Good cop, bad cop
By Mike Travers
They say a change is as good as a rest. Try telling that to Brian Young.
The boss of Molson Young Plant Sales, Scotland’s most successful multi-franchise dealer, has just reached the end of a whirlwind 12 months during which he sold the business, prepared for the imminent departure into retirement of his right-hand man, recruited a new sales team, added yet another high-profile franchise to the portfolio and regained distribution rights to two others.
Not enough? Well he’s expanded the Doune headquarters via the acquisition of three workshops and extra yard space, has plans to open a depot in the north and has just welcomed his son Joe as the third generation of the family business.
So, after a year of intense upheaval how rested is he? “It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster and it certainly hasn’t been restful! Everybody said I would breathe a huge sigh of relief after all the changes but I’ve never done that in the business and I can’t do it now.”
By far the biggest change was the decision to sell the business to Molson Group, a deal that happened almost by accident. Molson had been looking for a service centre in Scotland to provide support for its range of environmental equipment and Molson Young Plant was keen to get involved in the recycling and waste handling business. Brian explained: “From there we got into further discussions about the long-term future of our businesses with the result that they now own all shares in the business. Molson Young Plant Sales became part of the Molson Group.”
There was common ground between the two: Like Molson Young Plant, Molson is a multi-franchise operation and a Hyundai dealer (the biggest in Europe). It’s also the largest Kobelco dealer in Europe and it made sense to have Young handle that brand north of the border, an arrangement that was rubber-stamped by Kobelco executives after visiting Young’s headquarters. However, before that could happen, Brian and sales director Bob Lyttle had to convince the manufacturers they were already representing – especially those with products competing against Molton’s franchises – that the acquisition would not affect their interests. Significantly, all agreed to place their trust in the status quo.
On other franchises, the past year has seen Molson Young Plant reconnect with two manufacturers it previously represented; Italian telehandler firm Dieci (YPS will handle the construction range) and Thwaites dumpers (back home in the Young yard after a number of years being distributed by Stewart Plant Sales.
One constant throughout the years has been Kubota, the brand on which the business was built. No other franchise is allowed to compete. “Kobelco do similar-size machines but we won’t be marketing those, in the same way we don’t market Hyundai’s smaller machines.”
The Kubota statistics over the last four decades are impressive: Molson Young Plant has supplied around 8,000 new machines since becoming the main dealer in 1979 and is the longest serving mini excavator dealer in the UK. It has been the largest supplier of minis worldwide on five occasions.
Before the Molson takeover, Young was already in need of extra space so it was opportune when adjacent premises became available, including three workshops that allowed greater scope for equipment preparation. “If we are doing a demolition or forestry machine it can be as much as 150 hours of labour preparing all the add-ons such as ram guards, underbody protection, cages etc. And once the welding is finished there’s a lot of painting so this would hold up work on mini diggers, dumpers and rollers. At the same time, the additional yard space has allowed increased stockholding for faster delivery times.”
Equipment and premises apart, there has also been the not inconsequential matter of Bob Lyttle’s retirement to be addressed (see story below). A plant industry veteran, Lyttle joined forces with Brian 17 years ago, the partnership sealed at a meeting in the salubrious surroundings of a Little Chef restaurant, and has made what Brian acknowledges as a “huge” contribution to the business. Together, the pair have steered the business through major expansion, culminating in the most recent five-year plan that targeted, and achieved, 15% growth per annum in spite of very difficult trading conditions.
To help fill the void left by Lyttle’s departure, Celia Norton was recently recruited as sales and business development manager. She brings extensive global experience of selling and marketing industrial equipment. She’s been joined by Christina Neil who has sales experience with a number of manufacturers and dealers and is also a qualified plant operator. Christina is responsible for heavyline sales of the Hyundai and Kobelco products in central and southern Scotland, sharing that role with Gordon Greenall. Andy Wilson continues to handle light equipment sales in the west of Scotland.
