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Hire calling: customer is king

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When you think about it, the hire business more than any other industrial supplier has historically lived or died on the highest levels of customer service. It goes with the territory.

If this is so, then Coates Hire , alive for 120 years, must be doing customer service exceedingly well.

When John Coates opened an engineering office in Collins Street, Melbourne in late 1885 there is no way he saw it growing into the $1bn, 170-branch and Australia-wide business of today.

Coates Hire has its origins in the manufacture of the Vibroll vibratory roller just after WW2. The roller was so innovative that to attract customers the company introduced a “try before you buy” policy.

It immediately proved popular and management quickly recognised the value of this new business model. Coates Hire was born. By the 1960s it ceased manufacturing altogether and at the time of the merger with ANI in 1972 Coates Hire was already Australia’s largest hire company.

The company’s connection with the mining industry dates back to its inception when it built gasification works for boom towns like Bendigo in the Victorian goldfields and also made heavy equipment for the mines.

Today, it hires that equipment.

Coates Hire managing director and CEO Malcolm Jackman tells Australian Mining that Coates’ core competency is asset management.

“We create value for our customers by managing assets through their life cycle – acquisition, utilisation, maintenance and disposal – better than our customers can do for themselves,” Jackman says.

“Our customers tell us they want solutions, not just products, and that is where we are heading,” he says.

“As Coates has grown we have enhanced our ability to become a solutions provider. Our product extension strategy, development of key services offerings like training and shutdowns, and our strategic acquisitions such as buying Allied Equipment this year mean that in key customer segments like mining we can provide the complete solution: from the smallest hand tool to site sheds to massive pieces of yellow iron.”

Jackman says one of the great advantages of the company’s long existence is its privileged relationship with customers.

“We have been through the highs and lows of the Australian economic cycle right along side our customers and it is in our interest to ensure their success, therefore, we play a partnering role,” Jackman says.

“Our longevity also means we have built up a wealth of valuable experience among our staff and management team, which we pass on to our customers. Sometimes the depth of relationship we have with our customers means we see things coming ahead of our competitors.”

Jackman says Coates realises reliability is a key driver for its customers, especially in mining where downtime costs big dollars.

“We ensure reliability in a number of ways. Firstly, we keep the fleet as modern and up-to-date as we can with constant acquisitions of new gear from reliable OEMs and regularly dispose of older gear that does not meet our high standards.

“Secondly, we work hard at our maintenance program. Every piece of equipment is managed through our Silver Service maintenance program, and our checks and processes are constantly under review by a team of experts. In fact, some of our people are called on by OEMs for advice.

“Finally, all our branches around Australia have on-site maintenance capability for regular and preventative maintenance; and they’re backed up by mobile service teams that respond quickly to any breakdowns, even in remote locations,” Jackman says.

It seems hardly surprising then that the first article of faith in the Coates Way philosophy is “relentless customer focus”.

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