Mike Furnival

Mike Furnival has been MD for the UK and Ireland region of TIP since May 2015 having joined the company as an area sales manager in 1988.

Since then the company has been through several changes in ownership, including 20 years as part of GE and five years owned by Chinese conglomerate HNA. In August 2018 it was acquired by private equity asset investor I Squared Capital for €1bn (£860m) which, according to Furnival, has no plans to sell the business.

TIP started out in 1968 in the Netherlands as Transport Pool, pioneering the concept of trailer rental. It was renamed Transport International Pool during the 70s to reflect its growing presence in markets outside North America and by the mid-1980s it owned 14,000 trailers across Europe. At one point its global trailer fleet peaked at 135,000 units, but in 2013 GE sold the business to HNA.

Ten years on and the company has changed its name to TIP Group, now describing itself as a “market leader in providing transportation and logistics customers with rental, leasing and value-added equipment services, keeping its customer’s freight on the move all over Europe and Canada”.

TIP Group covers Europe from Ireland to Ukraine from its HQ in Amsterdam and also has a substantial trailer rental business with 30,000 assets in Canada after merging two acquisitions, Train Trailer Rental and Trailer Wizards.

TIP’s trailer fleet had been allowed to age under GE’s ownership but the move to HNA in 2013 saw a significant investment in renewing the fleet and a move into truck contract hire in 2015.

When MT spoke to Furnival in 2014, a year after the acquisition by HNA, he predicted a move into truck hire in the UK, saying it was looking to “add a small scale truck rental offer, probably through a joint venture rather than by acquisition”.

A year later TIP acquired Hull-based trailer rental firm Grayrentals, a £20m a year business that included refrigerated trailers and a small fleet of trucks.

“Our truck business has been something of an evolution to be honest,” Furnival tells MT in July 2023. “There wasn’t a grand plan for truck. Our growth has been a mixture of acquisition and organic. Out of the £310m we will do this year about £80m of that is due to the business acquisitions made.

“When we bought Grayrentals they had a couple of hundred trucks. It was owned by Robin Gray and Terry Moody. Terry still works for us, seven days a week and rarely takes a holiday! He said ‘the truck market can be brutal but we have built it slowly, provided decent RVs and largely avoided the short term rental market’.

“During this time Terry and the Grayrentals team have grown the truck business significantly to contribute approximately €85m revenue this year. I started out in trailers with TIP in 1988 so I’m a trailer guy but I have been educated to understand trucks better over the last five years. More importantly, we have recruited some good guys who really understand trucks and we keep it commercially separate from trailers.”

TIP’s other acquisitions include Scottish rental operator D&M Trailer Services in October 2014, Bell Trailers in the north west and South Wales rental firms Aim Hire and PADS Trailers in 2016. Then followed Leeds-based specialist HGV rental business Eurotrail UK in 2021 and the Ryder trailer leasing and maintenance business in 2022, which brought a further 3,550 trailers and a workshop in Lichfield as well as a 60-strong mobile technician workforce.

“The best thing is that we retained the key management from those acquisitions. Apart from Terry, D&M’s Dave Henderson still runs our Scottish workshop and Chris Butt of Aim runs our commercial team in the south,” Furnival says. “In 2014 we were a £34m a year business and we will generate around £300m this year.

“Back in 2014, our fleet was showing signs of age as the investment from GE ground to a standstill. However, the new Chinese owners were very supportive and there was a really simple process to support their strategy.

“In the first year they asked us what investment we needed to provide them with a decent return. We strategically invested in the fleet and started buying small to medium-sized regional companies, whilst building organically on the loyal customer base we already had. The Motor Transport Top 100 list was our bible! That went on for four successful years before they sold us to ISQ in 2018.”

Furnival is equally glowing in his praise for I Squared. “These guys have pretty much left us alone and continued where HNA left off,” he says. “They understand infrastructure businesses and as long as we give them a robust plan – and deliver it – they are great.”

