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MARKET REPORT GARDEN & GROUNDS CARE


“Looking for flexibility”


Grounds care equipment hirers are adapting their operations to ensure that customers can achieve maximum efficiency and value in the challenging economic climate. Alan Guthrie reports.


Because there is always a requirement to cut grass, care for landscaped areas and maintain gardens, it might be tempting to think that the market for grounds care equipment should be relatively stable, even given this country’s unpredictable weather. However, challenging economic conditions mean people are exploring new ways of procuring machinery cost-effectively and deploying resources with optimum efficiency.


SGM Contracts LLP, formerly SGM (UK), the national grounds care hire specialist, which currently has eight depots, is also adopting a flexible approach. “The public sector is having to be even more open- minded in talking to the private sector to see how efficiencies can be achieved,” says MD Steven McInroy. “We are talking to a number of local authorities about various joint initiatives, for example. This could include SGM maintaining a client’s owned fleet, perhaps also utilising and managing existing workshop facilities they might have, and we are often able to achieve greater efficiencies through our expertise and our buying power for parts.


Best-value solutions


“We can also offer buy and lease-back arrangements for equipment, as well as our normal machinery hire offering. Such approaches can help ensure they achieve best-value solutions and remain competitive, and we can demonstrate this by providing detailed KPIs (key performance indicators).We can draw on our experience in the private sector, such as at Gleneagles golf course, where we do not supply equipment, but we maintain it. This arrangement was introduced five years ago and it has just been renewed until 2014.


SGM recently added more Ransomes Highway 3 mowers to its fleet.


This is particularly true in the public sector, against the backdrop of the new government’s measures to reduce the budget deficit. And hirers are responding. “What clients like local authorities are looking for is flexibility,” says Andy Lathwell, Hire Manager of Leighton Buzzard-based Browns Groundcare Hire. “Traditionally they might have hired equipment continuously from March through to October, but some customers are now hiring for, say, an initial three-month period, with an option to extend it. This allows them to cope better with unexpected conditions, such as sudden, late grass growth.


Spending cuts


“In the longer term, public spending cuts could seriously affect council and school budgets, but we have a broad customer base and can adapt accordingly. Overall, business this year has been at least as good as 2009, if not better. Users like golf courses and sports clubs might choose increasingly to hire machines, rather than buy them, to control costs, and facilities such as National Trust properties simply have to keep grounds in trim to meet visitor expectations. Browns must now have approximately £2m worth of equipment in our hire fleet, and we have kept investing in machines like Hayter triple mowers, Kubota tractors, and chippers from GreenMech and Timberwolf.”


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“We continue to expand our traditional grounds care hire activity, having now integrated the All Seasons Groundcare (formerly Swan Plant) fleet following its purchase in April, and we have recently spent approximately £1/4m on equipment for our High Peak Borough Council contract, including seven Ransomes Highway 3 triple mowers, Major rotary gang mowers and Kubota utility vehicles.”


Turfleet Hire, the hire brand of the Wokingham-based dealership Golf & Turf Equipment, is also being flexible in meeting customer needs.


Turfleet Hire has invested in more machinery for sports ground renovation work.


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