Mellor preparing for a future that looks rosy

Shrewd management decisions, a clear positioning of the business and a landmark new model have driven growth at Mellor. To service that, it has doubled its factory space at its Rochdale headquarters

The refurbished building at Rochdale will soon double Mellor’s capacity

Further evidence of the accessible minibus sector’s rude health can be seen in Rochdale, where Mellor has recently completed a significant expansion of its factory there.

Those who have visited Miall Street in the past will know that it has traditionally been a cramped facility, where juggling vehicles, components and parking was a major challenge. The £1m growth project changes that, but just as importantly, it positions Mellor for the future.

Besides additional yard space, the jewel in the crown is an additional building to the east of the site. Not only does that double production space, but it also comes with extensive office provision as Mellor turns its sights on becoming the UK’s third-largest bus builder.

The ultimate overall capacity of Miall Street is 500 minibuses per year, says MD John Randerson. Mellor expects to finish 2018 on around 300, and it is planning small and incremental steps upwards from that.

Factory fresh

“It has been no secret that the Rochdale site is ‘landlocked’, and as volumes grew it became challenging for the business to satisfy them,” says John. “In particular, the amount of components arriving has been difficult to manage.”

The search for a remedy to that has been ongoing for several years. The easiest option would have been to relocate, but that would have exposed Mellor to the potential loss of staff – not something that it wanted to deal with.

“We didn’t move because we want to keep the skilled workforce that we have in Rochdale. Miall Street is convenient for both the railway station and a tram stop. Staying here is not the most efficient thing we could have done, but it is best overall for the business.”

A deal was completed on 31 January to purchase an adjacent plot. Work immediately began to turn it into an addition to the existing area, and production in the second building should have commenced by the time this is read.

Work also includes an enlarged yard for extra vehicle and staff parking 

All of Mellor’s models will be assembled there as and when demand dictates; there will be no demarcation between the two halls, which are on opposite sides of an expanded yard that holds base vehicles awaiting admission.

Building blocks

Additional manufacturing space comes amid a busy period for Mellor. While the full-size bus industry is struggling amid uncertainty, Mellor and its sister Woodall Nicholson subsidiary Treka are seeing large increases in demand for accessible minibuses.

“2018 has been an excellent year for Woodall Nicholson so far. Treka’s performance continues to exceed our expectations, while at Mellor we have strategically positioned ourselves to capitalise on the small low-floor bus sector,” says John.

Mellor remains committed to the Maxima, its mid-sized high-floor product built on a 7,200kg Iveco Daily chassis. That apart, the overall market is split between Mellor and Treka, with other high-floor products being handled by the latter.

Expansion of its site was key to Mellor meeting demand for the Sprinter-based Strata low-floor. The Strata has seen success with many buyers that until recently would have been outside Mellor’s reach, and John is keen to see that continue.

Other changes combined with the expanded production area mean that Mellor is now able to handle large orders – potentially for 50 vehicles or more – without any impact on other buyers.

“We have capacity within the business to deliver that size of order. At the end of 2017, Woodall Nicholson committed to protecting the supply of Sprinter chassis. We still have availability for this year, although stock is dwindling.”

To that end, Mellor will show two minibuses built on the new Sprinter chassis – including a Strata low-floor – at Euro Bus Expo, held at the NEC Birmingham between 30 October and 1 November.

Small operators safe

Factory expansion delivers a significant latent capacity to fulfil large orders, but where does that leave small buyers in the community transport (CT) and local authority sectors?

The existing assembly hall will work alongside the new building at Mellor

They have nothing to worry about, says John. While CT demand has dropped thanks to a combination of the Community Minibus Fund’s completion and ongoing instability within the sector, both groups form key parts of Mellor’s customer base.

As an example, it recently won an order to body a single compressed natural gas-fuelled Iveco for a London borough, and ingrained engineering know-how means that it remains happy to turn its hand to bespoke small orders.

“We can respond very quickly to those. Customers get the same level of service regardless of whether they buy one vehicle or 100,” says John.

To demonstrate that, he uses the example of Prentice Coaches, which is based in East Lothian. In 2017, Prentice purchased a customised Strata for local bus work in Haddington. It recently added a second.

“Our engineers and production staff are very good at adapting to the circumstances, and I take pride in having a team able to do that.”

Mellor is also looking to the export market, and John promises that there will be further news on its UK product range soon. Perhaps it won’t be long until the 500 milestone is reached.