Used truck sales are just one part of what Dawsongroup offers. CM takes the wheel of an 18-tonne DAF CF at its Milton Keynes HQ
Say the name ‘Dawsons’ to most people and the first thing they think of is rentals, which would be a reasonable assumption as it was originally named Dawsonrentals. However, in March this year, during a comprehensive rebrand, the company was renamed Dawsongroup to reflect the fact it does a whole lot more.
Used truck sales have been part of Dawsons’ business model for almost as long as the company has existed, and can be arranged through any of its 23 nationwide Dawsongroup branches, but we chose the Milton Keynes HQ to visit to find out more.
“The way to do that is to ensure we’ve got good churn, so in 2017 our used assets sold figure was around 2,000 units and we’re budgeting to do the same this year.” head of sales Mark Middleton tells us.
That includes trucks and trailers, with around a 65/35 split in favour of the latter, and means there are an awful lot of vehicles up for grabs at any one time – in fact, the entire existing rental fleet is for sale.
“We can almost pre-sell,” he explains. “If someone comes looking for a particular vehicle, we can identify whether we have one on our fleet – and because we have new vehicles coming in throughout the year, we can then replace a rental customer’s existing truck, giving their previous vehicle to the customer who wants to buy it.”
This, of course, means the existing customer wins as well, so it all works out rather neatly.
Selling from a range of manufacturers
The other advantage Dawsongroup has is variety. Instead of just one brand, sales staff can provide vehicles from a range of manufacturers. That doesn’t, however, mean customers miss out on the kind of bolt-ons main dealers provide, nor is there a lack of specialist knowledge.
“Every vehicle we sell, we know exactly where it’s been,” Middleton points out. “We know the background and we’ve managed all the servicing and MoTs.”
Dawsons also uses the CitNOW video app popular in the used-car world that allows customers to perform a virtual walk-around check to ascertain the condition of the vehicle they are being offered. Cosmetic damage is dealt with at the same time as mechanical servicing before delivery, which can be arranged directly to the customer’s own yard.
The group can also offer service maintenance packages nationwide, just like main dealers – in fact, some of the work may well be carried out by main dealers on its behalf.
“Then we have our authorised repairer network that is a mixture of independents as well as manufacturers.” says Middleton.
But if it all goes wrong and a contracted vehicle breaks down, there’s a helpline to call, where the people dealing with incidents actually know one end of the truck from another and can arrange recovery or roadside repair accordingly.
“Basically, we can sell the vehicle, we can finance it – you can take it on HP or an operating lease – and we can then provide the service, maintenance and repair and a driveline warranty,” Middleton sums up. “We give the flexibility to choose anything off our fleet and we can manage it to your timelines.”
All very impressive, but we can’t help wondering if having all these specialist teams available to deliver your every whim doesn’t all get a bit impersonal, with operators effectively being put through a very slick production line. Apparently not. At Milton Keynes you’ll deal with Colin Lee for sales, and if you call the breakdown line it’ll be engineering director Peter Snowden and his team. Whichever branch you go to, there’ll always be a familiar name who can facilitate whatever you need. “We want to build a relationship because for us that’s what it’s all about,” Middleton says. “It’s not a case of just getting the deal done, this is about dealing with people for the next 15, 20, 25 years – we have customers who’ve been with us that long and more – and building trust in our brand, our reputation and, in turn, our business.”
Our ride for the day is a 16-plate DAF CF220 18-tonne curtain-sided rigid with tail-lift, pulled straight in from the rental fleet, just as it could be for a customer. A sleeper-cabbed vehicle, it boasts the 7-litre engine giving us 220hp, which should be ample for the full 9-tonne-plus load we’ve piled on to the back. It’s therefore something of a surprise that our first thought as we pull away is, “wow, this is hard work”. Our second thought is “whoa, that corner’s a bit rock and roll for turning at 2mph in a yard”, closely followed by “what on earth…?” as just about every warning light on the dash comes on.
Long story short, it seems that if you misunderstand the labelling on your borrowed test ballast and drastically overload your DAF CF, it will initially pull hard enough for you not to cotton on before basically refusing to go any further so you don’t get as far as a public road. Handy to know, that.
Needless to say, once the situation has been corrected and our blushes have faded, we set off again in what is actually more like a leaping gazelle, this time questioning whether we haven’t now gone too far the other way and underloaded it (we haven’t). Milton Keynes is, as many will know, laid out on a grid system held together by roundabouts, making it the perfect place to test an 18-tonner. This particular truck has some handy extras as well, most notably lane departure warning and a nearside proximity sensor keeping an eye on our blindspot, the latter proving quite comforting once we’ve got used to it.
The gearbox is the ZF AS-Tronic 6-speed automated manual and copes well with our clumsy approach to the first few junctions. As we start to become accustomed to the vehicle – and remember to turn the Hill Hold on so we don’t need to use the park brake so much – under a trained right foot it shows itself to be every bit as good as its 12-speed big brother, in that we then completely forget all about it, exactly as intended.
One of the most important things to consider when choosing a vehicle for multi-drop work is manoeuvrability – it’s no good being able to get into tight places if you can’t then get out again without a struggle. This we put to the test twice, the first time in a car-clogged turning head outside a garden centre, where we didn’t even need to use full lock to make a rather cautious three-point turn.
One common complaint about ZF’s AS-Tronic gearboxes is that they are difficult to control in reverse, something we have always put down to the fact many drivers don’t know how to accurately find clutch bite through their right foot. Once again we have no trouble keeping to the speed we intend, and no members of the public – or their vehicles – come anywhere near being harmed. Our second crack at creeping around comes on our return when, for a final shot, the photographer asks us to squeeze down the front of Dawsongroup’s office building – a much tighter proposition – which again we accomplish with only one extra shunt.
To sum up, this 18-tonne DAF CF is gutsy, well balanced, comfortable to drive and it can get in and out of a drainpipe. Combine that with the commitment shown by Dawsondirect, the new name for the national truck and trailer sales arm, to getting its used customers precisely what they want – it has boosted its staff by another four since our visit – and it really couldn’t get much easier.
A family business
With more than 10,000 tractor units, rigids and trailers on the road nationwide, a network of 23 branches spread from Glasgow down to Exeter, and a customer list that includes some of the biggest names in the industry, it’s easy to forget that Dawsongroup is still a family business at heart. It started life as a one-man-band haulier called AEH Dawson in 1935, and the original founder’s son, Peter Dawson, is still executive chairman to this day. The next generation is firmly on board now as well, ensuring this is a theme that will continue long into the future. Freya Dawson, Peter’s daughter, has been property director since 2011, while her younger brother Charles works on the van side. As well as trucks and trailers, the company also supplies vans, buses and coaches, materials-handling equipment, portable cold rooms and temporary kitchens across the UK, and has now spread its wings into Europe too, with offices in France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain.