Inside Collins Earthworks


Behind every great company is great people. The machines don’t run themselves and lots of planning and organisation ensures the jobs get done on time. To see get a better understanding of what is required to move millions of tonnes of dirt, Darren Scully got a behind the scenes look with Collins Earthworks.

By now seeing an earthmoving machine with the Collins logo on the side is a familiar sight on many muck-shifting jobs across the UK. This progressive company has grown steadily over the years and they have successfully completed many challenging projects. The business was started many years ago by David Collins, firstly as a sole trader, then registering Collins Contractors Plant Hire Ltd in 2000. In 2006 the trading name was changed to Collins Earthworks Ltd. Based near Kirkby in Ashfield; the company has worked throughout the UK. They have been fortunate to achieve an increased turnover through the years and established several affiliated companies.

This is a company that has not put all its eggs in one basket. Their sister company, Enviro-Trac Ltd, was set up in 2008 which specialises in soil stabilisation. Collins Training was formed in 2013 to provide operator training internally as well as offering external services. Their most recent investment has been the establishment of Collins Demolition Ltd. Each enterprise operates out of the same offices in Nottinghamshire to provide a single port of call to their many clients. The group of companies that they own and run now provides services such as earthworks, demolition, stabilisation, transport, training, and plant sales. They are also an affiliated dealer for compact Volvo equipment.

Getting the message out

I arrive at their head office in Ripley and I am soon warmly greeted by their group marketing manager, Kim Smith. She has an experienced background in PR and marketing and certainly knows her stuff when it comes to explaining what Collins Earthworks is all about. She used to manage large events until an opportunity came along to look after the marketing for Collins demolition. She readily admits that she had zero experience of the construction/plant world but soon found it all extremely interesting and very challenging.

The one thing that she really liked about her new surroundings was that it wasn’t very corporate, more like a big family. Everyone involved was very friendly and helpful and this allowed Kim to learn very quickly all about plant equipment in a relaxed atmosphere. It is true to say that you cannot market a product or a business unless you know all about it, so she got herself out on site visits, to speak with contract managers and the machine operators. “I really wanted to know what was involved in the business. What each machine did and how the job was done. Collins are very involved with Volvo equipment, so I visited SMT in Duxford, to get an insight into how they operated, and this was all very helpful in helping me get a better understanding of this business” said Kim. It is still a learning process as no two jobs are the same and this variety certainly adds the spice to her job. In years gone by, muck-shifting firms really didn’t bother with public relations or marketing. It is very much noticeable today, with all the social media platforms, unless you have a marketing manager you will be left behind or not noticed. I ask Kim to expand further on her role and why it is required.

“Some people here would probably admit they are not sure what exactly it is that I do. They mistakenly believe that I just go around taking pictures and spend all day on Facebook or Instagram. When I started over two years ago, we had zero social media presence. All our competitors had some sort of platform, so I had a task to try and increase our brand awareness. This is so people become familiar with who we are, that they know we exist and can see the great work we are doing. It also helps my job that we are also the first to have certain Volvo earthmovers, such as the 750 excavator and we will also be the first to have the mammoth Volvo 950. I like to shout it out from the rooftops about what we are doing. I also like to keep the staff informed which is why I do a quarterly newsletter. We have 350 members of staff in various parts of the group, so it is very important they understand what everyone else in Collins is doing. It makes them all feel part of the family very much. We like to reward staff members who go the extra mile, which is why we started an employee of the month award. It really does make the employee feel very much valued in our organisation. I also deal with the website for the group, making sure all the photo galleries are updated along with news stories. I must deal with the various media organisations that cover construction to ensure they are kept informed of the various jobs we are involved with and answer any queries. Another very important part of my job is dealing with our customers and helping to build those vital relationships” explained Kim. Listening to what we she must do, left me feeling exhausted and it certainly wasn’t a job that just meant posting photos on social media. Building a brand is not an easy job, but Kim takes it in her stride and demonstrates how valuable it is to any construction company.

Moving machines

Outside in the yard there are many machines in for service and some TLC. The power washer is kept busy, cleaning down excavators that have come in from a job. I see the Sitech lads busy fitting a machine control system to a dozer and my eye is drawn to a beautiful Caterpillar D9G, looking pristine after a rebuild. This was one of their first large dozers and now sits proudly at the entrance gate. Other machines of various sizes, including a row of Volvo A60 dump trucks are ready for the next job. To move the machines from site to site is a job that Collins do themselves. They are so good at it that they also do it for other companies. I get to sit down with transport manager, Matthew Smith. He started with Collins over ten years ago as a low-loader driver.

He now manages a fleet of Volvo tractor units and low-loaders that transport machines all over the country. I ask him what the most challenging part for his drivers is. “I think keeping on top of all the rules and regulations, especially regarding escorts and trailer weights. You must ensure that your load is legal with regards the rules. Also, this is a very physical job, it also involves getting your hands dirty.
You have to ensure the machines are loaded correctly and tied down properly. I am lucky that I have a great team of drivers who have plenty of common sense and are extremely reliable” he said. As the transport manager, Matthew has his work cut out. He must ensure the right type of lorry and trailer is sent to collect a machine. As you can imagine, a Volvo A30 is a completely different animal to a Volvo A60.

The trips must be planned in advance, to ensure productivity and of course that the journey is as economical as possible. It can be a bit of juggling act at times, but it is a job he really enjoys. “The job changes very quickly, in the morning I could have a certain amount of trips planned, but by lunchtime, that could have completely changed with site managers looking for different types of machines delivered to their site, I really enjoy that challenge and it certainly keeps me and the team on their toes” said Matt. All their experience and knowledge were put to the test when they got a last-minute request to move a Caterpillar 980 loading shovel from Lincolnshire up to the port of Glensanda on the west coast of Scotland. Over four hundred miles of road had to be travelled including on very narrow ‘A’ class roads. Matt took the phone call from the client at 7pm requesting the move and quickly had to arrange the correct lorry and low-loader with escorts and all the necessary permits and police liaison. In total it took less than thirty hours to get the machine to its destination. The massive efforts required for this last-minute job were recently recognised as Collins is shortlisted for a heavy haulage award. “It was a huge challenge for us, and we really put the shoulder to the wheel to get the job done. The toughest part was that I got the call on the first day of my holiday, so I had plenty of explaining to do with my good lady wife” joked Matt.