Deputy Editor David Jordan takes a trip to the West Midlands to visit, one of the UK’s top commercial vehicle body manufacturers, JC Payne.
A few miles south of JC Payne’s factory in Aldridge, I passed through the town of Sutton Coldfield, apparently one of the most prosperous areas of the United Kingdom. I’d never really been there before and if I’d been parachuted in I’d have guessed I was in an up-market district of Surrey, rather than on the edge of West Midlands’ industrial heartland. Quite a surprise.
The factory was easy to find, a large blue building with JC Payne written in three-foot letters on the side. The yard was busy with trucks coming and going and white fibreglass pods newly built awaiting the next stage in the production process. I decided to park on the road outside the gate. Later I learned that the company has recently bought the 40,000 sqft unit next door to the main building to increase capacity and streamline the flow of new vehicles as they pass through the factory.
I pressed the buzzer on the squawk-box outside the door and was duly let in to reception and issued with my visitor’s badge before being escorted to Neil and Gary Brandrick’s office; the two brothers who run the company. The Brandrick family have been involved in the supply of commercial vehicles for many years and in 2008 their father Kevan bought JC Payne after it fell into administration during the recession.
Neil explained the circumstances that lead to the acquisition. “JC Payne has been around since the 1920’s but it changed hands several times in recent years. Before it fell on hard times, the factory was producing about 3000 vehicles a year and employed over 200 people. The trouble was they only had a small number of customers and when the recession hit, some of them went out of business and unfortunately JC Payne went with them.”
The administrator had dramatically cut the workforce to around a dozen by the time the Brandricks took over, but since then the business has grown steadily and now employs 133 people with 118 involved in production. Design is carried out in house by the design team and skilled coachbuilders working on the shop-floor. “Finding people with the right skills is always difficult but we’ve introduced production techniques that reduce the level of skill required during the majority of the manufacturing process, so we only need skilled craftsmen for the more specialised operations,” said Neil. “Around 30% of our production staff are agency workers which means we can look for talent and offer permanent positions to the best workers when a vacancy arises – a sort of long job interview.”
In an effort to create future generations of skilled workers the company has a number of apprentices working on both the shop-floor and in the design department.
The factory currently produces between 1650 to 1700 vehicles a year; 60% are Luton derivatives with the remainder made up mainly of flatbeds, tippers, curtain-siders and pantechnicons, many of which are used by removals companies.
“We build on a number of manufacturer’s chassis including Mercedes-Benz, MAN, Scania, DAF, Renault and Iveco, or we’ll re-body a used vehicle, according to the customer’s requirements,” said Gary Brandrick. “We want to cater for as many customers as possible whatever their budget or specification. Not everyone wants or needs the latest Mercedes-Benz chassis so we give our customers a wide choice. We’re not in the business of building exotic trucks, but we do build them to last and give an excellent ROI.”
As well as building sturdy practical vehicles, JC Payne’s sister company JC Payne Specialist Services provides a mobile breakdown and maintenance service for tail lifts and other types of lifting equipment used on vehicles. A team of 15 engineers supported by approved service agents is on call 24/7, 365 days a year with a 60 to 90 minute response time.
Photos: Top: Gary and Neil Brandrick outside the factory; middle left: Luton body lowered onto chassis ; bottom: (from left to right) Fabrication in progress, Jordan Reader (Apprentice), Pods being manufactured in the fibreglass dept, Chassis mounting.
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