The last few years have seen tumultuous times in the haulage industry. With operators now looking to keep costs to a minimum, the hire sector is becoming increasingly important and under pressure.

STH (Specialist Trailer Hire) based in Leeds has seen first-hand the issues the sector has faced recently. Director Mark Liversidge, the second generation of this family business, has seen a shift in the sector over the last few years. “During the pandemic and immediately after it, the biggest issue for many operators was supply; the lead times on both trucks and trailers were the longest I had ever experienced. “Hauliers who could not source new vehicles either to purchase or lease were naturally looking to hire as the solution, but we were struggling to bring in equipment for the same reason,” he says.

As the company’s name suggests, its roots and core business are in special trailers, up to six-axle heavy haulage low loaders. Still, the company has moved increasingly into all types of trailer hire, diversifying not only into truck rental but also vans as small as 3.5 tonnes for the domestic market.

“We are aiming to be a one-stop shop for commercial vehicle hire literally,” explains Mark, “We have moved into other areas mainly through customer demand as we were getting calls from operators trying to find all manner of general trailers, and it’s fair to say we always had a lot of flats and curtainsiders on big account contracts, but perhaps we did not shout about that very much,” he adds.

“Essentially, we can supply everything from a 3.5-tonne panel van through to a 100-tonne specialist heavy haulage trailer; we have around 30 Goldhofer units currently operating all over the UK,” Mark explains.

With a family background in the sector – Mark’s father and uncle, John and Allan, started the company – STH has seen a continual spreading of its wings from a local operator to a country-wide concern. Still based in Yorkshire, the Leeds HQ is supplemented by facilities in Rotherham, close enough to act as a satellite yard to the main base but giving a little more flexibility in operations. “With long lead times and increasing demand, we found we were having to spend considerably more on the fleet, but as the supply has returned to normal, the residual values on trucks and trailers have been strong, levelling out the figures, now things seem to have settled back,” Mark acknowledges.

So what is the current situation in the hire sector, and where can operators expect to see it moving in the near future? “To be honest, the domestic market has slowed down a bit; the 3.5 tonnes van sector saw an increase in lockdown, online retail was up, and the demand for vehicles likewise; I think we have seen the opposite effect since, but these things all level out eventually,” feels Mark.

“We are diversifying increasingly and have always offered additional services, which we are expanding as we speak. The repair and refurbishment side of the business is always busy; we have our fabrication shop that handles everything from the manufacture of mounted forklift carriers for trucks and trailers, damage repairs and frames and curtain side kits,” Mark explains. The company also has full in-house paint shop facilities to prepare trucks into the hirer’s corporate colours or for particular sub-fleets and specific accounts.

“We simply found that the lead times that we were seeing by sending trucks out to a third party, particularly for one-off paint jobs, were becoming too long, or the costs were too high to pass on,” says Mark “It was a simple decision to have all the fabrication, shot-blasting and painting all done in-house, I believe we are pretty unique in the sector in being able to offer all this,” he adds.

This diversification and expansion have not been at the cost of the company’s core strengths and values. It remains a family-run operation with around a dozen members of the wider family numbering in its total workforce of 40 “The company has run out of its current Leeds site for 25 years now, and Rotherham has been going for 15 years,  we are well known locally – particularly as TSL  from 1987 – so we understand the needs of small family run firms and as well as the big account holders, heavy haulage sector specialists and owner drivers too, we aim to understand all of their requirements,” Mark concludes.

With 1,500 trailers on its books, 150 trucks from 7.5 tonnes and around 50 3.5-tonne vans, STH looks well positioned to do just that.