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PROFILE

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branches shutting, with a further 18 in March and April and a similar number between then and Wolseley’s financial year end on 31 July. Currently, Brandon operates from around 180 locations across the UK.

On balance, it was the former Hire Center branches (many implants within Builder Centers) that suffered the majority of the closures. Where locations were merged, Brandon sought to retain the best staff from each operation and this has meant that, although overall staffing costs have declined, the cost per employee has increased because, generally speaking, it is the more experienced people who have remained on the pay roll.

Tim Smith is keen to stress that the last 18 months have not been just about depot closures. Brandon has opened a number of new strategically placed outlets including Birmingham Constitution Hill, Salford and Penzance. Where depots have closed, he estimates that Brandon has been able to retain about 50% of the business. He adds that, as a result of the restructuring exercise and the market decline, Brandon’s revenues may have fallen by 20%, but its labour costs and other overheads are down by more than 25%.

“Good estate” of branches

Looking back over Brandon’s development, Tim Smith believes that Brandon now has “a good estate” of branches. Six years ago the company’s approach to expand by acquisition had been the right one, but the market is very different now. In the 18 months immediately after Wolseley bought the company, it was able to benefit from Wolseley’s resources to open some good branches as it sought to improve its national network. More recently it has been consolidating out of weaker branches, at the same time, infilling to support national coverage.

Brandon has also benefited from the large company disciplines imposed by being a part of an international group. After the merger, the hirer adopted a regional structure (which neither Brandon nor Hire Center enjoyed before); at the outset the UK was divided into seven regions, which were sub-divided into a total of 32 areas. This has now been modified to four regions and 14 areas covering the country from Aberdeen to Penzance. Four regional directors report to Operations Director Tony Partridge, who describes his main task as ensuring “consistency of performance across the outlets.” In particular, Tony seeks consistency in customer service and in the application of Health & Safety measures.

At the time of the merger, it was recognised that Brandon had the better IT system, and, in the course of 2006, this was rolled out to the former Hire Center branches. This has also played a part in ensuring the consistency for which the company is striving. The company is now rolling out PDAs across its branches and finding that it was getting up to 60% usage shortly after their introduction. With a customer base skewed towards small and medium-sized enterprises,

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Tim Smith believes that Brandon now has “a good estate” of branches.

minimising bad debt is one of Brandon’s priorities and the use of PDAs is playing an important role in this.

Another priority is staff training and, alongside it, improving staff morale. Every employee in Brandon has had on-line training in Health & Safety and Manual Handling, while all area and branch managers have undergone training through a structured development programme. In September last year, all branch managers participated in a three day management course on customer service, which, Tim says, was highly successful, not just in its training aspect, but also in boosting their morale. There will be a follow-up course this September.

Recovered from uncertainties

Overall, Tim Smith says that the Brandon workforce has now recovered from the uncertainties engendered by the depot closures of last year and spirits are high. He also sees signs that the drop in revenue is beginning to flatten out, with certain regions now moving ahead of last year’s figures. Although Brandon’s customer base is mainly in small and medium-sized enterprises, it has a number of prestigious supply contracts. This year it has gained two year contracts with SEC and Wessex Water; it has also renewed multi- year contracts with its two largest customers. It has also signed a contract with one of the latter customers to manage its portable accommodation hires.

So Tim Smith and his

colleagues are in good heart. They believe they have made the best of recessionary times by pruning their branches, but, at the same time, establishing new locations where they see opportunities. They have made staff development a major part of their strategy and this has helped to sustain morale during this very difficult period. Brandon looks in good shape to take advantage of any upturn in the hire market when it comes.

Brandon sees signs that the drop in revenue is beginning to flatten out, with certain regions now moving ahead of last year’s figures.



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