The services may be different half a century on, but the team at Ovenden Tipper Services is proud of the history behind the business that started in the year England last won the World Cup.
The national side may not have achieved much since 1966, but the business founded by Robin Ovenden all those years ago continues to thrive, despite downturns in the national economy that have made things tight on a number of occasions.
That success has been achieved by adapting to the changing needs of customers, reacting quickly to new opportunities and focusing on delivering a responsive quality service.
The business, which celebrates its half century in October, has recently moved into impressive premises at Tilmanstone Works, just outside Dover, an 86,000 square feet building which is set to become the company’s new recycling centre.
The need for so much space for the recycling operation shows how much the world has changed since Robin Ovenden bought his first vehicle, a Commer lorry that he used for hauling cereal crops for farmers in East Kent.
Now the business is focused as much on recycling as on haulage, with the team working hard to source reclaimed products that people need and matching them up with developers and others who need spoil removed.
“It’s all about re-use these days,” explained director Alex Ovenden. “When we are asked to provide a tipper lorry to remove planings from a road that is being resurfaced, we then look for a customer – usually a farmer or landowner – who wants to use the planings to repair a track on his or her land.
“The last thing we do with virtually all the material we are asked to remove from site is take it to landfill. Not only is that bad for the environment, it’s also a prohibitively expensive option. That’s just not the way it works these days.”
What makes life even easier for both the haulier and the end user is if the customer plans ahead.
“If we can take the planings from the roadworks site straight to the farmer who needs them, it makes it a simple process for us and a much cheaper option for them,” said Alex. “If farmers let us know they want something in advance, it reduces the cost considerably because we don’t have to move it twice and store it in between times.”
The process is similar for clay, which might be in the way of a development but is ideal for lining ponds and reservoirs, and chalk, which can be compacted for use as a floor in some areas of the farm.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the Environment Agency doesn’t allow recycled material to be used without the necessary paperwork – but the team at Ovenden Tipper Services can help with that, too.
“Farmers may see nice clean chalk being dug out of a development site close to the farm and decide that they could put it to good use in a cattle yard,” said Alex, “but without the necessary exemption they would be in breach of EA regulations. Salesman Spike Davies can guide customers though the process of registering so that they can use the material.”
That attention to detail runs throughout the business, with transport manager Bryan May equally focused on making sure Ovenden Tipper Services meets or exceeds all the necessary standards and accreditations.
“Bryan is always on the lookout for new ways in which we can set ourselves apart and win more contracts,” explained Mo Ovenden, Alex’ sister and co-director. “We are close to getting silver accreditation under the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme – FORS – because apart from helping us meet higher standards it allows us to compete for work in London.
“It means we aren’t always the cheapest but it reflects our father’s determination to meet the highest possible standards, something that is as important today as it was 50 years ago.”
Her father’s approach to business is no secret, not least because Mo has all his old ledgers and paperwork, along with many photographs that show the development of the company in the early years.
In tribute to that history, she is currently trying to trace all the customers who feature in the early pages of his first accounts book in order to invite them to a celebration on the Ovenden stand at the East Kent Ploughing Match on 28 September at Mill Lane, Nonington.
Robin did an engineering apprenticeship with Rootes of Canterbury and Maidstone, which came in handy when he decided to set himself up as a haulier, helped by a loan from his brother Richard.
“The idea was that he could drive the lorry during the week and then repair it himself at weekends,” explained Mo. “He bought a Commer because he had trained on that particular vehicle and knew how to look after it.”
The ledger shows that Robin’s first job was hauling barley from Colemans at Adisham – now P C Coleman and Partners – to the Fremlins brewery that was then in Faversham. He quickly established the business and began to bring back feed from the mills after taking grain or beans on the outward journey.
By 1970, with the business based at Green Lane Farm, Marshborough, Robin had been joined by brother Adrian and a small team and was running three lorries. In 1974 the company moved to Aylesham and split into two halves, with Adrian heading up Ovenden Plant Hire and Robin continuing at the helm of Ovenden Tipper Services.
By now the company had moved into construction work as well as buying the Rowling chalk pit just outside Woodnesborough, supplying lime to farmers as well as chalk for construction.
The company still owns Rowling as well as another quarry at Hegdale, giving it a source of virgin chalk for farmers and others who need it instantly.
“It’s clearly cheaper for us to supply recycled material as that helps us find a home for what we cart off site, but if people need chalk immediately, the quarries mean we have a ready supply,” explained Alex.
Robin died ten years ago, just after the company’s 40th anniversary. By that time the company had bought E Goody Plant Hire, which remains part of the operation today, and in 2011 Alex and Mo, now directors of the business, added skip hire and hook-lift lorries to the expanding range of services on offer.
“We are always looking for new opportunities and new ways to diversify the business,” explained Mo. “In the early 2000s we were the first company in the area to operate a six-wheel grab lorry, which fills the gap between a skip and a larger vehicle.”
Shortly after Robin died Mo and Alex were left to negotiate the recession which began in 2008, just as they were taking delivery of four new lorries, having ordered them six months earlier.
Thinking on their feet, they persuaded the supplier to change three of them to tractor units and kept the company afloat – and their drivers employed – by providing international haulage for refrigerated trailers.
Anticipating the growth in the construction industry after emerging from the recession, in 2012/13 the company bought six new eight-wheel tipper lorries, specifying sleeper cabs in order to provide additional flexibility in case of future downturns.
With the focus increasingly on restoring land and reclaiming materials rather than simply disposing of them, Ovenden Tipper Services set up a recycling facility in Tilmanstone, just over the road from a former brickworks they have since bought as their new base.
The new facility has brought the entire operation onto one site – although on two sides of the road – and will allow Ovenden Tipper Services to further streamline the business and continue to remove spoil from areas where it isn’t needed and find a home for it where it is wanted.
Recycling is another area where Robin led the way. “In 1995 he was ahead of the game when he bought a concrete crusher, allowing him to remove old concrete from sites and then recycle it as aggregate,” recalled Mo.
Less than 20 years later his foresight is obvious. “Between 50% and 60% of the aggregate used in this country is now recycled,” she pointed out. “Dad was good at spotting gaps in the market and we still work hard to find new opportunities
The company now employs 45 people and runs around 30 vehicles, offering skip hire, bin hire, grab hire, haulage and muck-away services as well as providing chalk, planings, clay and other useful materials to farmers.
“It’s all about recovery and restoration these days,” said Alex, “and the added value that it brings. “We have lined reservoirs with clay spoil, used other excavated material for land raising and filled in a bomb hole with construction waste so that it could be turned into an orchard.
“What we also do is provide advice, both on the suitability of recycled material for various uses and on how best to tackle construction projects. We have a wealth of experience and we are always happy to help people find a solution to a problem.”