Plantworx sows seeds for British success

Just weeks before the Plantworx 2013 construction machinery show – which takes place from May 14 to 16 – the event’s organisers had to make an urgent and controversial decision about the event’s layout.
Harsh winter weather prevented the grass growing in the allocated field at the Stoneleigh Park venue, in Warwickshire. At Easter, it became clear the field could not host the exhibitors.
“There was no hope that enough grass would grow in time and if we had had April showers we’d have been in a quagmire,” said Plantworx Event Director Simon Frere-Cook. “We could have had a very messy show on a field looking like the Battle of the Somme. Experts advised us to move into two neighbouring permanent pasture fields. After a lot of soul-searching we did so. There was some dismay because we had to fit a quart into two pint pots of different shapes, but it was the right decision.”
The move disrupted agricultural activities at Stoneleigh Park, but the owners were accommodating. “The two smaller fields had been booked for car parking facilities so another field had to be made available for cars. This meant that Stoneleigh lost a hay crop and we had to pay financial compensation. But it will suit the visitors well as they will be right next door to the show once they get out of their cars,” said Frere-Cook.

The layout is different to the original one. The big demonstration stands are at the top in a line rather than scattered throughout. But the move to the new fields has gone well. They are blessed with firm ground and good grass and everything is running ahead of schedule.
“This show means a tremendous amount to the British industry. They haven’t had a show for four years since the demise of SED. The industry is champing at the bit. It will send a strong message to the powers-that-be that it’s a vibrant industry and itching to get to work and it will also send the same message to the international side,” said Frere-Cook.
The British construction machinery industry has partially recovered from the crash of 2008-09, and Plantworx could provide it with the impetus it needs. According to Rob Oliver, the Chief Executive of the Construction Equipment Association – the driving force behind Plantworx.
Oliver said: “The key thing is when business confidence returns and you have a majority of companies feeling more confident and a minority feeling less confident. That’s when you get deals done. Plantworx can certainly help with that. It’s about bringing together the key players – the manufacturers, plant hire companies, specifiers and contractors. They will see a lot of new kit on display and get up to speed with the latest equipment and techniques. Hopefully, it will stimulate business. The UK industry has been missing this sort of opportunity to get together since the demise of the SED show four years ago,” he said.

Oliver says the overall picture for the British construction machinery manufacturers is rather complex. The industry exports 75% of its machines and so is heavily reliant on foreign construction markets. The global picture is mixed, but there are some good signs of recovery in some important markets.
“The European market as a whole is down with the figures from Spain and Italy quite horrendous, but the German market looks like being up a bit this year and there are other strong patches in Europe, such as Sweden, which avoided the worst of the recession,” said Oliver.
There are also signs of renewed growth in markets further afield. “The North American market is starting to rebound and China, which is important for our members, is also bouncing back,” said Oliver. “The Chinese market, though, is a tricky one. China has invested heavily in production capacity and over the last 18 months, demand had dropped off a bit. It might come back a bit, but there is so much equipment manufactured in China that the stock inventories are quite high.”
The Indian and African markets have also become more significant for British exporters. “There has been a long association with India. JCB, for example, have been in that market for more than 30 years and have several factories there. Now Africa is also becoming more interesting. JCB produced new export figures a few weeks ago, showing a 10% rise in African sales,” he said.
The Plantworx organisers are well aware of the importance of overseas markets and have invited the UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) – the Government department charged with helping British companies succeed globally – to take part. The UKTI, which has representatives in 100 countries, will offer free one-to-one meetings with their market specialists, as well as international buyers from Algeria, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

“The UKTI are the supporters of British trade in the overseas camps, so to bring them to Plantworx to brief everyone about the capabilities of the British industry is vital,” said Oliver. “They are supporting two overseas groups at Plantworx – a party of commercial visitors from British embassies around the world and a small group of overseas buyers.”
Oliver believes the British construction machinery industry has certain competitive advantages in the global market. One of its major strengths is the emergence of niche manufacturers.
“There are smaller British companies supplying safety-related equipment, or accessories for machines, or designing machine management software. It’s wrong to characterise construction equipment as just large machines. There’s a higher degree of sophistication now and we’re good at that. We’ve also seen legislation from Brussels which restricts noise and gas and particulate emissions. Lots of British companies have done well keeping up with the environmental legislation,” he said.
Another strength of the British industry has been attracting inward investment from big foreign manufacturers. Global giants, such as Caterpillar, Komatsu and Terex, have bases in the UK. “We are embedded in the multi-national set-up. It becomes complex to say what British machinery is. There aren’t that many companies that are only British-owned, but there’s a lot of work going on,” said Oliver.
The overseas markets are so important to British firms that they can compensate for the slightly sluggish home market. According to the leading industry analyst, David Phillips from Off Highway Research, United Kingdom, the home market has only partially recovered from the financial crash.
“Following the terrible depression after the crash of 2008-2009, when the market was only 40% what it was in 2007, there has been a recovery of sorts, although we can never expect demand to return to its previous peak,” he said. “Then demand was unsustainable, fuelled by cheap financing and the belief the market would grow forever, but the crash brought the industry to reality. Since the depths of demand in 2009, the industry has recovered by about 50%, which sounds good, but it is from a very low base.”
Some sections of the market have recovered better than others, however. The relatively strong agricultural economy helped the telehandler market, for example, with sales of almost 7,000 units in 2012 being a high since 2008.
Author: David W. Smith
Photos: Plantworx