“I can’t praise IBC and their staff enough for the help they’ve
already given us, even just in these short months.”
Guildford Tipper Hire has undergone quite a transformation over the past 10 years. Nestled in Cranleigh in rural Surrey, the heavyside merchant was first established almost 30 years ago but, under new ownership, has really taken off in the last decade.
Managing Director Dick Lane explains: “We were originally a family-run civil engineering and groundworks contractors, and had been for 30 years. We’d been a long-time customer of the original merchant, so when they approached us to see if we’d like to buy the business, we decided to take the plunge and expand.”
The previous business focused mostly on aggregate supply, with a few tipper lorries selling sand, ballast and shingle. More unusually, the merchant also had a site where builders could tip rubble and hardcore, which they then recycled.
Lane says the family was keen to move into merchanting, despite having no direct experience, because he liked the more straightforward business of buying and selling. “You buy a product for one price, you sell it for another, and you know what your margin is,” he says. “With civil engineering, you’re always having to assess and estimate how long a job is going to take, but you never really know.”
After purchasing the merchant business, the Lane family ran it alongside the original contracting business for two years, before making the decision to focus solely on the merchant. Nevertheless, Lane feels that his previous experience as a contractor still makes a real difference.
He explains: “I knew what I would expect a heavyside builders’ merchants to stock, so once we took over I immediately started to update the stock range, bringing in more drainage and reinforcing products, as well as cement, before adding bulk bag and handy bag machines.”
In the decade since, Lane and his team has developed and modernised the five-acre site, upgraded the company’s fleet, and more than doubled its customer base.
“Where our previous experience as a contractor really pays dividends is that a builder will come in to us with a set of drawings, and might not be too up to date in everything that’s required,” Lane says. “I can take those drawings and tell him everything he needs to do the job, so we can offer free advice and consultation whenever our customers need it.”
As well as this specialist advice, Guildford Tipper Hire now offers a wide range of other services, including a Calor gas franchise and an inert muck tipping facility, not to mention the recycling offering from the original business.
“One of the biggest assets is that the builders will come to us to tip their rubble and hardcore and, on the way out, pick up some ballast, or building sand or bricks,” Lane says.
“We are also one of the few builders’ merchants that still do loose aggregates. Most of the others have gone over to bulk bags and, while bulk bags are a massive part of our business, we invested a lot of money into bagging machines, because people still like to come in and buy loose aggregates. So we load all our own bags ourselves, not only for the bulk bags but also for what we call the handy 25kg bags.
“We also specialise in small loads up to 11 tonnes, and we even have larger companies come to us and say ‘we can’t get our big vehicles in this site. You’ve got your 10 tonne loads, can you do it?’ So it works better that way with the smaller loads, where we can win over the bigger lorries.”
Preparing for the next step
With the major renovation and investment work completed, Guildford Tipper Hire looked to the next stage of its growth and development by joining a buying group for the first time.
Lane says: “We’d always been interested in the idea of becoming a buying group member, but the ones we’d looked into had certain requirements that we didn’t want to do, so we’d shelved the idea. But one of our regular suppliers suggested we take a closer look at IBC Buying Group, and that started the whole thing off.”
The company ultimately joined IBC at the beginning of 2020 which, although they couldn’t have known it at the time, ended up being a huge benefit as they – like the rest of the merchant industry – attempted to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.
Lane says: “We’ve been incredibly busy trying to supply our customers during the pandemic. When the lockdown was announced we didn’t want to shut completely, so we closed the yard and continued taking delivery orders by phone. We picked up a lot of new customers because so many of the nationals closed, but getting product to fulfil those orders was initially very difficult.
“Some of our existing suppliers weren’t able to supply us, but our IBC membership coincided perfectly with the outbreak, because IBC gave us access to a much larger range of new suppliers who could provide us with product, so we were able to keep the business going.”
But this is not the only benefit Guildford Tipper Hire has already enjoyed since becoming an IBC Member, as Lane explains: “The next most important benefit we’ve found is that we can now access much more competitive rates than before. Then there’s the personal advice and support we’ve had with our Divisional Account Manager, Mark Walker. His expertise has helped us massively, because even before the lockdown we were struggling to get bricks and certain products that were on allocation.
“A lot of the big developers take the lion’s share of the products, and as a single independent company we had very little clout, but we feel now that as part of IBC we’ve got a lot more buying power. There was one particular block product that we couldn’t get at all, but by going through IBC we had stock on site within a week.”
As well as being able to access product that they couldn’t before, through advice from Walker, the company has also been able to start expanding with brand new product lines.
“Mark studied our business and suggested several lines that he thought we should start stocking. One of them was Indian sandstone, and when we looked at the prices that we could get it for through IBC it was just unbelievable – we’d have been mad not to stock it. And there were a number of other products that we were constantly being asked for by our customers, but that we just couldn’t get hold of at the right price until now.
“What really excites me about being part of the IBC Group is that I can see we will be able to expand and add additional items to our stock profile by being a member. And I can’t praise IBC and their staff enough for the help they’ve already given us, even just in these short months,” Lane concludes.