position to fund and finance equipment that puts us ahead of some of our competitors who've been underselling, and as a result have fallen over," Jeremiah points out. He clarifies what he means by underselling. "Because there has been an oversupply [of vehicles] in our industry for the past two or three years, businesses [in] striving to utilise their vehicles, the first thing they do is discount prices.

"That's not the way to do it. Service will suffer, repair and maintenance, replacement vehicles. So we've stuck to what we do best, we haven't discounted and we've just invested in new equipment and we've won business as a result of working hard and giving service to our clients."

Gulliver's wouldn't have invested in new equipment a year or two ago because of the oversupply in the market and rates coming under pressure, he notes. "Businesses then were desperate, were scratching around to utilise their equipment and were underselling, and you go through a recession and we've seen a few casualties." With the credit crunch, some competitors, he says, have been "found out" and now there's a shortage of new equipment in the marketplace. "We're quite prepared to get new equipment as long as there's a good return on investment, which we have seen. So basically, the recession, there's less players in it and more opportunities."

Opportunity knocks online
The company has also invested in an online compliance system, in which all the critical documentation is scanned in. Jeremiah believes it is highly innovative. "All the service sheets, legal sheets, all the documentation, compliance documents, it's all online - our customers are given a unique password and any vehicle they have on hire, they can pull all that information off, which is impressive."

The information is readily accessible to Gulliver's mobile technicians on palm-held computers. Technology has also enabled the company to enhance its incident report arrangements. "When a breakdown comes in off a client, the call is logged on to a screen, that is then managed from start to finish, we have visibility of that right round the business, we can see how long that vehicle's down, what they're doing about it, we constantly update the client," explains Jeremiah.

"When we go and sit with our customer on a monthly basis we can pull off a report for them, show them the whole of their fleet, what was utilised, what was down, what we've done about it - it's just a very good account management system."

Jeremiah says he is proud to achieve 50 years of successful trading. As to what he perceives as the main difference between the business 50 years ago compared with now, he replies: "We were perceived as a south-west based business for many years, it's grown to become a truly national business, we have a lot of national clients. But still the same principles as 50 years ago: a promise is a promise - it's all about service."

Mike Gerber is a freelance journalist

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