The recession hit the LCV sector hard, and van storage systems firm Bott was not immune to the impact. However, boss Kevin Woodward reckons the firm is now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The company has just opened a new showroom and head office as a result of a £600,000 investment, which has extended the facility by 3,500sq ft. The firm has also taken on 60 new staff in the past six months, most of whom are vehicle fitment engineers. More than three-quarters of the 180-strong workforce at Ashby de la Zouch come from within a 10-mile radius as Bott puts a great deal of store in supporting its local community. Woodward believes the dedication of the workforce at its Leicestershire centre in Ashby de la Zouch is second to none.
With some understatement Woodward admits 2008, when the light commercial vehicle sector plummeted by 43%, was “tough”.
Undaunted, the company has now re-hired more than half of the employees it was forced to lay off and also went ahead with a £1.2m investment in a new fitting centre.
“It took a lot of courage to do that,” he says.
Woodward claims the expansion, which was mirrored by the opening of larger premises in Cumbernauld, Scotland, has left the business in a stronger position going forward.
“The improved Ashby de la Zouch premises reflect the needs of both our customers and staff. We believe the refurbishment, in particular the modern, stylish showroom will really improve the customer experience.”
But although Woodward reckons the market is “on its way back” he is not convinced it will recover to pre-recession levels.
In an astute move to raise the firm’s profile as well as reducing costs and boosting its green credentials, Bott has assigned VW T5 Combi vans, fitted with new, lightweight Vario racking units, to its sales team instead of using a mixture of traditional company cars with vans.
“We cover two things with one vehicle and do our bit for the environment,” says Woodward.
He adds that Bott gets another “green tick” for fitting a customer’s existing racking system to their new vans when they renew their fleet.
Bott launched its Vario storage system at the CV Show in April. It claims the half-aluminium modular system is 30% lighter than existing structures, which makes it both safer for the van’s occupants and more fuel-efficient too. The reduced weight of the racking and shelving also increases the van’s payload capacity.
The company’s other racking units include Modulo, specifically aimed at small and car-derived vans, and Uno, which is a lower-cost package Woodward claims is ideally suited to sole traders.
Bott’s Ashby hub (it also has a parts factory in Bude, Cornwall, as well as the small operation in Cumernauld) fits out 10,000 vans a year. These are mainly volume jobs for large fleets such as BT, Caterpillar, British Gas and Virgin, but also include one-off specialist conversions for utility companies and the emergency services in particular. Woodward says it typically costs about £1800 to £2000 to kit out a van such as a Ford Transit with a racking system.
The Ashby facility has the capacity to hold 1300 vans on its main fleet site. The vehicles are delivered straight from the boat to the centre when they arrive from the manufacturer’s factories. Pre-delivery inspections are undertaken on site and the vast majority of light commercial vehicles are also liveried to the customers’ specification in the decal wrapping unit before heading off to work.
The specialist jobs the firm undertakes are usually for utility companies such as Severn Trent Water or the emergency services, it has recently won a contract with West Midlands Police. However, one of its most intriguing assignments is in kitting out heavy duty vehicles as bomb disposal vehicles bound for a client in the Middle East. This year it claims to have completed 10 such conversions. It’s all part of the service.