He explains how he built on the foundations of the company his father left behind to turbo-charge the firm to its multi million turnover – and incredibly bright future.
When Percy Nicholls died, his son Guy – his sidekick since the day he was born – fell to pieces.
“Even 25 years later I find it hard to talk about him without getting upset,” Guy admits. “I spent every single minute with him – following him around since I was a toddler, on site throughout my childhood, at his elbow as a teen and with him every waking day as an adult.
“He taught me everything. He was my best friend as well as my role model and he left a giant gaping hole when he left us. The only thing I had to cope with the enormity of it, was to throw myself into the business we had created together.”
In 1997 when Percy Nicholls collapsed, suffering from a fatal stroke, the company – Fork Rent – had 140 machines.
Sixteen years later, Guy – with the help of his sister and co-director Trudi – had turned this into a multi-million-pound operation with thousands of pieces of plant.
“We reached a point where we felt we had done enough together in memory of my dad,” Guy said. “Trudi wanted to retire, and I wanted a new challenge, so we decided to sell up.”
Fork Rent was bought in August 2015 by venture capitalists who simultaneously bought One Call Hire to create Ardent Hire Solutions.
It was a lucrative deal. After all, Fork Rent had featured in the annual Sunday Times BDO Profit Track 100 league table, where it was ranked 77th, with an annual profit of £6.82m representing average annual growth of 48.61% over the previous three years.
Guy agreed to a non-compete clause for two-and-a-half years – but the cogs were already whirring, and he had his sights set on a bigger enterprise that would be established using the seed funding from his share of the sale.
The new chapter of the business began when he bought the Sinks Pit in Kesgrave and then he spent £5.5million on clearing the site and building an impressive glass and steel headquarters.
The company was initially made up of two divisions – Trucks ‘R’ Us and Tippers ‘R’ Us but while these two brand names still exist, they are now under a wider enterprise of TRU7 Group along with Clarke Demolition which Guy purchased in 2017.
“Seven is my lucky number,” Guy said. “I’m weirdly superstitious about it.”
Unlike Fork Rent, which specialised in telehandlers, TRU7 offered the widest selection of quality plant equipment in East Anglia, available for hire nationally including excavators, dumpers, dozers, chippers, telehandlers, lighting towers and ancillary equipment.
Guy also took the helm with the company branding – choosing the bright yellow and black stripes that the company is now famous for.
“I was asked if I wanted something muted to tie in with the environment and make our vehicles less visible,” he said. “I said ‘absolutely not’. I wanted us to stand out like a sore thumb and really get noticed.”
“Not only are we yellow and black but our trucks all have a little wasp on the back – because we sting the competition.”
He added: “I like doing things differently and I like being one step ahead. That’s why all our telehandlers had air conditioning long before anyone else – we set the standard for the industry.
“We are also all about our people. They are everything. We attract and retain the best and we treat them well.
“Every single baby born to someone on my team gets a £100 premium bond from me. I give out my Rolls Royce to staff to use at weddings. I try to see everyone throughout the week and my door is always open to have a chat.
“I just don’t like hierarchy. You need good people around you who you can trust, and that’s the most important thing. I want to work with friends.”
Like his father, Guy is a workaholic. And when Covid-19 hit, it was the first time in his entire life that he had been unable to be on site.
“I don’t do holidays very often,” he said. “So, shutting down the operation for a month was horrific for me. As a family we have always taken chances in business, but I was never going to take a chance on risking the health of my staff.”
Despite the blip, the company still saw an increase in turnover in 2020/21 – and again in 2021/22.
“There’s no chance of me ever retiring,” said Guy, who celebrated his 34th wedding anniversary to his wife Julie this year, he has two children – Jake and Holly – and three grandchildren, Beau and Jenson, both seven, and little River, just two.
“Luckily, I now have a succession plan since Jake joined the company and that means the pressure is off me a little bit.
“He is so determined, and he will be a much better businessman than I have ever been.”
This remains to be seen but just as Guy is a “chip off the old block”, Jake shows the same character traits as his forefathers.