The second of our strategic priorities is constantly improving our operational capability and effectiveness, doing what we do to the very best of our ability. Customer service is a crucial element of this and we continue to build market share because we are in the right locations and providing better equipment with a higher quality of service than our competitors. Our reputation and quality of service is now such that when we open a new location, that store moves quickly up the revenue curve because we are already well known for what we do and how we do it. Our mantra is that our customers’ rental experience should be one of Availability, Reliability and Ease. Getting these aspects right helps drive growth.

We want our customers to be delighted by our service and our culture empowers staff to do the right thing and get things done. The Ashtead culture is one of empowered entrepreneurship where staff pay just as much attention to our smaller customers as to our larger ones. Maintaining low staff turnover and a strong safety culture are crucial to our strategy for operational excellence.

In the US, we have three main categories of customers whose service needs vary depending on their size. Our smallest customers have rental revenue spend with us of less than $20,000 a year but represent 96% of our customers by number. These smaller customers tend to require higher levels of service but can incur a higher transactional cost. Our medium sized customers often need equipment for longer periods of time and can command a discounted service. Our largest customers are our national accounts who have large-scale and often very sophisticated requirements. We have gained significant market share in all types of customer due, in part, to the strength of the relationships we build.

Our focus on operational excellence across the board drives our financial performance. Improving operational efficiency is an ongoing focus and we constantly strive to maintain high levels of fleet on rent, improve the organisation of our stores, analyse how we load our delivery trucks and optimise our delivery and pick-up routes and how we spend time at the customer location, for example. As with any multi-location business, all locations are good at some of this, some locations are good at all of it – our goal is for all locations to continuously raise the bar.

Technology plays an increasingly large part in delivering Availability, Reliability and Ease to customers, as we develop proprietary applications to improve the rental process. It is an area of significant investment and during the year we rolled out a new proprietary system which captures the initial order and takes it all the way through to delivery of the equipment across 90% of the business in North America. This fundamentally changes the way we operate and we are already developing the second generation of this system as we focus on the ‘Ease’ of Availability, Reliability and Ease. Central to our digital eco-system in the US is CommandCenter, including a mobile app, where customers can see and manage everything to do with their account. They can track what equipment they have on rent, order new items from the entire range, see what they have rented recently, request service or a pickup, extend their contract, see store locations, log their favourite equipment, etc.. Our sales reps have access to all of this information, as well as a very powerful customer relationship management tool, Accelerate, which enables them to find where available equipment is located, customer contacts, preferences and potential needs, and all other information relevant to serving the customer. Finally, our Vehicle Delivery Optimisation System is used by dispatchers to manage pickup and delivery of equipment at job sites, and schedule drivers who are able to access it on their mobile phones. We have been using the online system to enable low contact and curb-side pickup and drop-off during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are vast amounts of data behind these applications which we utilise to make efficiency gains, add depth to our growth strategy and provide more accurate strategic forecasts. We have similar tools in the UK and in Canada.