Tony Marsh bundles products to offer clients valuable versatility.
By Sigrid Tornquist
One of the benefits of packaging product lines is that you can offer value and continuity to clients,” says Tony Marsh, managing director and owner of L.H.Woodhouse & Co. Ltd., Nottinghamshire, U.K. “We’re not the cheapest, but at the end of the day it’s a value equation, and Woodhouse gives value.” Marsh bought the more than century-old-business from the Woodhouse family in 1995, inheriting its skilled workforce but outdated products. At that time the business operated a metals fabrication shop and a joinery shop alongside the core hire business. Marsh purchased the hire and joinery operations and focused the diverse hire product lines on its current core offering of marquees, grandstands, temporary stables and trackways.
Marsh identified gaps within the well-established U.K. show and event market in which his company could continue to be a significant player—the smaller commercial tenting for exhibitors and traders and temporary stabling supply. “We see ourselves as a large small-tenter,” Marsh says. “Though our tents span mainly 6 meters, we have a huge stock of them, as well as more than 3,000 stables—so we suit the markets we serve.” Those markets most often include agricultural shows (state fairs), equestrian events, and game fairs and outdoor sporting events, all of which lend themselves nicely to the complementary products Marsh’s company offers—open and covered grandstands and trackways (ground protection). “The big seating providers aren’t interested in a 275-seat grandstand. They are chasing larger opportunities,” he says. “We are interested, though. And we can provide trackways to protect the ground during installation that they can also use for parking and/or access.”
Managing those assets can be a challenge with multiple product lines. “When you have more than one type of product you’re always having to make a decision as to which product you’re going to invest in—and since 1995 we’ve done a lot,” Marsh says. “You have to allocate the resources spread out over the product lines.” Demand drives the percentages of the allocation, he says. He also bases the decision on the product type and term of contracts the company secures. “We do a lot of three-year contracts [with clients],” Marsh says. “We like the security that gives us—we lock the contracts in with a cost-of-living increase on an annual basis.”
Review and renew
Marsh makes sure to visit the shows on a rotating basis to keep abreast of his clients’ needs and aspirations. “I take pictures of the installed product and make sure the primary client is happy,” he says. “I ask them: Is there anything you want to change next year? Are we dealing on the same basis? And most importantly, are they happy with this years’ overall service and do they still believe they are getting good value?”
In addition to visiting shows to renew and review existing client relationships, at the same time Marsh keeps an eye on the competition. Always on the lookout for complementary product lines and business distribution areas, he measures what other hire companies are offering against what may benefit his clients.
Trained as a civil/structural engineer, Marsh brings that background into play when assessing opportunities in areas of development. In July 2008, his business introduced its innovative temporary stable barns. The Woodhouse team of Marsh, his general manager Peter Cook and the skilled, experienced workforce created a new design, which directly addressed the improvements sought by valued equestrian clients. They established design parameters and enlisted fellow IFAI member J & J Carter Ltd., Hampshire, U.K., to manufacture the rounded clearspan roof. Satisfied with the result, Marsh’s next concern was marketing the new barns. He first introduced the new barns by offering a trial to existing clients. “We asked if they would mind if we used these instead of the traditional back-to-back stables,” he says. “By the end of the year we’d seeded the idea and now we have an industry winning product, for which our clients are signing up early to secure supply in 2011 and beyond.”
Currently his company is involved in a joint venture with Pathway Mats Inc., a Canadian company that specializes in innovative temporary roadway mats made from reinforced recycled tire crumbs. Woodhouse acts as the U.K. distributor for the company, and Marsh is working with it on a lightweight hire product. While the design is complete, the new Plateau mat is now awaiting production trials.
Contributing to the health of the specialty fabrics industry, and the safety practices of the industry, is important to Marsh. He is president of MUTA, a trade association for the U.K. temporary structures and technical textiles industries. “As a trade association, we’ve put a lot of investment over the last five years in establishing and developing an independent inspectorate and skills training program,” he says. “Within the MUTA inspectorate we have one full-time inspector who visits shows and events throughout the country. His role is to observe and advise member companies on site on safe installation and removal of their product(s) and to conduct integrity audits of completed installations. In low season he assists with the training program.”
One of MUTA’s goals, Marsh says, is to improve temporary industry safety standards by encouraging event organizers and clients of every type to use only skilled and competent contractors as evidenced by the association’s membership register. “We’re working more closely with organizers, local authorities and licensing officers to make sure they know about competent, safe installation,” Marsh says. “We offer our inspectorate to go with the opinion-formers to an installation and point out what s/he should be looking for. It’s in the industry’s best interest to make sure s/he’s got the skills and experience to ensure the product is safe for the public.”
Though Marsh is proud of the high service levels his company provides, it is attention to the innovative products that are the foundation for those services—making sure that the product is designed to meet the clients’ needs in the most efficient way possible, putting the right products together to streamline the clients’ experience, and looking for ways to improve and renew the product base.