5 November 2018

HARSH was founded in 1987, when its owner, Grant Faulkner, went to America during his studies. While there, he saw an early version of the world’s first stabilised tipping gear for heavy goods vehicles. That company, founded by Second World War and Pearl Harbor veteran Bud Harsh, provided a few samples of their products, and asked for them to take the equipment back to the UK and sell it. Despite the fact that Harsh’s British and American incarnations share a name, and maintain a deep relationship to this day, the relationship is strictly supply-based. Director Adam Hargreaves has been with Harsh, based just outside York, since 2005, and has seen it grow to a 32-employee team without compromising its family-grounded attitude.

Though we started out by selling stabilised tipping gears and have, since then, grown monumentally, we now offer eight different product categories, and these are: stabilised underfloor, compact underfloor, front-end, skips and hooks, three-way, tractor kits, sheeting systems, and, finally, hook-lift trailers. We handle the sale of supplies, installations and service of precision hydraulic equipment and truck components for the haulage, waste and agricultural industries.

A family-owned business

We maintain that our products are nothing without service and support, so we try to remain as available as possible. This is something integral to our family dynamic; Harsh staff and clients are above all else human, and we try to ensure that everyone is treated as part of a close network. Since the 1980s, we have placed real emphasis on building relationships, understanding our clients’ businesses, and listening, looking and learning to understand the individual in question.

Where communication can be remote, easy and impersonal, we try to make it easy to speak one-on-one and streamline what we do. When you’re selling premium, high-end products, you need to understand what they can do for your customer; stabilised tipping gear is expensive, but the value over the product’s lifespan should outweigh that cost. We try to get clients to look on Harsh products not simply as purchases, but as investments. The excellence of the products we offer is outlined in our MAX, or maximum, philosophy; within each product category we provide, we define the area of utility for that, and then try to ensure we offer the most and, indeed, maximum possible. For instance, within our front-end equipment, we define it as “payload” – and try to offer the maximum payload.

Expansion and the Tarpaulin Company

When Grant had returned from his studies in the US, he worked alongside his father and three members of staff. We now employ 32 people at Harsh, 30 years on, and have diversified massively the products we offer. Since the 2009/10 financial year, we have more than trebled our turnover and become steadily more profitable.

As a result of this, we were able to acquire a tarpaulin company in April 2018 for the purpose of providing tailored products for industrial, commercial or retail use, while retaining the trademark Harsh versatility and ease of use. This subsidiary, known as the Tarpaulin Company, will provide tarpaulins that work in tandem with our other products – for instance, covering the back of a truck to stop materials blowing out on roads, or ensuring greater safety.

We are trying to broaden and diversify the Tarpaulin Company and move from commercial vehicles into wider usage, as well, as there are very few tailor-made tarpaulin offerings on the market. Between windmill covers, pig tents, potato covers, caravans, awnings and dividers, just to name a few, we hope to be able to provide an incredibly diverse range of shapes and sizes for all kinds of functions.

This growth, both in terms of Harsh itself and our recent acquisition, has been thanks to an expanding client base.

We have four external sales teams, working in London, Bristol, Sheffield and Glasgow, and we attend exhibitions and conferences, maintain a constant social media presence, and ensure we visit clients one-to-one where required. We are proactive – but the Harsh hallmark quality has ensured that, for 30 years, word of mouth and referrals still make up a great deal of business.

Challenges in maintaining our quality, and further evolution

European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWVTA) is of massive relevance to our industry, and returned in 2014. It requires standardisation across a broad variety of parameters, including legal vehicle width and a requirement for side and rear protection to ensure the safety of cyclists, pedestrians and other users. As a result, we have had to adjust all Harsh products – compliance for type approval is necessary before haulage can be operational, and as such, all components must be type approved in kind. This also requires accurate process documentation – thanks to our ISO 9001 accreditation, however, we were well prepared for all processes prior to ECWVTA’s return.

Brexit has arguably also been a difficulty. The exchange rate has had an impact – our two main supply links are with America and Europe and we have seen issues as prices naturally have increased. The uncertainty and volatility of the current political climate is still a worry, but we are nonetheless hopeful about what the future holds. In fact, since Brexit, we have had two record years of sales revenue growth.

When we widen our agricultural offering, we are planning on splitting the company into two brands – Harsh Truck and Harsh Agri – to allow us to focus separately on two different products. Over the coming years, we anticipate that our product range will broaden to cater equally for both sectors. We are looking at taking on more employees, investing heavily in the Tarpaulin Company and exploring other avenues; should truck sales decline, this will allow us to cover our backs, keep an eye out and expand where necessary. For Harsh, the future is all about three things: remaining aware and continuing to grow, while still giving customers outstanding service.

Construction & Engineering 2017/18 –