Perthshire plant hire giant Morris Leslie was hit hard by the Covid 19 pandemic, however the company was struggling before that because of Brexit. Six months before Covid 19 shut down building sites and locked down the UK the company had already experienced tough times. Uncertainty because of Brexit had caused building projects to be shut down or paused, so demand for plant hires and sales were already falling. This slowdown caused an oversupply of construction equipment meaning more competition and so reduced prices. Then Covid 19 hit and the group’s vehicle auctions and Sunday car boot market were shut down.
In March and April last year Morris Leslie filed losses of a huge £9.2 million. To protect the company, 40 redundancies were made in summer 2020. The group operations director Graham Ogilvie recalled: “The challenge at that point was nobody knew what was ahead of us and how quickly things would come back. You had to plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
“The plant hire business is very capital intensive. If assets are out on hire they are generating revenue. If they are not then you’re paying for them.”
Morris Leslie spends millions each year on new equipment, ensuring its fleet is modern, then a team of staff resell the machinery in the worldwide market. However in the second quarter of last 2020 the company stopped buying completely in an effort to cut costs.
In May though the national housebuilders came back to work, which caused the situation to improve. Mr Ogilvie said “July, August… each month got better and since September it’s been full steam ahead.”
“The last quarter of the year has been far busier than we forecasted. I don’t think anyone last March would have predicted the position we are now in.
“Demand for houses is so strong at the moment. If we can get our hands on more machines, we will.”
This boom has meant Morris Leslie has been able to hire 15 more staff in 2021 and the group is looking to spend a record £70m on 1,500 pieces of new equipment this year.
“For the financial year just finished, we made a profit of around £1.5m – a great turnaround,” the operations director said. It exceeded everyone’s expectations and we’re on an upward trajectory again.”
Morris Leslie is planning to build a £34 million leisure hub in West Kinfauns near to Perth. This development will include a four-star hotel and lodge-style cabins. As well as a transport museum and retail space. It projects on completion the hub will welcome 80,000 visitors a year and support 170 jobs mainly in hospitality, retail and leisure.
The Company founder and chairman of Morris Leslie has his heart set on this development Mr Ogilvie said. “He is desperate for Perth to regain some status as at the moment someone coming from Edinburgh to Dundee might bypass Perth. We want to bring something to the area to keep people here and spending money in Perth.”
The firm will submit a planning application next month for this huge venture.