Thanks for the memories

After 40 years in the vehicle recovery business, Roger Dyson is laying plans to say thank you to the industry by ‘giving a little something back’.

Great oaks from little acorns grow. In Roger Dyson’s case, the “little acorn” was a small crane unit that comprised a steel A-frame, a pulley and a chain bolted onto the back of a Land Rover. And the “Great oak” is the company he built, a leading manufacturer of vehicle recovery equipment and transporters whose name has become synonymous in the UK and beyond, with quality, engineering integrity and customer service.

The archetypal self-made man, Roger Dyson was still a teenager when he started his own business using the £300 settlement he received from a motorcycle accident. Roger had already served stints as a mechanic in car and commercial vehicle workshops in his home town of Redditch, Worcestershire, and decided to have a go at making his own way in the trade.

“I used my new-found wealth – and £300 was quite a bit of money in those days – to buy a welding machine, a toolkit and a vehicle, put my name over the door, and was up and running,” he recalls.

Initially, Roger took on all sorts of mechanical work, but it was only when he also saw an opportunity to offer a vehicle recovery service that the business really began to flourish.

“In those days all of the local garages, bodyshops and dealerships had a tow truck, but none of them treated it very seriously,” says Roger. “I offered to relieve them of the hassle of running their own recovery vehicle and to provide them with a 24-hour service that included manning phones for them, and they went for it in a big way.”

The small, Land Rover-mounted crane that was Roger’s first piece of recovery equipment still sits in the showroom at Dyson Group HQ, a reminder of another time, when the recovery industry as we know it today was just beginning to take shape.

The recovery side of the business grew rapidly throughout the 1970s – Roger had quickly added the local police to his fast-expanding list of customers and he has particularly fond memories of the creation of Redditch new town under the auspices of the local Development Corporation.

“That was a fantastic time,” he laughs. “You had loads of vehicles coming into Redditch and breaking down, and construction equipment getting stuck on sites and having to be dragged out of the river. All you had to do was work, which I did seven days a week – but it was great fun, more like a hobby really. And I was making really good money!”

As the job became more demanding, Roger realised that he needed more modern and efficient equipment. “Rather than buy it I reckoned I could do just as well by making it myself,” he says. “Initially I bought proprietary parts and assembled them, but then we began designing and making our own slidebeds from scratch.”

It was at this point that the business took a new direction, one that would lead, eventually, to Roger’s withdrawal from the role of recovery operator in order to concentrate fully on manufacturing.

“The first pieces of equipment we built were for our own use,” he explains. “But as word started to get round, other operators began coming to see us and wanting to buy them. So we became more serious about building equipment.”

Dyson was still running its own recovery fleet when it moved in 1982 from Redditch to its current home in nearby Droitwich. It was not until the early 1990s that Roger finally decided to quit the field and concentrate 100 per cent on manufacturing.

“Droitwich offered us more room in which to develop a proper production line,” he says. “It’s proved an ideal base – the site is now four times the size of what it was then, and we use every bit of it.”

Central to Roger’s business strategy as a ‘proper’ manufacturer, was his determination to offer customers a complete, ‘one-stop shop’ solution. “So as well as building and fitting the recovery equipment with all of the electrics and hydraulic systems, we would also supply the chassis, paint and signwrite the finished vehicle, and provide a comprehensive aftercare service.”

This approach was well received by the market and during the 1980s Roger Dyson became increasingly recognised as a manufacturer rather than a recovery operator.

A key milestone in the company’s story was its acquisition in the spring of 1992, of Bristol-based former competitor Brimec. “It was a big step,” recalls Roger. “Brimec was three times our size but had run into difficulties when we stepped in.”

The Brimec brand had a strong reputation within the plant and construction industry, and also on the Continent, which opened up new markets to Roger Dyson. Its range also included heavy recovery units, a product segment in which Dyson had not previously been involved.