Globally TIP turns over €1.1bn (£940,000m) so the UK represents a third of group revenue. “We are a significant player in the group,” says Furnival. “We have 22,000 trailers on fleet in the UK and Ireland and around 3,000 trucks. Those are assets we own but we also look after 17,000 trailers owned by other operators including some of the biggest names in the industry.”

While the bulk of the TIP trailer fleet is dry freight, it remains strong in tankers and is growing its refrigerated capacity.

“Out of the 22,000 trailers we still have 5,000 reefers so we have a lot of fridges out there,” says Furnival. “But approximately 40% of the fleet is curtainsiders and we have always been strong in the parcels sector with box vans. The chassis fleet is the most challenging currently, driven by tough market conditions in the container world.

“Lead times on curtainsiders and box vans have stretched out a little again to 16 to 20 weeks which is OK. However, niche products like doubledecks are still on extended lead times from the leading specialist manufacturers.”

When it comes to reefers, TIP is trying out a range of alternatives to traditional diesel-powered fridge units including diesel/electric hybrid units and kinetic axles. “I don’t think any of them are completely proven just yet,” Furnival says. “We are also working closely with solar panel developers and that space is certainly gathering technical momentum.

“We will certainly buy some electric fridges in Q4, put a residual value on them and take a risk. We are in the risk business and have to be at the forefront of the technological developments taking place.”

TIP still buys most of its trailers from local manufacturers in the UK and Ireland, whilst also having global agreements with some larger European manufacturing partners.

“Our customers drive much of our procurement strategy meaning we just about deal with all manufacturers. SDC are an important partner for our business but we have a healthy relationship with many others. Indeed, we have just bought some tippers from Wilcox after a gap of many years. TIP will probably buy in excess of 2,000 trailers this year and more than 820 trucks.”

While Furnival is keeping a close eye on electric vehicles, which he says are taking off faster in Germany where the subsidies are higher than the UK, “very few” of the new trucks TIP is buying this year will be electric.

“They are really trial units and no one is yet saying ‘we will have 40 of them’. Everyone is saying ‘we need to keep going with diesel for the time being’. There is no government support and there is nothing on the horizon.”

Furnival has followed Moody’s advice and steered clear of short term truck rental. “Ideally the minimum term is three years,” he says. “But when these things come off long term contracts you sometimes have to support people with rental and that is where we are different.

“When trucks come off contract we wouldn’t automatically send them to the auctions. We look at what is coming up for our other customers and where they have gaps and roll them in to make sure we can service customers before we dispose of them. It’s a healthy business.”

While TIP runs its trailer and truck hire businesses separately, some customers like to take both from a single supplier.

“It’s a mix,” says Furnival. “I’m not ashamed to say we have plundered the trailer customer base and lots of our big customers have been asking us about truck rental. Six or seven years ago we didn’t have the expertise and were unsure about getting into something we didn’t know about.

“It was only when Terry and the Grayrentals team came along that we realised we can have a go at this.”

Furnival says that TIP remains different from its competitors “in a couple of ways”.

“We still carry a huge short term trailer fleet and nobody else does that,” he says. “They just want contract hire and that’s fair enough. However, because of the customer base we have we can’t walk away from their requirements and because we’ve been in business 55 years we have built up a substantial land bank that enables us to cope with peak volatility. There remains a variety of rental spikes throughout the year and we will be putting more than a thousand extra units out over the next couple of weeks to satisfy those customer needs.

“The other difference is that we still employ our own technicians. That is a massive advantage for us and helps to win business because we are in control of our own destiny.”

Out of TIP’s 26 UK sites, 17 have full workshop facilities including ATFs and it also runs workshops for customers on their sites. Nearly half of TIP’s 640 staff are technicians, and 40% of those are van-based mobile workers.

“We have a significant technician population who are really important to our success,” says Furnival. “They look after our own and our customer’s trailers. At times, our technicians even look after some of our competitors’ trailers!”

