Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Title: 10 years on, and they said it would never last!

The following editorial was published in Canals, Rivers + Boats magazine Sept' 2011.

2011 is a particularly special anniversary for River Canal Rescue as it sees the company reach a significant milestone - their 10th year in business. It was back in 2001 that Trevor Forman (CEO) and Stephanie Horton (MD) began the business, the name of which came to Trevor during a dream. It was this reoccurring dream, of a business that provided a breakdown service for boaters, that provided the inspiration for the couple, who both have engineering backgrounds, to start the business with Christopher Barnett.

From the outset the business the couple always aimed for was to provide nationwide coverage so being based in Stafford - where the company are still based - seemed logical given it’s central location and easy access both north and south. Despite this it was a big ask as to begin with the company consisted of just the three of them to cover all the calls. After the first year more engineers joined the business and since that time the network of people on the road has grown at a rate of 500 members per new engineer.

It would seem that, as with all new ventures (especially ones that do something very different) that the trade were “skeptical”. Stephanie particularly remembers their first shows where they were seen as outsiders and at which they were regularly met with comments like “it will never work'' and “its been tried before”. She remembers that “not many people would have anything to do with us” but it was the Marine Engine Services guys who, in her words “were the first to hold out the hands of friendship.”

Ten years on, and with 15 engineers now on the road, many of those first customers are still with RCR. As a special celebration 10 of the earliest members were given a free membership as a thank you for being loyal members. Some of the glowing comments RCR receive  from members show that the service is well respected and a much needed part of boating life.

“We, as members for quite a few years, would like to say that you give the best possible service to boaters. Over the years you have given us excellent service and the increase in price is not a problem. You are well worth every penny, it is a small price to pay for your great service and the peace of mind it brings. We use every possible opportunity to recommend you to anyone without your service. My wife and I wish you continued success in your venture for many years to come.” Mr Suter Gold

We were delighted with the speed and the attention to our welfare that RCR gave including the follow-up call to ensure everything was working satisfactorily.” Mr Ballard Bronze

“It was most reassuring to have someone that knew what he was doing to come and get us going and to give us advice for the future care of our engine/electrics.” Narrowboat Anne Rose

“The young engineer who responded was superb! He was polite, friendly, knowledgeable and efficient. He made a temporary fix and arranged the wiring so that the fault could not occur again accidentally. I was delighted with the service from all of you and would appreciate my comments being passed on to the relevant staff. Thank you again.” Mr Geistiger Bronze

These 15 engineers are kept busy covering their own areas, some of which can have a radius of up to 100 miles. Naturally they are located in areas with the highest population of boats so the Midlands is home to a number of engineers but RCR say they have people located all over the UK. These 15 people attended approximately 300 calls each with only 400 calls being passed to contractors to cover jobs the RCR team just couldn’t get to.

When talking to a company like this you have to ask the question, “what is the most unusual job you’ve had to deal with? And in this case the reply was that “the list is endless, and sometimes gruesome if we include what has been found on props!” It would seem that anything from human parts to bouncy castles, cars, matresses have all caused problems and ended up around propellers. Stephanie went on to add, “we once found the reason for an overheating engine was due to a fish in the cooling system, we have attended engines that have been installed by a DIY'er and don't have any method of changing fan belts and one which had a fan belt 2 mtrs long - not something we carry as standard! A ford Anglia engine with the gearbox and clutch still attached...yes you put it in gear just alike a car! A call-out for lost drive only to discover that the gearbox had been stolen, as well as some additional chosen items.”

Despite all this the reasons for the calls hasn’t changed much over the years.  Stephaine told us that, “we always see a peak in blocked filters, and fuel contamination and pipes leaking as the season starts, (or people begin their cruise) there are cables, alternator failures, gearbox seals, coupling failures, split pipes, battery & electrical issues that pop up all the time.”

So what of the future for this family business that is proud of it’s ethos of going that extra mile for it’s customers? Well more recently the company have set up Canal Contracting to cover the areas that normal RCR membership doesn’t. The idea being to provide boaters with that bit more peace of mind. As membership numbers increase the team will also need to expand and much of this comes from it’s own apprenticeship program (one they are proud to say is the only one in the marine industry that isn’t based on the coast). The bottom line would seem to be that they aim to take the worry out of boating.

To this end RCR has now developed their membership to include the costs of major components though there Replacement Parts Cover. This means that should a major component like a gearbox, coupling, starter motor, alternator etc fail then the cost of the part and any additional labour is now all covered by the annual membership fee. “We truly believe that this innovative development will really assist boaters in taking away the worry and stress that unexpected costs from a breakdown can cause. We know how many of these types of breakdowns occur each year and therefore we know that it adds real value for our members to have the piece of mind this new cover provides”

Stephanie's own words “take being the 4th emergency service as part of our remit.” She added that “they are proud of our Investors in people award and ISO 9000 status as only a hand few of companies on the inland waterways have achieved this.” Here’s to the next 10 years!