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Dieselec Thistle powers ahead to maintain growth

LESS than 15 minutes walk from the centre of Milngavie, the Dieselec Thistle masterplan appears to be in full swing.

NEW TARGET: Dieselec Thistle's managing director, Paul Moore, said the generators company was doing well servicing the data centre sector in London. Picture: Marc Turner
NEW TARGET: Dieselec Thistle's managing director, Paul Moore, said the generators company was doing well servicing the data centre sector in London. Picture: Marc Turner

Even on a grey, late winter's morning the generator supply company's headquarters are bustling with activity.

Much of that revolves around the seven-figure investment in the premises, which will see floor space more than double to in excess of 60,000 square feet.

A new concrete yard has been laid, while the fit-out of a generator testing cell, a large warehouse intended to hold around £1 million of stock and an extended office are all edging closer to completion.

Paul Moore, managing director, says the work is crucial if the company – which provides permanent standby generating facilities for customers which cannot afford power to go off – is to maintain its growth trajectory.

After Dieselec, founded by Mr Moore in 2004, agreed an investment deal with Nevis Capital in September 2010 things have shot forward.

Less than three months later Nevis, the private equity vehicle created by John and James Pirrie, following the sale of their own LCH generator business to Speedy Hire for £62m in 2006, helped Dieselec buy struggling rival Thistle Generators.

That deal brought things almost full-circle for Mr Moore, who started his career as an apprentice electrician at Thistle before moving up the ladder to become sales director.

Now two years later the integration of the businesses, which involved closing sites in Bothwell and Cumbernauld to move to Milngavie, is paying off.

Sipping green tea in the ground floor boardroom Mr Moore said: "When you are growing a business, employing people and securing large contracts you do get a buzz.

"In that period [since the Thistle acquisition] we have gone from around £8m turnover to £20m turnover.

"That's where most of the growth has been, from bringing the two businesses together. They were our major competitor so we could take that out the marketplace and it gave us really good technical resources.

"It really was the perfect marriage for us. When we bolted the two together they just dovetailed very well."

That growth pattern has included a major deal to install generators at hospitals including the Southern General in Glasgow, plus systems for major financial services players including Bank of Scotland.

A depot in Dartford, Kent, is helping the company break into the London and south-east of England market.

As public sector business has started to slow, the company has targeted the data centre sector as its main growth driver.

Mr Moore said: "We have been marketing heavily in the data centre sector. We have been very successful in London in recent years and that is where many data centres are located.

"We are beginning to make a good impact there and getting a lot of repeat business."

However, running alongside the growth is the knowledge the business needs to scale up to keep pace.

Generator supplier FG Wilson is supportive of the company's plans and is able to handle any upswing in orders.

The installation of the test cell will set Dieselec Thistle apart as the only non-manufacturer to offer the chance to run three or four generators and simulate worst case scenarios before they are installed by a client.

Mr Moore said: "Quite often we are selling to mission critical customers like finance institutions. If they lose their power for a minute they could be losing millions of pounds. They want to be 100% satisfied when that generator goes into operation it works first time.

"Often these generators are sitting in the roof of the building or in the basement and it all has to be taken to bits and rebuilt and tested in its own environment. We will simulate that in our test cells.

"It might just be a one-day test or a three-week event where the customer will put it through a whole host of demanding tests.

"The last thing the customer wants to do on-site is cause a load of disruption taking out the old stand-by generators.

"You have to turn the power off to put the generator into operation and the customer wants to make sure that only happens once, hence the reason for the test cell."

Alongside that, the ability to hold large amounts of stock could cut lead times for customers from weeks to days.

Mr Moore feels that combination can help Dieselec Thistle become the number one player in its market in the UK.

He already feels it is in that position in Scotland.

He said: "We are still approaching the market in the same way, but in the background we are gearing up all our facilities to make sure we can deliver the growth we are enjoying.

"We want our warehouse filled as if we have it in stock then we can sell it. If it is a long time from the factory to us building it then we could potentially lose the orders."

However, it is not just operational scaling which is taking place.

All the Dieselec Thistle directors have recently been through a development course – "We are learning every day," according to Mr Moore – with senior managers next to go on a tailored training programme.

A typical day in the Milngavie office starts around 8am and Mr Moore half-jokes he only gets round to planned tasks once the rest of the staff go home around 5pm. While he has no plans to "go back on the tools" he is appreciative of the technical grounding his apprenticeship has given him.

He said: "Technically and commercially if you have been there hands on and touched it then it helps you along the way."

CURRICULUM VITAE

Paul Moore served a four-year apprenticeship as an electrician at Thistle Generators before moving into a sales role at the age of 20.

After 19 years with Thistle he had risen to the position of sales director but "wanted to have a crack" at running his own business, so left in 2004.

He co-founded Dieselec with Jim Arthur and they grew the business from nothing to around £7 million in turnover.

Mr Arthur sold his share to Nevis Capital and the private equity firm took a stake in September 2010. In December 2010 Dieselec acquired Thistle. The business reported revenue in excess of £20m in the past financial year with earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation coming in around £2m.

Nevis Capital representatives sit on the board of Dieselec Thistle and the companies sit in adjacent buildings in Milngavie.

Mr Moore lives in Bothwell with his wife and children.

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