Hireco Group MD James Smith charts the firm’s history from humble beginnings to becoming the UK’s biggest trailer buyer.

“IT STARTED OVER 40 years ago as an oil delivery company in Ireland with about 10 trailers,” says James Smith, when asked about the company’s origins. “Business was booming in the winter, but in the summer the trailers weren’t doing anything. So the company started renting them out – and that’s where the name Hireco came from.”

Even though Hireco still supplies trailers to the commercial vehicle industry, the firm is virtually unrecognisable from its modest roots. Last year it bought a record 1,500 trailers, expects to exceed 2,000 this year. It has evolved far beyond the core contract hire and rental offering.

It moved into trucks in 2018 has just branched out into the leisure vehicle market with its Overlander horsebox and camper van brand, and has established maintenance, finance and property arms. All of which are under development – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“Pat Carson, our chairman, purchased the company in the late 1980s,” adds Smith. “Pat was originally a Fruehauf employee, so he came from the industry. He’s a very switched-on man and studied economics at Dublin University. He is still with us today and active within the business.”

The company continued operations in Ireland but began ramping up its UK business in 1998, when it bought fellow trailer specialist Transport Logistics and became Hireco TL. James Smith reckons it was “a tough marketplace, because there were a lot of players at the time”.

“There was a gap in the market and we took advantage, says James Smith”

He joined in 2006, on the cusp of what proved to be a serious era of transition for the firm. “From 2006 to 2008 we had a significant couple of years of change,” he reminisces. “We had about 700 trailers at the time and Transrent collapsed in 2007, so there was a gap in the market and we took advantage.

“We ordered trailers from established manufacturers like SDC and Montracon and we developed our contract hire offering. It was a really easy product for our customers to take. It had very simple paperwork and a lot of hell and high water conditions in there. Clauses that meant that the banks were protected. They really enjoyed working with us, and we’ve got fantastic relationships with our funders.

“We also spent a lot of time, effort and money on developing the service offering – and that’s really what sells our business. We could have all the new trailers in the world, but without decent service to go with it, no one would want them.”

“Brexit doesn’t scare us, so when we’re ready I think we’re going to push out into the continent.”

A little over a decade later, Hireco can now call itself the country’s biggest trailer buyer and has a loyal customer base. It still supplies trailers to the commercial vehicle industry, although beyond that, it’s a far cry from its humble beginnings. It continues to expand at a ferocious rate, so what next for such an ambitious firm?

“We’ve already got a number of European customers, and our sister business has a couple of bases in Innsbruck,” says Smith. “Brexit doesn’t scare us, so when we’re ready I think we’re going to push out into the continent.”