On the front line
Standing as the largest manufacturer and hirer of traffic light equipment in Europe, SRL Traffic Systems Ltd (SRL) doesn’t just deliver products – it prides itself on a full 24/7 service
As it celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2022, SRL Traffic Systems Ltd (SRL) can look back with pride on a quarter of a century of growth and innovation. The business, which was formed to create an alternative to cable linked, generator-driven, temporary traffic lights, has always based its operations on this spirit of entrepreneurship and forward thinking.
Construction & Civil Engineering (CCE) speaks to Alison Spooner, Commercial Director, and she explains how important it is to the business to look at what the market needs and create solutions to those problems. “We evolved from being predominantly a manufacturer and seller of portable traffic lights when we realised that as experts, we were ideally placed to supply, install and service them as well,” she begins. “So, we began the process of opening depots, hiring staff and constantly building equipment to enable us to supply the traffic management companies and utility companies with their traffic lights.”
This decision proved inspired, as from that early start, SRL has opened 30 hire depots and created four divisions: Equipment Hire, Manufacturing/Technical, Urban 64 and Intelligent Transport Systems. Urban 64 is a true exemplar of SRL’s ability to look at what the market needs and supply around it. Involving the rental of semi-permanent traffic signals and created around seven years ago, this division can now deliver large scale and complex solutions to more than 50 live sites. Described as an ‘intelligent temporary system’, it is the first, and only, standalone temporary traffic light solution to feature permanent technology, enabling site bespoke layouts for the safe flow of vehicles, cyclists and pedestrian traffic during construction phases. SRL’s team support schemes from initial concept to completion – offering bespoke layout designs to suit the temporary works, full installation, maintenance, 24/7 call out, decommissioning, inspections and site visits.
While the technology is impressive, it is this service offer that Alison highlights as setting SRL apart from the competition. “We have a national reach, and a full-service provision, so a customer can obtain a product from us, and we will either deliver it to them or meet them on site and work under their umbrella to install the systems,” she comments. “We also complete free servicing for the customers in their yards and depots, so we will maintain the equipment for them.
“Some clients only ever want to hire, and therefore they have the newest technology, they can swap it in and out and that gives them flexibility to adapt to the peaks and troughs of their business flow. The unique thing about SRL is that we can top up their requirements as and when they need it. We can also deliver and configure it in their yard, or we can come onsite. Equipment is a service, and that is who we are: we not only provide the box, but we also support it as well, and we can react quickly and deliver up and down the entire country. We will search all our depots to meet their needs and ensure that the customer request is met. That is quite distinctive really.”
As Alison notes, anything less than 100 percent is not an option for SRL. “How can you ask a customer to be loyal to you and use you as a single source as a lot of ours do, and then let them down? We will move heaven and earth to make sure we supply that person on that day, and work closely with them all the time to understand their needs.”
A recent development at the company that is helping SRL to demonstrate its capabilities to clients is its new site in Nottingham, which includes a Technology and Innovation Centre. There, customers can view and appreciate the operational capabilities of the equipment, and SRL can more efficiently plan and tailor jobs by renting them the optimum equipment package that they need. “We were finding that customers just weren’t aware of the full expanse of our offering, so at Nottingham we have all our products on show downstairs, the whole journey of the business is detailed along the staircase and then upstairs we have 30 strong boardroom table, so we can invite people to come in and discuss their needs, we can demo products, as well as host promotions and launches, and generally spread the message about everything we are doing and are planning to do in the future.”
The clients that utilize the services from SRL range from councils to major contractors, and Alison gives some examples of its service provision in action, and how the business supplies not just products, but bespoke, thoughtful solutions that encompass efficiency and safety as well. “We provided a system to Aberdeen City Council about six months ago where there was a road closure, and their workers were getting abused. So, we supplied a barrier that took the man out of the equation, which saved labour and therefore cost.
“We’re also looking at bundled solutions that protect not just workers, but also pedestrians, and these are proving very popular during school holidays, as our clients can reduce risks to children and can complete works all year round. We’re always thinking one step ahead of what the industry needs and really want to show what our capabilities are in these sorts of areas.”
Alison also mentions SRL’s work on HS2. “We supply to most of the contractors with our Temporary Haul Route Crossings, and that is thanks to our previous success on the Aberdeen bypass project, where our technology supported Central Traffic Management with their contract, the project included the requirement to exchange more than 300 fresh batteries a day! So, when HS2 came around, the contractors knew our product was tried and tested, and we are now supplying a lot of systems, both purchased and hired.
“I don’t think we have scratched the surface of what HS2 is going to require as yet,” she adds. “For every system, there needs to be men and women to service them, and labour is something we are all short of, so I think smarter technology is probably going to be the way forward.”
In fact, smart tech is something that SRL is already exploring, and this brings Alison briefly onto the recent partnership with a business called SWARCO, and the purchase of 350 mobile Variable Message Signs (VMS). “We believe that their software MyCity will incorporate with Urban 64 as well as our fleet of VMS to manage and inform pollution levels going in and out of major cities. Everything is becoming a lot smarter now,” Alison explains.
While smart technology is helping to address the situation with human resources, finding the right staff nevertheless maintains the top position on the agenda for SRL. “It’s the main topic of every board meeting we have,” Alison agrees. “Not only how do we attract the right people, but are we paying the right salaries to them, and can we retain them? We want to be an above minimum wage employer, more towards and passing the living wage. We are investing in people, but we are a tough industry to be in. For us, it means looking at how we train our people and making sure they are safe, both physically and mentally.”
Alison also points out that for a company that prides itself on exceptional service levels, the right staff is a critical factor for delivering what is required. “The high quality of SRL’s products speaks for itself, but our service is what everyone talks about,” she says. “Creating personal relationships with our customers and actually caring about everybody is impossible without the right people on board.”
Overall, Alison and the SRL team remain committed to ensuring customer needs are met, price rises are made only when necessary and it is really listening to what the customers want. “We have to remain one step ahead of the competition and make sure we’re going in the right direction,” she concludes.
A quarter of a century in business is a massive achievement and SRL deserves to celebrate this anniversary and its successes, while looking forward to more growth, innovation, strategic partnerships and development. This will undoubtedly be enhanced by a new investment from 3i Infrastructure plc, which in December 2021 acquired a 92 percent controlling stake in SRL. This substantial investment will enable an exciting next phase of growth, with plans to double in size on the agenda. CCE looks forward to catching up with Alison again soon, and sharing the new developments that will certainly be underway at this growing and innovative business.
SRL Traffic Systems Ltd
Services: Europe’s largest traffic light equipment manufacturer and hirer