Founded in 1985, Impact Handling has grown to be a major force in the UK material handling sector and shows no signs of slowing. Thirty years on, Impact Handling is the UK’s largest independent materials handling group and a main agent for sales and service of some of the world’s best known forklift, warehouse and logistics brands including CAT. In a competitive domestic and European marketplace Impact sees its strengths lying in the partnerships it develops with customers, providing the right products to do the job, the most suitable and flexible finance packages, and fast, reliable service.
Warehouse & Logistics News spoke to Terry Kendrew, Impact Handling’s Managing Director, about how the UK materials handling equipment sector has changed and what he sees in store for the future.
Warehouse & Logistics News – Terry, you’ve been in the MHE industry now for 30 years. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen over that time?
Terry Kendrew: My adventure in this industry started in 1980’ish and I thought I would be a visitor for as long as the job kept me interested and motivated… and I’m still interested and motivated!
With regards to the changes I have seen, there has been a large scale consolidation of the manufacturers, the equipment quality has improved dramatically over this period and the industry had become very competitive. These days there is, quite rightly, a greater degree of professionalism in the industry, not least driven by suppliers’ responsibilities for health and safety and ultimately duty of care. We certainly see this as a core consideration of our business and it is a key requirement from our customers.
I have seen a great deal of manufacturer consolidation and the truck technology, specifically the electrics, is now so advanced there is no comparison. This includes telemetry and performance indicators built into the software of the truck. In comparison the trucks in the ’80s were big cumbersome and slow, the electronic systems were not very efficient or anywhere near as complicated as they are today.
Of course the warehouse industry has really taken off, particularly over more recent years, and has driven the introduction of articulated and multidirectional trucks which have really transformed materials handling.
The market split today is now a higher proportion of rental solutions and this is made possible by the more attractive finance rates and inclusive maintenance packages that suppliers like us can offer. The emphasis has moved away from purely the product towards the quality and flexibility of support from the service provider.
WLN – Impact Handling has been around for 30 years. What changes has it been through over the period?
TK: Impact started as a very small, local private business dealing in the occasional new, but mainly used, trucks. Today we are part of an international PLC and represent some of the World’s best known brands with coverage across the whole UK. And although the physical business is unrecognisable from its humble beginnings the culture of the team has remained constant throughout that time. Our systems and operations may now be those of a large organisation but our focus on our people and the personal relationships we have with our clients that hasn’t changed.
WLN – Where are you based in the UK? Do you have field-based engineers and local depots?
TK: We now have ten main depots strategically positioned across the UK, which are supported by regional offices and our network of field engineers. Over the last year we’ve invested heavily in technology which has been specifically focused on streamlining and connecting our service support infrastructure. Meaning that the field engineers are in continuous communication with our depots, service managers, our parts system and critically our customers. It really has helped break down geographic boundaries and means we can deliver industry leading uptime to our customers anywhere in the UK.
WLN – Can you talk us through the services you provide – sales of new and used trucks, contract hire, service and so on?
TK: Well, we are now UK distributor for Cat Lift Trucks, Konecranes Lift trucks, Mafi and Carer. These brands’ product ranges are the core of our new truck offering. They are all market leading manufacturers who make what we believe are the best material handling equipment available today. We are then also an official UK dealer for Flexi, Combilift, Hako, Bulmor and JLG. These specialist product brands complement our core offering and collectively we now provide the most comprehensive range of premium material handling equipment in the UK. This brings our customers the benefit of being able to go to one supplier for all their needs.
As I mentioned earlier there has been a strong shift in the UK towards rental agreements (contact hire) and the majority of our trucks are sold in this way. We like to think we are unique in the way we can create individual finance arrangements for each customer, be it an outright purchase, long term rental, a used purchase or even a combination of these. We are fortunate to have the flexibility to be able to support our customers’ business in this way.
Finally we operate an extensive short term hire fleet, which is utilised both by our existing customers – giving them scalability when it matters – and also for businesses who do not have a continuous need for equipment, but when they do, they need a supplier they can trust.
Of course no matter how a customer buys a truck having reliable service and support back-up is essential. We see it as our job to keep our customers’ businesses moving and we have focused heavily on creating a strong support network backed by an extensive OEM parts inventory to enable us to do just that. We always try and be one step ahead, on our long-term rental agreements, for example, we adopt a proactive approach to fleet management. This means we will replace trucks early if they are tired and our engineers identify that new trucks would be more productive.
WLN – We hear a lot in the fork lift industry about the need for operator training and safety. What training and safety guidance do you provide?
