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Despite the current challenges, there’s room for expansion, according to Johnson Arabia

With a fleet of around 650 machines, Johnson Arabia is one of the largest AWP rental companies in the UAE. Established in 1999, Johnson Arabia has expanded its presence in the UAE with offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and across the GCC. The company boasts a customer base that includes the construction, maintenance and facilities management, petrochemicals, events, and advertising industries.

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“We launched our business initially as a crane rental company, and around 15 years ago, we entered the AWP rental business. Among our biggest strengths is the expertise and resources we have to offer cost-effective and versatile solutions for lift engineering and working at height to any industry,” says Leon Carlo, head of operations, aerial work platform division, Johnson Arabia.

Currently, Johnson Arabia’s AWP fleet comprises a mix of diesel (75%) and electric (25%) machines. The company reinvested in 120 machines in 2018 as part of its equipment replacement programme.

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Leon Carlo, head of operations, aerial work platform division, Johnson Arabia.

Carlo points out that investment in new machines depends on new market opportunities and customer feedback.

“Our decision to invest in new machines and brands depends entirely on what our customers want and the feedback they give to us. For example, indoor work in malls require electric machines and some customers demand accessories that can increase productivity for specific applications. We would opt for machines that offer the best features in terms of performance and safety and deliver our expected return on investment after 5–6 years. With regard to brands, we choose manufacturers that offer the best price and support. Our experience with OEMs also matter to a large extent,” says Carlo.

Johnson Arabia is also conducting trials with telematics for optimising asset utilisation.

“We have partnered with a leading AWP manufacturer to test how we can incorporate telematics on our fleet and track real-time statuses of our machines. Our intention is to help customers minimise downtime and improve asset utilisation. We realise the potential of telematics, but deployment will depend on the results of the trials, particularly how we’d be able to use the data to optimise our fleet, provide quicker response time to clients and save costs,” says Carlo.

With regard to new safety features of AWPs, Carlo indicates that customer demand depends on regulations and the extent to which they are enforced.

“It’s early to talk about advanced safety features because this market has yet to address many fundamental safety issues such as unskilled workers not adhering to basic safety rules or idling the machine while working, all of which results in faster wear and tear of the machine. Manufacturers may introduce one safety feature after another with every new model, but it may not translate into market acceptance. For example, a year ago, it appeared that the market wanted secondary guarding devices but that faded away within a few months. We believe operator safety training should be the priority for all end-users of AWPs,” says Carlo.

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As an IPAF member and certified training centre, Johnson Arabia offers IPAF training courses for the safe use of AWPs. Additionally, the company has differentiated itself in training services by offering operator familiarization to all customers, free of charge.

“Our IPAF-certified supervisors provide a brief training to all our rental customers to familiarise them with our equipment, which translates into safer equipment utilisation on sites. This is one of our competitive advantages. We take the handover process very seriously. Unlike some companies that have their transporters deliver and collect equipment from a yard to site and vice versa, our supervisors personally handle every handover,” says Carlo.

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Johnson Arabia’s rental business model includes daily and long-term hire of equipment. As rental rates have fallen during the last 18 months, customers are increasingly opting for monthly rental plans.

“While we prefer daily and weekly rentals because of their higher rates and low risk of payment delays, the market demand is more inclined toward monthly rentals even if the requirement is for 2–3 weeks. Rental plans also vary with industry; for example, monthly rental is popular for construction, and daily and weekly rental is popular for maintenance,” says Jonathan Penny, sales manager, aerial work platform division, Johnson Arabia.

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Jonathan Penny, sales manager, aerial work platform division, Johnson Arabia.

Payment delays remains the single biggest challenge facing the AWP industry in the region, and Johnson Arabia is not exempted from this crisis.

Martin Kirby, managing director, Johnson Arabia, comments: “We have to tackle payment issues on a daily basis. The slowdown in construction has had a domino effect extending from main contractors and subcontractors to suppliers like us. While this can be frustrating, having a strong credit control team helps to an extent by lifting the burden off from sales staff to follow-up on collections. That said, we don’t hesitate to walk away from a deal if we sense the potential of payment delays. Within our industry, we keep track of customers that default on payments regularly, and it serves as warning for companies that deal with such customers.”

This year, Johnson Arabia celebrates its 20th year in business. Coincidentally, the company has opened its new 41,800 m2 premises in the UAE at Dubai Industrial City, comprising the head office, yard, and facilities for maintenance, repair and training.

“Despite the current challenges, we believe there’s room for expansion. We have the confidence to expand because of our 20-year reputation in the market that has been built with the quality of our equipment and customer relationship management. Currently, we have the right mix of brands and equipment in our fleet, and we offer 24/7 support with a dedicated night-shift team. The combination of our unique product mix and services enables us to remain competitive and profitable,” says Kirby.

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