All the best companies continually move with the times, evolving their offering to make the most of the latest opportunities. This is exactly what Allied Access (formerly Allied Scaffolding Limited) has managed to achieve since its creation in the early 1980s. Construction Industry News recently caught up with Pete Ferris, Commercial Director, to find out the reasons behind its latest incarnation and how its rebrand is helping to raise awareness of the company’s ability to now offer both hoists and mast climbers, as well as scaffolding.
“The scaffolding element of the business dates back to 1983 when it was created in Oldham by our chairman, John Bracken, who remains very much involved in the company to this day,” explains Mr Ferris. “Over the years we have opened further scaffolding depots in Preston and Cannock, but the most significant recent development has been our expansion into mast climbers and hoists, both of which have their own dedicated depots, one in St Helens and one in Cannock.”
The diversification into mast climbers and hoists prompted the rebrand, with the new name having been chosen to better reflect the company’s expanded offering. “In addition to our well established scaffolding business, the newly created mast climber and hoist operations give us three distinct disciplines that we can bring to the marketplace,” adds Mr Ferris. “Many modern large-scale projects are so complex that they can benefit from a mixture of access solutions, which is why our ability to offer scaffolding, hoists and mast climbers is so advantageous. Our mast climbers have a maximum height of 200m, while our hoists have 22 specialised safety features.
“To raise awareness of the expansion it was decided that a rebrand was necessary, a process that involved a great deal of thought and planning. The idea was originally mooted at board level around 12 months ago, which prompted in-depth discussions about how we could modernise our brand and better reflect the services we can now offer to the market.”
Given that Allied Access has been established for over three decades, the company has a tremendous pedigree within the scaffolding industry. It was therefore careful to not ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ during the rebrand process. “We have developed a really strong reputation over the years and many of the major players within the industry know and respect us having worked with us on a number of large projects. When we held the launch event many of these leading players were in attendance, which really cemented the fact that we had a name worth preserving. We therefore wanted to retain the ‘Allied’ element of the name because it is so strongly associated with us as a business. Ultimately it’s all about raising awareness of our expanded offering, while at the same time underlining the fact that we’re still adhering to the same standards of quality and service that our reputation has been built on. It is definitely more a case of evolution rather than revolution.”
Even with the impressive level of experience that Allied Access has developed within the scaffolding arena, the move into the mast climber and hoist sectors still required a leap of faith into relatively unknown areas of the marketplace. Thankfully meticulous planning and preparation proved to be the key to hitting the ground running and ensuring that the expansion of its portfolio proved to be a fruitful exercise.
“Once the decision was made to broaden our service offering we endeavoured to set about doing everything in the right way to ensure that the infrastructure was in place, from the foundations upwards. One issue we were conscious of was the skills shortage, which has been particularly problematic within the scaffolding sector, where there has been a real dearth of new blood coming into the industry. We have felt it more than most since the recession because fewer people are coming into the scaffolding market, while older employees are retiring. There is a diminishing pool of expertise within the sector so we looked to expand the business in order to be less reliant on those skills. Moving into powered access was the obvious answer to that.
“Another advantage of powered access over scaffolding is the safety element, while the main contractors are increasingly preferring powered access to scaffolding. We were therefore led down the powered access path by both the HSE and our customers.”
Having made the decision, the hard work began as the new business venture had to be created from a standing start. “Other than our experience of working at height, we didn’t really have much familiarity with either mast climbers or hoists,” outlines Mr Ferris. “We therefore looked to bring in people with the relevant expertise from outside the business and recruited some really experienced individuals to head up the hoist and mast climber divisions. Getting the right people in as early as we could has been key to our success in making so much progress in a short period of time.”
Another important factor has been the development of the necessary supply chain to underpin Allied Access’ broadening horizons.
“We looked around the market and in the end we ended up going outside of what is currently available, opting for a firm that we could work with. They were open to our idea of developing our offering, and the enhancements and improvements we were aiming for in terms of speed, capacity and safety. Since working with this particular manufacturer with these products we feel it is superior to what’s available elsewhere within the market.”
Having strived to put all the necessary elements in place, the dividends are well and truly paying off, which is underlined by the rapid rate of progress that is being made.
“By the time we got all our customers together and had finalised the rebrand, most of our hoist and mast climber kit was actually already out onsite,” says Mr Ferris. “If someone had approached us on the official launch day and requested ten mast climbers for the following week we wouldn’t have been able to accommodate them. This was because most of our existing equipment portfolio was already deployed up and down buildings from the Midlands up to the north of the country, especially in Manchester and Liverpool. This really helped to justify our decision to expand our offering.
“To build on this initial success and keep the momentum going, we have an aggressive expansion plan in place to increase our number of machines over the next 12 months as a precursor to further investment in the longer term. We have built growth into our infrastructure and have instilled future capability into our logistics operation. We are now a fully integrated access company with the capacity to expand further as we secure more contracts.
“Of course the skills shortage presents some potential barriers to expansion at the rate that we’re hoping to achieve. In light of this we are concentrating on bringing apprentices and trainees through and bolstering the numbers of people coming into the sector whenever we can. This is something that we need to continually work on, not just from our point of view as an individual company but as an industry as a whole.
“We all knew the skills shortage was coming. It’s certainly not something that should have caught anybody by surprise. Given that it’s on everyone’s radar the construction sector needs to keep asking itself how it can improve and attract new talent. To its credit our representative body, NASC, works extremely hard to raise the profile of construction and scaffolding, but it remains an ongoing issue that we all need to address.
“Putting the skills shortage aside, everything else is in place as we have a forward plan for the next three years with our financial stakeholders, so the capital is there to make further expansion possible, in turn allowing us to tap into the potential that the market is currently seeing.”
In terms of what’s driving this opportunity, the highly publicised issues with cladding on high rise properties all over the country will see a growing need for mast climbers and hoists. “The sector is expanding but only at a fairly slow rate. It’s still to be determined who pays for all the recladding but one thing’s for certain is that it will have to be done at some point and mast climbers will almost certainly be the most common way of addressing the issues. What’s more, if you look around Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool then you will quickly realise that everyone is building higher and higher, which also leads contractors down a powered access path. This is another opportunity that we’re keen to leverage.”
This continual quest to spot the next opportunity for growth has been a hallmark of Allied Access since its creation and has been a factor behind its longevity, as has its ongoing commitment to investment in its people, plant and processes.
“We have a substantial stock of equipment in scaffolding and we continue to invest in this area too, in addition to our three-year plan to bring in more hoists and mast climbers,” highlights Mr Ferris. “The trickiest part involves building our skills base within the engineering, installations and operations aspects by bringing the right people through and training them to the necessary level. They are the challenges, but the work is out there for the foreseeable future, particularly with the major high rise developments and the recladding that will need to be carried out within the next five years. We have the infrastructure to deliver this work.
“As for expanding into other areas, we are always looking at potential additions if we feel they’d be of value, but we have been very busy getting the hoist and mast climber businesses off the ground and moving, so this will be our priority in the immediate future. We will never say never and are always looking for what we can do next to improve the business offering further. We’re very ambitious with a long term plan in place, but at the heart of this approach is the fact that we do things from a quality perspective underpinned by constant investment to ensure we keep delivering on our service promises.”
With such a strong emphasis on quality, combined with a commitment to developing new revenue streams where possible, it is easy to see how Allied Access has been established for so long. Following its rebrand and its move into mast climbers and hoists, the company looks well placed to build further on its already impressive history in the years ahead.