TK: I think safety is the single most important consideration for anyone operating and managing material handling equipment and we encourage and support our users as much as we can by providing training to both our dealer network and to our customers. Staff training is a critical aspect of keeping a warehouse, or in fact any material handling environment, safe. We encourage this from the handover of every single truck, providing customers with information, guidance and recommendations on how they can keep abreast of legislation and can create the safest possible working environment. Our supporting information packs cover everything from risk assessment and method statements to reporting procedures and addressing incidents of H&S negligence.
WLN – You market yourselves as an independent company. How much freedom do you have to advise the customer impartially about the right fork lift for their business?
TK: We are not a manufacturer and this gives us the freedom to offer solutions from our extensive product ranges that are exactly right for their intended applications and the customers’ usage profiles. The brands we do represent have been carefully chosen and we believe they really are the best in each of their segments. Across these brands collectively, we offer a massive range of equipment and we work closely with our customers to specify each unit to work as efficiently as possible for them. And when that doesn’t quite give us what we need we leverage our strong working relationships with the manufacturers to customise the equipment to meet even the most demanding or complex challenge.
WLN – What benefits does having an independent fork truck provider bring to the customer?
TK: We believe strongly in long term customers relationships and our independence allows that to be our primary focus. Its good news for our customers’ businesses to have a partner who has a deep understanding and experience of their business. One who can pre-empt requirements and is effectively an extension of their team. And of course its good news for our business, not least as it gives us the insight to be able to develop new and better ways to add value along the way. As our ultimate focus is ensuring the customer is happy and not to purely ‘shift units’, we bring an honesty and impartiality that I hope our clients find refreshing. Interestingly when reviewing material handling fleets, we often find ourselves recommending customers run less units, not more – usually a direct result of being over sold by previous suppliers.
WLN – What do you think will be the biggest opportunity areas for MHE providers in the coming years?
TK: The very noticeable focus on ‘multimodal’ reflects a shift in thinking towards a more consolidated approach to running larger MH fleets. Where previously each area of material handling might fall under its own contract – Container handlers, Fork trucks, cleaning equipment and so on, there is now a real opportunity to realise efficiencies and savings by bringing these all under one provider. Of course it only works when the supplier has the right expertise to be able to support that and that means having the backing of the manufacturers, the necessary parts inventory, manufacturer trained technicians and the flexibility – both financially and operationally – to structure and deliver the contracts.
The other area where I think we’ll see real growth is in Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV’s). In repetitive applications there is huge potential for AGV’s to bring incredible efficiencies and we can see this is now starting to grow in popularity across Europe. I think the UK will be next to embrace this technology and we certainly intend to be a major player in this space.
WLN – Being part of an international material handling group seems to be becoming a prerequisite to being a major distributor in the sector now, but what does this mean for the customer?
TK: We are fortunate to be part of the EQSTRA Group, who specialise in successfully representing major equipment brands. The obvious benefits that brings are scale, experience, stability and of course buying power. All of which translate to direct benefits to our customers. EQSTRA have a strong focus on customer satisfaction and understands the varying demands of individual markets. Subsequently, our UK operation has full autonomy to shape its business to meet our local market and customers’ needs. We function as a stand-alone operation, with a full UK management team and this gives us the freedom to invest in growing and strengthening our own business independently of the rest of the group. The result is that we can be highly responsive to the marketplace and can continue to offer even better value to our customers.
WLN – Do you think we’ll see an increase in consolidation across the forklift sector?
TK: I think there will certainly be pressure for consolidation at all levels and we aim to be positioned to take full advantage of this. Our offering and capability really is quite unique in the UK and we can genuinely deliver a one stop shop and deliver it to the highest standard – offering a single point of contact and support and being able to work with any make of material handling equipment, anywhere in the country.
WLN – How does that translate to benefit the small fleet or single truck user?
TK: The single truck or small fleet user is every bit as important to us as our large fleet customers. Although you might say that the large fleets drive the development of our infrastructure this brings direct everyday benefits to all our customers. It means we hold more parts that we can deliver to site quicker. It means more engineers, located in more places able to respond more rapidly and who are trained on more equipment. It means keener pricing and a greater number of trucks in stock, ready for immediate delivery and excellent short term rental availability.
Most importantly though, as I touched on earlier, we are a people company and having a personal relationship with each customer, where we are able to really support their business is what sets us apart. Whatever our customers need from financing to maintenance contracts and no matter how many trucks they run or how simple or complex the application, We can handle it.
Tel: 0800 169 9789