Around 40% of TIP’s technicians are trained to work on trucks and while they can do minor repair and maintenance jobs more complicated work is done by dealers.

To overcome the HGV driver shortage, transport operators had to significantly increase wages - and TIP has had to do the same for its technicians.

“We have had to respond to intense inflationary pressure,” says Furnival. “It’s been unavoidable. What we’ve also done – without any governmental financial assistance - is start our own mechanic academy.

“We are bringing in people with limited experience but who do have an aptitude and an interest in the industry and we will fast track them in nine months to Irtec accreditation. We have built a site in Nuneaton and started on 4 September with the first pilot intake of 12. We are looking at opening further sites in Manchester and the south of England to replicate the initiative.

“We simply have to do it because the amount of people with the required skills just aren’t there and we have to get more people interested in what we are doing and the industry as a whole.”

Furnival feels that the R&M sector has been left out of transport industry initiatives like Generation Logistics designed to raise interest among young people in working in the sector.

“That is maybe our fault as well,” he concedes. “We just get our heads down and do what we have to. Recruiting technicians is a problem we have to look to solve ourselves and we haven’t spent enough time lobbying with other interested parties.

“We need to collaborate with other agencies and even competitors to sort this or we are all dead in the water.”

And because the programme will not be an official apprenticeship it does not qualify for Apprenticeship Levy funding.

“We are funding it all ourselves,” says Furnival. “The amount of interested applicants was outstanding and we filled all the positions really quickly. It’s both a financial and mentoring commitment from our business but we simply have to do it. We have the same issues globally from our businesses in Canada through to Poland.”

In June 2023, TIP’s latest acquisition, CEM Scotland in Coatbridge, added another trailer maintenance unit to group capacity and Furnival says he is happy with his R&M capacity “until the next project comes along”.

As well as rising staff costs TIP has been affected by rising interest rates, higher energy prices and the substantial hikes in the cost of new trucks and trailers, and it has been in discussions with customers about the need to pass at least some of these on.

“Most have been pretty understanding,” says Furnival. “Our customer base has been pretty successful at passing on its own inflationary costs so they get where we are. But having a conversation about passing on our 40% increase in costs is obviously challenging.

“However, we have strong enough customer relationships to explain our own cost issues and find a solution we are all happy with. We have passed some cost increases on but we have also had to absorb some within our own margins.”

Despite interest rates continuing their upward trajectory, Furnival says TIP’s revolving credit facilities protects it to a certain extent and he is trying to maintain fixed rates for his customers over the life of a lease where possible.

“Our pricing is more likely to be fixed than with a bank,” he says. “They will respond quickly to increases in interest rates whereas we can hold our prices longer than other sources of finance.

“We can’t account for government legislation like extra brake roller testing so we have to reserve the right to come back and discuss the extra cost with the customer. However, in all my 30 years in this business, unless there has been extreme inflation or legislative matters beyond our control, we haven’t interfered with long term contracts. We have always been and will always remain in this business for the long game.”

The other big advantage for operators in using TIP is that it offers a complete solution.

“We are seeing more and more mid-stream hauliers running up to 300 trailers who do not want the volatility of doing the maintenance,” says Furnival. “So they will outsource it to a business that specialises in that and can cope with them opening depots in different areas. That is a real game-changer for us and has helped our organic growth.”

Roller brake testing for trailers a nightmare for ATFs

The DVSA’s ‘Guide to maintaining roadworthiness’, which was updated in April 2023, says that from April 2025, “laden roller brake tests or electronic brake performance monitoring systems (EBPMS) will, with some exceptions be the only accepted methods for brake testing”.

The DVSA also says: “To prepare for this change, we strongly advise that a laden roller brake test is carried out at every safety inspection.”

With 39,000 trailers under management in the UK, this requirement is going to cause TIP serious problems.

