Up and away

12 September 2018

Uptime is a key issue for forklift fleet managers, and this makes truck reliability and efficient service among the highest priorities for Impact Handling. Managing director Terry Kendrew talks truck utilisation and much more with HSS editor Simon Duddy. 

A key part of Impact Handling’s strategy is providing customers with right-sized fleets, and this means the firm has to be able to service and repair quickly to minimise customer downtime.

“Our service and aftermarket has to be strong to maximise utilisation of the truck,” says Terry. “Our trucks aren’t the cheapest, but we can right size the fleet, so the overall package cost is competitive. The big benefit in this scenario is the customer needs fewer operators, which is a big cost reduction.”

A lot of work goes on in the background to make this happen. For example, on parts supply, Impact can now order an item late in the day and have it in the engineer’s van by 7am. Not that long ago, the cutting-edge of field service part replenishment involved engineers picking up items from secure boxes.

“Normal wearing parts are easy to replace because we anticipate that and stock them. Its harder when it is caused by driver damage, because it may not be a wearing part that needs to be replaced, so we have to order it, receive it quickly, and get it on the truck. In either case, the customer just wants it fixed.”

The determination to help customers achieve high forklift uptime is a driver of Impact’s strategy, and why it has configured the business with multiple locations. It has carried out a number of acquisitions to boost its coverage. Recent deals include Dechmont in Scotland, Macbrown Fork Truck Services in Yorkshire, and Bendigo Mitchell in the Midlands.

“We think closely about how quickly we can respond and want to touch as many parts of the UK as we can, running directly where we can,” says Terry.

As well as extending its geographical coverage, Impact has made extensive efforts over the years to extend the range it offers, and can offer everything from pallet trucks to enormous reach stackers from Konecranes, with specialist niches catered for, for example, Bulmor on sideloaders. Impact also operates in every sector - used, value, premium.

Terry says: “We have put our first 60 tonne Konecranes truck into operation at Rotherham steelworks. It is used to move steel ingots, and it’s a monster. We understand it is the biggest truck in the UK for 30 years. We’ve also quoted two 100 tonne machines for lifting the columns of wind generators. This is an exciting new area for us - very bespoke - and we find Konecranes very receptive to special requirements.”

Impact has also updated its Short Term Rental fleet, which provides a better experience for users, and – perhaps counter-intuitively – proves more cost effective than running older machines, as they need more maintenance. Using newer trucks allows Impact to retain a bigger fleet with same number of engineers.

These improvements add value for customers, but sometimes this can be lost in the procurement process, creating a problem for the incumbent forklift supplier.

“Professional buyers often don’t take into account operational hardships they might impose on their businesses. They just want the lowest price.”

This trend had tapered off and is now back with a vengeance, adds Terry, as companies see overheads increasing, and want to make sure suppliers are as competitive as possible.

“When this comes irrespective of added value, it’s a problem. We add a lot of value, but sometimes it becomes irrelevant in the final analysis. We hear this from our competitors too. Some tender documents have no real spec. No knowledge. They want xx number of 1.6t electrics but there is no further elaboration.”

Impact also had a situation where a retailer decided to take forklifts out of some back-of-store operations.

“The rental on the trucks was very low for us, but we felt the safety risk they are taking is very high, and we felt we had a duty of care to tell them they are likely to put their employees at a higher risk of injury. The response we got was simply ‘Noted’.”

Impact prefers to create a partnership-style approach, rather than that of a simple equipment supplier.

Terry explains: “We can help people adapt to changing circumstances in the warehouse. If they find the forklifts they originally specified are no longer what they require, rather than penalise them, we’ll work with them to minimise the cost. This is the added value that is appreciated by the operations people, but perhaps overlooked by procurement professionals.”

Hangcha brand

We have seen how Impact is working in every forklift sector, including used, STR, and specialist trucks. Its core brand is Cat Lift Trucks, but the last few years have seen Impact approach the value segment in partnership with Chinese manufacturer Hangcha.

Impact has close to 30 Hangcha dealers (a separate network to Impact’s Cat dealers) and recently sold its 1000th Hangcha forklift.

Terry says: “The Hangcha models are nice machines and the secret has been getting repeat orders. We train the dealers' engineers to maintain the trucks and support them with parts. In some cases, we have helped with finance packages. This is key. This high level of support differentiates ourselves from those selling Chinese forklifts on the internet.”

When Impact started its relationship with Hangcha, it stressed the importance of a high specification. It could have had a more cost effective truck, but Impact wanted was a reliable forklift, happy customers and repeat business, and the strategy is paying handsome dividends.

Hangcha is also extending its range, with new reach truck, walkie stacker, and rough terrain models to come. Hangcha is also starting to push lithium-ion powered electric trucks. 

Terry sees lithium-ion technology as having its place, but predicts lead-acid and diesel still have a huge role to play in the MHE market in the years to come. 

“We work with diesel engine manufacturers, and the truth is, they are increasing production.

“For lithium-ion, it will work well in some areas, for example, where disciplined opportunity charging can be implemented, but it isn’t suitable for, say, non-stop 8 hour shifts where opportunity charging is not an option.”

Impact has seen a changeover of parent companies in 2017. The new parent company, ENX, is based in South Africa and excited about investing in the UK and Europe. That said, Terry adds the change in ownership will not have much of an impact on the UK business. 

“We are funded and managed in the UK and growth for the sake of it is not the goal. Our ongoing UK market share is likely to remain in single figures but if we can get above 10% in the short to medium term it will be an achievement. The danger of increasing market share too much is that there would be no value in it. We don’t want to be busy fools.

“We like to work with growing and developing businesses, that recognise our added value. We want sustainable business for the customer, the employees, the suppliers and of course the shareholders.”