Discover how Thomas Group’s approach to innovation and acquisitions created a plant hire leader 

Since its establishment in 2000, the family-owned Thomas Group Ltd has been a prominent player in the plant hire industry. Committed to excellence, Thomas Group offers market leading equipment and professional guidance to its valued customers. The group prides itself on its dedication to providing exceptional customer service built on years of industry experience and product knowledge. Supported by its round-the-clock specialist delivery and support teams, Thomas Group can ensure that clients nationwide receive the highest level of service at any time, any day. Ian McMillan, Head of Business Development, narrates the group’s rich history, punctuated with numerous acquisitions. 

“Thomas Group – formerly known as Thomas Plant Hire – is a group of companies founded by Wyn Thomas, our current Managing Director. Initially a family-run contracting business, Wyn and his daughter Lowri focused on groundwork projects. Over time, Wyn expanded the company by acquiring his own machines. When Wyn didn’t need some of his machines for certain jobs, he would hire them out around North Wales, where our head office is based. This is how the plant hire business was born and subsequently became its own division within Thomas Group. Over the last six-to-seven years, we grew very quickly, opening up a small depot in Widnes to complement our original one in North Wales. During that period of time, not only did our depot network grow exponentially, but we also completed numerous acquisitions. Through these acquisitions, we introduced the new divisions that shaped the Thomas Group into what it is today. In addition to our self-driving, nationwide plant hire, we retained the contracting division that started it all. Moreover, we have expanded our portfolio to include an accommodation business specialising in site accommodation, containers, offices and more. We also incorporated a tool hire division primarily serving the northwest of England and North Wales. 

“But that is not all. Thomas Group also owns a hydraulic hose company called SOS Hose Services, a forklift division named Manton Forklifts and Ongrade Machine Control, a specialist division focused on GPS and machine control systems for diggers and dozers. Manton Forklifts and SOS Hose Services retained their original trading name due to their strong reputation in the region where they operate. Similarly, we acquired Mulholland Plant Services, which kept its name while trading within Thomas Group. While we have taken different approaches to the name and branding of our acquired businesses, we still ensure that it is clear they are part of the Thomas Group. We understand that people often have strong associations with a company’s particular reputation and name. Even if the operations remain the same and the equipment is identical, people prefer to deal with familiar entities. Hence, keeping the acquired companies’ original name has contributed to our significant growth over the past five or six years,” he elaborates.

Ian discusses the benefits of Thomas Group’s early adoption of machine controls across its fleet. “Although machine control has been used in the UK for years in industries like rail, its adoption remains limited due to the weekly cost incurred. Meanwhile, in Scandinavian countries like Sweden, there isn’t an excavator, dozer, or roller that is not machine-controlled. Machine controls are the reason why roads in Sweden are built much faster, and their schools and infrastructure are significantly better. It has become undeniable that machine controls offer increased productivity and get the job done quicker. As a result, there has been a notable shift in the UK over the last five years where even small landscapers and house builders now recognise how much fuel and labour they are saving with machine controls. Those machines don’t require as much staff on site and therefore grant design engineers much more time to focus on design activities. This shift was anticipated, and Thomas Group was at the forefront, led by Wayne Stevens, a renowned figure in the machine control industry. Wayne’s expertise, gained from his involvement in major projects like Hinkley Point, has positioned Thomas Group as a leading provider in the field. We now own the biggest fleet of machine-controlled equipment in the country. Moreover, considering our fleet of plant equipment that is machine control ready, we can provide a full package to our customers. This means clients can hire a site cabin as well as a dozer equipped with GPS machine control and get comprehensive guidance on their site designs from our engineers. I believe that our success with machine controls is not solely attributed to being in the right place at the right time, but there was certainly an element of it when the shift to machine control occurred. Thomas Group has consistently progressed from strength to strength since adopting machine-controlled equipment over the past four years,” he highlights. 

For the remainder of 2024, Thomas Group will focus on investments in its fleet. “As a plant hire business, regular fleet renewal is key. Because we deal with many Tier 1 contractors, we will need to get rid of machines that are coming to the end of their cycle, as those customers will generally expect machines no older than three years. Hence, we try and renew our fleet every three-to-four years. Besides the push on fleet renewal, 2024 will be about acquiring more businesses mainly in the South of England where we seek to establish a foothold,” Ian ends.