“We are getting lots of questions from transport companies asking what we are doing about these changes,” says Furnival. “The big question is where is the infrastructure to facilitate such frequent roller brake tests coming from? Whilst TIP has a large network of workshops, supported by those of our authorised service providers, we would struggle to accommodate multiple roller brake tests for every trailer that belongs to all our customers.

“Regardless, the majority of inspections are completed by mobile service units on customers’ sites and it doesn’t make sense to have trailers visiting workshops solely for the purpose of carrying out a roller brake test. It’s just not feasible and, if nothing else, extremely unkind to the environment to have thousands of trailers on the move to get roller brake tests. We have written to the powers-that-be to express our thoughts and, as the largest provider of trailers in the country, it’s a pity we were not consulted beforehand.”

Fortunately for TIP, it has BrakePlus, its own electronic braking performance monitoring system (EBPMS) which offers an accepted alternative to carrying out multiple roller brake tests. BrakePlus, launched in early 2021, and developed in collaboration with braking and suspension electronics specialist ZF (formerly Wabco), is now fitted to around 10,000 trailers in the UK for the purpose of continually monitoring braking performance.

“We see having EBPMS fitted to trailers as a viable way of addressing the forthcoming changes, as its users only need to have the one roller brake test per annum and that can be done at the time of the annual test,” says Furnival. “BrakePlus is now established in the marketplace and many of our customers are benefitting from having it fitted, including on their owned trailers.”

TIP sets up inhouse used truck sales division

Now that it has a substantial truck contract hire business, getting the best residual value on vehicles as they come off hire is essential. So as well as using the auctions it has created a used truck retail operation at a new site in Warrington.

With a stock profile of vehicles between three and six years old, TIP will offer a broad range of trucks and vans from all the leading manufacturers. All vehicles come with a full service history and retail customers can add a comprehensive warranty package.

Finance is available through TIP Equipment Finance to both trade and retail customers.

TIP expects to sell more than 400 vehicles a year from Warrington, which includes workshop and vehicle preparation facilities to ensure turnaround times.

Russell Leach, TIP’s newly-appointed remarketing manager for trucks, says: “We look forward to offering a wide range of used trucks and vans to the market, from our dedicated new premises in Warrington. TIP de-fleets up to 500 vehicles a year, all of which have been rigorously maintained throughout their usage, and we are pleased to be able to offer these to UK buyers.”

Box – Operators moving to Earned Recognition get help from TIP

‘Earned Recognition by TIP’ is a package offering that includes provision of maintenance and repair documentation, data input, key performance indicator (KPI) monitoring and a proactive approach to resolving issues that can affect Earned Recognition status.

It enables operators to go on online to check their trailers’ maintenance KPIs and see if they would qualify for Earned Recognition. If they do, TIP can then prepare the four-weekly reports required by the DVSA and help the operator apply to join and stay in the scheme.

TIP is offering a 30-day free trial of its DVSA-validated earned recognition system to operators considering applying to join the scheme.

Fat bottoms ride again

Every year TIP and its customers raise tens of thousands of pounds for charity and 2023’s ‘fat bottomed boys and girls’ ride through the hills of Croatia raised £93,111 for the Douglas Macmillan Hospice in Staffordshire.

In June, a team of nearly 50 TIP customers, staff and partners from across the UK and Irish transport industries rode 300kms from Split to Dubrovnik over a grueling three days.

The team tackled busy roads, blistering heat and more than 11,000ft of hills along the Dalmatian coast in order to complete the challenge. “It was a horrific course this year,” says Furnival. “Those mountain roads were tough so really well done to everyone.”

The hospice provides care services to children, adults and their families with life-limiting illnesses throughout North Staffordshire and surrounding areas.

TIP’s nine fundraising events across Europe over the last decade have helped raise £520,000 for various charitable causes.

Furnival says: “To have raised more than £500,000 over the past nine rides is an incredible achievement. We are so grateful to our cycling team members, official sponsors and all those colleagues, friends and family members that have supported us over the years.”