The Brimec deal was crucial in enabling Roger Dyson to land a prestigious order less than two years later, to supply a fleet of recovery vehicles for operation at both ends of the Channel Tunnel. “It was British-built equipment mounted, for the most part, on Renault chassis – so we managed to keep both sides happy,” says Roger.

The focus throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium was on product consolidation and development, and on broadening the customer base to include local authorities and more police forces, as well as a recovery industry that was now a great deal more professional than it had been back in the early 1970s.

This period saw the integration of Brimec’s equipment within the Dyson range, and more strings being added to Roger Dyson’s bow, with its appointment as UK and European agent first for Canadian manufacturer NRC, then for Landoll Corporation, of the United States.

It was NRC that approached Roger with its hugely capable range of sliding rotators, which dovetailed neatly into the Dyson portfolio in 1997, alongside – but not in direct competition with – the company’s established heavy product. The first five-axle rotator left the Droitwich factory in February 1998.

Whereas, having recognised an opportunity on this side of the Atlantic for its travelling axle trailers, Roger chased Landoll for three years before finally clinching the deal in February of 2001. The Americans are certainly glad he was not put off by their initial reluctance to venture beyond their own shores, because Dyson has since supplied nearly 100 Landoll trailers to UK customers.

Meanwhile, Dyson’s own heavy units had been re-badged as Commanders, but now benefited from greatly enhanced specifications thanks to the addition of features such as Maxi reach and low-line booms, and Pioneer axles. The first Commander Mark 1 Pioneer went in October 2000 to Fillongley Garage, of Coventry, while the first customer for the Mark 2 version launched in June 2005 was Wessex Recovery, of Newbury.

A highlight of 2001 was an order from the AA for no fewer than 70 slidebed units – although Roger had previously been making slidebeds primarily for his own fleet, production really began in earnest in 1984, with the first delivery going to Crawley-based vehicle salvage specialist GW Bridges. Since then Dyson has manufactured over 2,000 slidebeds, as well as more than 3,000 Transloader fixed beds.

Enforcer spectacle lifts have been another mainstay of the Dyson range since the Enforcer 3.5 model’s introduction in 1989, with new variants being added at regular intervals since.

Having been there, seen and done it himself, Roger Dyson is proud of his track record for responding to customer demand by refining existing products, or developing new ones altogether. A good example is the Hydraloader SLa (Super Low approach) slidebed, the first 3,000kg version of which was introduced in 2004 and delivered to Queens Motors in London.

Offering a loading angle of less than five degrees, the Hydraloader SLa was introduced to allow operators to load and unload low-slung sports cars, city buses, welfare vehicles and other commercial vehicles with long rear overhangs, without any damage.

“Customers were telling us about the difficulties they faced so we went back to the drawing board to see what we could come up with,” says Roger. The resulting SLa required a new and innovative approach whereby, rather than moving the platform on and off the body with a conventional hydraulic cylinder, Dyson employed a rack and pinion hydraulic motor system. In another advance, the new system allowed a move to a simple single-lever control in place of the usual three levers.

Still the market-leader in terms of its loading angle, the SLa has been a runaway success, continued evolution of this product having let to the introduction of no fewer than five other models with capacities from 3,000kg through 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 and 8000, up to 10,000kg.

A £3.5-million redevelopment of its manufacturing facility in 2008, which culminated in the opening in May 2009 of a state-of-the-art truck showroom, left Roger Dyson perfectly placed to face the challenges of the future.

“But I never forget the past, and where we’ve come from either,” affirms Roger. “I’ve had a few downs as well as a great many ups since I started out, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

“This industry has been very good to me and that’s why in this, our Ruby anniversary year, against the backdrop of a very challenging economic climate, we’re currently finalising plans to give a little something back. I can’t reveal more at this stage, but we’ll be doing so very soon. All I will say is that it’s my way of thanking the industry for a fantastic 40 years!”

Intrigued? To discover more, watch out for the Roger Dyson mailshots, or see the next edition of Professional Recovery.

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