Reinforcing the family connection is Brian’s son Joe, (21), who has worked in the workshop and parts department over the last five summers. He’s just completed a degree in chemistry at Heriot-Watt University but, given a choice of continuing in education for another year to gain an honours degree or to enter the equipment industry full time, has plumped for a plant career. It’s a situation Brian can relate to; he’d earned a degree in zoology before joining his father and company founder Tom back in the late ‘70s.
Daughter Natalie, (19), has also expressed some interest in continuing the family line. She’s at Glasgow Caledonian University doing media studies and has worked with her father during holidays. “It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that she might enter the business at some point on the marketing side of the business,” says Brian.
The forward-planning nature of all these latest developments might suggest that Brian Young is making preparations for an early exit but it’s a notion he’s quick to dismiss. “I want to make it quite clear to customers that I’m going nowhere. Initially I agreed with Molson that I would remain as managing director for a minimum two years and I recently agreed I would extend that for another two so I will still be in the business three years from now. Molson have a ‘hands off’ approach and they want me to continue to be managing director and to run the business. Anyway, I’ve just bought a new pair of work boots and I intend to get my money’s worth out of them!”
There’s also a landmark year to look forward to: 2018 will mark his 60th birthday, his 25th wedding anniversary and Molson Young Plant’s 40th year in business. And there are new premises to be acquired in the north to improve after sales support and to give better access to stock for the northern sales managers.
It looks like Brian Young will have to wait a few more years for that rest.
A Lyttle bit of a laugh
As this latest chapter in the Molson Young Plant history nears completion it also marks the departure of sales director and in-house joker Bob Lyttle.
He’s been with Molson Young Plant for 17 years, a partnership that was sealed in a Little Chef roadside restaurant. “I remember that meeting well,” recalled Bob. “The vision Brian had for the company at that time was easy to buy into and things have worked out better than even we imagined. At that time the business was turning over around £3.5m a year. Last year it was £15m.
“It’s been a great business to be in for the last 40-odd years. I’ve seen places I wouldn’t have seen otherwise and I’ve worked with some real plant professionals over the years, people like Gavin Shanks [North British Tractors], Stevie Bryant [Scot-JCB], Marshall Rankin [Reekie Komatsu], and Brian himself. You learn a bit from each. I’ve been very fortunate over the years to have made many good friends who started out as customers and hopefully those friendships will continue after my retirement.
“I still get the same adrenaline rush with a sale as I did when I got my first deal, for a second-hand John Deere 410 to a customer in Tayinloan in Argyll back in 1974.” So why go now? “With all the changes taking place, the timing is right,” he says. “And I’m leaving at a time when the business is in great shape.”
But it won’t be all slippers and gardening. “My two sons have a wee building business and I’ll help out with that. Probably as a labourer!”
Lyttle started with North British Tractors (NBT) in 1974 and teamed up with Brian in 2001. Three years later Molson Young Plant bought NBT in a deal that secured the Thwaites, Bomag and Compair franchises. “Those three brands were the reason we bought NBT,” says Brian. “I’d been pursuing those dealerships for a long time and had been speaking to the manufacturers but to be fair to them they were very loyal to NBT. At the end of the day the only way we were going to get them was to go and buy the dealer. We still have those brands – we lost Thwaites for a while to Stewart Plant Sales but got it back – and it’s been a great business for us.”
Brian acknowledges Lyttle’s huge contribution to the company. “He’s brought professionalism, loyal customers and his humour. Business is usually quite light-hearted with Bob and customers appreciate that. There are no easy deals. Margins are tight and negotiations can sometimes be tense so being able to have a few laughs is very important. It’s great for morale here in the office as well.
“That humour will be sadly missed. Hopefully I can be the joker when Bob’s gone. We’ve always had this ‘good cop, bad cop’ thing so I want to bring somebody in to be the bad cop so I can get to be good cop for a change!”
Lyttle, as ever, has the last word. “I came into this business with nothing…and I’ve still got most of it left.”