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5th January 1995, Page 30
5th January 1995
Page 30
Page 31
Page 30, 5th January 1995 — Li i?,.11.11,i2fry Jr?gcsjer aettJey \Jvgn at at) trair:;tcir unit Trir at
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It's nice to be wise after the event. The real trick is to be wise before it. So when San dbach-basedspecialist haulier Roger Bettley started to feel the first chill winds of recession blowing six years ago he acted fast.

Up till 1988 Bettley had been earning a comfortable living in various specialist sectors of road haulage including tanker work and brick haulage. After jointly setting up Bulkhaul, the Middlesbrough-based tank container company, Bettley sold his stake in the business in 1986 before returning to his home town of Sandbach.

"I had a niche to fill, we bought the site here with some of the money I'd got from Bulkhaul and got some brick trailers and it seemed to escalate from there. We were in a mini-boom in the mid eighties and things got busier and busier," recalls Bettley.


"Everything we touched was coming right, people knew we had space and builders merchants were struggling for storage so we ended up storing millions of bricks for various merchants."

As the brick business grew so did Bettley's fleet. "I was buying a new eight-wheeler from Foclen every two or three months at this point we could do no wrong. We started Associated Brick Supplies which is a builders' merchants specialising in bricks and blocks and we took on one of the very first Foden 4000 Series running it with disguised panels."

Alongside the Fodens Bettley also bought two Leyland Daf 95 Series tractors for a slate contract. Then came the first tremors of recession through the construction industry.

"All of a sudden in 1988 things began to tighten up in the business, money was getting expensive, costs were increasing. We went from making a six-figure profit to a loss in 12 months. By the end of 1988 we felt we'd really got to sharpen our pencils and look at costs," says Bettley. "I looked at the whole fleet and saw we just weren't commanding rates for eight-wheelers."

He acted swiftly: "The recession hadn't bit that deep, there were still other companies riding the crest of the wave so we put the whole fleet of eight-wheelers up for sale, quickly disposed of them and settled the HP agreements and got out very nicely."

It proved to be a wise move as Bettley since discovered: "Brick haulage companies that didn't respond as quickly as we did went bump—many have tried comebacks and they've all failed miserably."

While Bettley's prompt action meant he could batten down the hatches earlier than most he's still had to fight for survival like others in the industry, "We've had five tough years of it but right now business is good, it's been very steady throughout the year."

Once again some shrewd niche marketing has helped Bettley restore his fortunes. Since pulling out of brick haulage Bettley has moved back into tanker work and last January his business received an extra boost when he won a 38-tonne tractor for 12 months in the joint Commercial Motor/Seddon Atkinson "Win a Strato" competition.

Six months ago CM carried a mid-term report on how the Strato has been performing in Bettley's fleet. From day one it has been working on bulk liquid transport for customers such as Hays Chemicals.

Back in July '94 Bettley reckoned the L10powered Strata compared favourably with the other trucks in his 10-strong fleet. Since then L776 LEH has continued to earn its keep—although not without incident.

The 0-rings where the metal feed pipes enter the heater kept bursting and on one occasion the water flooded the footwell.

"The dealer couldn't mend it at the time so we had to bodge it," reports Bettley. "We bypassed the heater and the driver had to manage without a heater for two weeks."


Local SA dealer Parton's had it back and sorted it. At the same time they also replaced the pipe which leads from the block to the heater.

It had been routed close to the manifold with the result that a hole was melted in it, causing water to again be lost from the cooling circuit.

An exhaust stay leading from the battery box to tailpipe broke. Partons welded it up; it broke again and Bettley welded it up. Finally a new stay was fitted and that seems to be holding. The radio packed up: it couldn't be switched off and the aerial fell off. That's in hand.

More mysteriously the Strato has developed the habit of jumping out of second gear. It has been adjusted once and is going back in, Wiper blade arms are also rubbing on the lift up grille. And the hose from the inter-cooler radiator to turbo blew off twice.

Despite the problems Bettley remains sanguine about its performance: "They're niggling little faults, that's all they are. The driveline is something I've believed in for years. It's the first Euro-1 Cummins we've had and it knocks spots off the old Lb. It pulls its little heart outl Fuel's coining in at 825mpg—but that's with running a blowing out with the Drum compressor. I reckon it's more than satisfactory," he says.

While some operators might question Bealey's pragmatism he has no doubt of the Seddon's potential in the long run.

If you compare it to the likes of a mass-produced vehicle where there's hundreds going down the assembly line, those kind of vehicles tend to be trouble free from day one. But when you come to oneoffs like Seddon Atkinson you tend to get your niggly faults in the first year but once the vehicle's bedded in you'll get several years of motoring and the Strata falls into that category. Once you've eliminated those early problems you've got a good vehicle.'' Bettley also has praise for his dealer backup. "The fellas at Partons are good. In fairness it's down to the current climate where people aren't overstocking on parts and that's caused one or two little problems. Next day becomes next week and that doesn't always fit in with us with our schedules. But I can't fault the dealer. They've been keen to see the motor's going OK. I've been more than satisfied."

And so to the $64,000 question: Will Bettley buy the Strata after enjoying 12 months' free use?

The price would have to be really, really atb-active because currently there's so many

good offers going about that unless it was favourable, with it being the only Seddon Atkinson in the fleet, and with us having IS09002 we're trying to standardise on the amount of suppliers. But the driveline's right and we'll have a look at it, At the end of the day the truck fits in with what we'd like," says Bettley.

Winning the Strato has had other benefits for Bettley although he's resisted the temptation to take up gambling full time: "It's done our image a world of good. Still, I haven't bought a lottery ticket. I don't think I could be lucky twice!"

71 by Brian Weatherley

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