Belfast Telegraph

Belfast breakdown firm creates 10 jobs in £750k investment

By Yvette Shapiro

A Belfast truck maintenance company is creating 10 new jobs as part of a £750,000 investment in technology.

Serviceco runs a UK-wide breakdown and servicing operation from a 24 hour control centre in Belfast docks. It operates like an AA for trucks, with a 230-strong team of service engineers across Britain, Ireland and Europe.

Major customers include DHL, Heatons and Wincanton, which delivers goods to Tesco.

Serviceco also looks after Sports Direct's fleet, a contract worth £250,000 a year, and the Uniserve fleet, which will bring in around £500,000 next year.

"We have to keep pushing the technology to keep ahead in this sector," said general manager Sam O'Prey. "Our control centre is almost paperless and everything is in real time. One of the major pieces of technology used by our service engineers out on the road is the digital pen. We were a market leader when it was developed about five years ago. The service engineers work with iPad apps and the information flow is instantaneous."

Once a driver calls in a breakdown or problem with a vehicle, the entire operation is overseen by controllers in Belfast. Customers can also review the up-to-date service status of their fleet, an important feature for health and safety, says Sam.

"If you've got a 40 tonne piece of kit going down a motorway, you want to know everything about its maintenance and reliability. Records have to be flawless, that's what's expected in the business.

"We deal with about 35 breakdowns a day and, apart from each vehicle's annual MOT, trucks have to be serviced every 12 weeks, under the law. Our investment in technology allows us to keep on top of everything."

Serviceco is part of the Hireco group, which was set up in Dublin 30 years ago, before establishing bases in Belfast and in Great Britain. In February, it reported pre-tax profits of £1.13m on turnover of £18.25m, up from £14.81m the previous year.

The company rents trucks and trailers to customers all over Ireland and the UK. Its UK fleet stands at 5,000 vehicles, with a further 1,100 in Ireland. Hireco has a close relationship with the Co Antrim trailer manufacturer, SDC, placing £18m worth of orders with the firm in the past two years

"Our fleet has doubled in the past five years and we've spent £25m in the past year alone," said finance director Canice Mallaghan. "We're now the third largest fleet operator in the UK, larger than well-known companies like Stobart."

Canice said the company was not adversely affected by the recession, for a very simple reason: "People did not want to lay out money on vehicles, so they preferred to rent, and we benefited from that. But there has been a marked improvement in the economy, based on pent-up demand.

"We're a good barometer for the economy, because if our trucks are standing still, then goods aren't moving. Right now, it's very busy.

"We're moving a lot of food and construction accounts for about 10% of the fleet. In that market, we've added more flat trailers to our Republic of Ireland fleet, for moving diggers and bricks, etc. And here in Northern Ireland, Caterpillar is one of our biggest customers."

General manager Sam O'Prey added: "Our assets cover 1.2m miles on the road each week. We expect to see that figure increase significantly towards the Christmas period.

"So much of what people will find under the tree and in the oven this Christmas will have been delivered by our assets."

Belfast Telegraph