There isn’t much you could teach Gerry Connaughton about construction. He’s been in the sector for the last 26 years, working across a variety of different roles.

His long experience, including spells as labourer, foreman and business owner, has given him an intimate understanding of the industry and its needs.

HeraldScotland: Gerry Connaughton of Tool MuleGerry Connaughton of Tool Mule

Now he is about to launch a new service unique in the UK – a company bringing together those who have spare equipment and heavy machinery lying unused in their garages, sheds and farm buildings and those who could make use of it.

The venture, named ToolMule, has been described as an Airbnb for construction hire. He believes it is a concept that will prove highly popular with those who are frustrated with the shortcomings of the current system.

Gerry, who has worked in building since he left school, moved from his native Ireland to Glasgow eight years ago. “I really understand the ins and outs of tools, plant and machinery,” he explains.

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“Much of my background is in groundworks – pipelines, sewers, water and so on. It’s an area that needs a lot of equipment. I’ve driven machines myself and I’ve owned them. It’s a business I know inside out.”

The standard procedure during his career, he explains, has been to rent the tools needed from local dedicated hire companies. “But that has its frustrations.

“You might be in the middle of a job and something goes wrong, so you ring up the local hire firm and they will tell you that they haven’t got what you need. They say it might be in within an hour, but that’s too late.

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“You need it now, and the next tool shop might be 15 miles away. It’s hugely wearying and something that has annoyed me for years. The idea of ToolMule came when one of the guys managing a site I was working on said he knew someone who had what we needed in his own garage and we could go up and get it.

Gerry made a trip to the property and found the owner had diggers and groundwork equipment. “He said that if he got a job he’d use it, but otherwise it just sat there. I asked him why he didn’t hire it out and he said ‘who’d be interested in that?’

“He thought he could never compete with the specialist companies but I told him that he was wrong. So I started renting stuff off him and paying him cash for it.

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“I did some research and found that the amount of tools people had lying around their homes was amazing. They had never been interested in hiring it out as they didn’t think anyone would take it.

“The thing is that your neighbour down the road might want it and you wouldn’t know. Once you’d used something, you would just pack it up and hope that one day someone would ring you out of the blue and ask you for it.”

Gerry spotted a gap in the market. He saw how wasteful and inefficient it was to have potentially in-demand plant and equipment just lying unused. He started researching what he thought could be a business opportunity.

“I found that in the UK alone, this was a business with an annual turnover of £3 billion. That includes heavy machinery such as diggers and dump trucks. Small tools alone are worth £1 billion. It’s a massive business and it’s growing and growing.”

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He admits he was inspired by the business model devised by Airbnb. “It’s a brilliant concept – whoever thought that you would be able to rent a room out in that way?

“I’ve spent years thinking about this and I’ve explored it all in depth. I went online, looked at social media and found other businesses taking the same approach - a car hire company, for example.

“I realised that I had much the same idea. The amount of stuff people have lying about their homes is just crazy.”

Not everything he plans to hire out by matching owners with renters will involve heavy and expensive machinery. “Your neighbour down the road might just want a ladder or a drill.

“However, we will be doing plant hire as well. It might be needed by the small builder who has a couple of guys working for him.

HeraldScotland: Click image to view the June edition of Business HQ MagazineClick image to view the June edition of Business HQ Magazine

“You might wonder who has this sort of stuff lying around, but look at farmers – they need their machinery for seasonal work, but otherwise they don’t use it at all.”

ToolMule will launch in a few weeks once preparations are complete. It will operate online – there will be a professionally built web site, and those with equipment to hire will be able to use an app to record their listing, loading a photograph and a description. Their address will also be available, allowing customers to search by postcode.

“The price will be there, and the person wanting to hire will be able to book it in advance. ToolMule will be paid commission by whoever is hiring the equipment out. The whole system will be really simple to use.”

The aim is to build up business gradually, starting in Glasgow and working outwards. “Then I plan to roll it out across the rest of the UK and into Ireland and eventually Europe. I have big ambitions for this.”

He hopes that in time, the big companies will also come on board and rent out their equipment through the portal.

“It will be open to them too. Initially we will start with smaller ambitions, but I’m hoping that about 500 people will start using it in the first month. By the end of the year, I’d like to have the whole of the UK covered and move into the Republic of Ireland.

“The response I’ve had so far has reality been very encouraging. Everyone I’ve spoken to thinks it’s a brilliant idea and people are keen to get onboard and bring their business.

“I know it’s a bold move, and every penny of my money has gone into this. But I’m confident it will work and excited about the future. I just want to get on with it now.” 

For more information please visit www.toolmule.com