On this very special episode of the podcast, Taylor welcomes Nick Drew, the man behind the infamous 'Digger Man Blog’, to talk about his early start in construction, his late blooming blogging skills, the realities of the construction industry, and, of course, CONEXPO. Nick opens up the episode by fondly remembering his childhood and the days he used to spend with his father at his job working on construction sites. It wasn’t until he was much older and more seasoned in the construction industry, however, that Drew got his start in his true calling, construction journalism.
In 2008, Drew got his big break and hasn’t looked back since. As an illustrious construction blogger, he now gets approached to travel the world and report on the newest machinery, construction news, and conventions, like CONEXPO, which Taylor and Nick are both looking forward to. They go on to explain how special the convention is, noting that nowhere else can you find so many leaders and friends in the field that put you in contact with new machinery and communities. And in the wake of the COVID-19 construction boom with new developments popping up overnight and product demand rapidly increasing, that’s now more important than ever.
- Drew’s early start in construction
- Tilt rotator technology
- Shifting the narrative around construction work
- Journalism in the construction industry
- Drew’s blogging career
- The future of diesel alternatives
- North American and European machinery
- The COVID-19 construction boom
If you want to listen to more recorded podcasts, click below to see the CONEXPO-CON/AGG archive of episodes.
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Taylor White: Welcome back to the CONEXPO-CON/AGG Podcast. I'm your host Taylor White. Today, we have someone that we wanted to make sure that we had on the show. Someone who plays a huge role in making sure that the construction, news surrounding the industry, and especially shows like CONEXPO-- you may know him as the ‘Digger Man Blog’ on Instagram with over 100,000 followers, Nick Drew.
Nick, I'm so happy to have you here, man.
Nick Drew: It's great to be here. Thanks for inviting me on.
Taylor White: Yeah, no problem. I wanted to talk to you and get you on here today, because I remember the first time that I found out about you -- it was actually vice versa. You wrote an article about my now wife operating an excavator, and you were kind of captivated how it was unique getting women in construction, and getting a beginner in that. And I thought that that was super neat.
So, I wanted to get you on here to talk about what you have going on, what you've done -- and you've done so much in the industry over the years that I've been watching you at least. So, I think that you have a lot to share, and I feel like starting with a bit of your backstory would be interesting.
So, how long have you been in the construction industry? Because I know that you used to have your own gig, correct?
Nick Drew: Yeah, I did. I mean, for me, all this in the construction plant machinery world, it started way back in the mid-1970s. My dad was a backhoe loader operator, mainly JCBs in the UK here. And, I used to go to work with him as a kid, sit on his lap, and you know the score, you'd pick the levers up, having a play during the break times, and just continue from there really. So, as soon as I was old enough to go to work on my own, my dad actually got me a job and away I went on to the machines.
Taylor White: I relate to that. I mean, for sure, definitely sitting on the lap, and finding your -- I guess you found your love for the industry back then, right? Like, "This is what I like."
Nick Drew: Yeah, this is what I wanted to do. And there was never any doubt what I was going to do when I left school. It was in my mind right from the word 'go', really.
Taylor White: That's awesome. So, I saw on your Instagram, it says that you are a plant owner, an operator. Is that current?
Nick Drew: Yeah. Not currently, no. I did have a go at that in the past. Yeah, I had my own machines for a little while. Unfortunately, a dodgy customer didn't pay me and that was the end of that.
Taylor White: Brutal.
Nick Drew: Yeah. But it's something that happens in life, unfortunately, and it was just one of those things, and I just moved on. Yeah, you get on with life. So, I got back in the game straight away virtually, just drove with someone else and carried on like that.
Taylor White: So, what kind of stuff were you doing when you had your plant going? Like, what kind of work did you do? And when you say plant, I guess that might be a language barrier for us over here. So, what does that mean?
Nick Drew: A plant in this country is plant machineries, heavy equipment, basically.
Taylor White: Cool. Wow, that's interesting.
Nick Drew: Yeah. For some reason, we've always called it plant, heavy plant.
Taylor White: Yeah, I kind of figured, but I'm like maybe people listening might not know what that means.
Nick Drew: Yeah, of course, from the North American slang.
Taylor White: Yeah, nice. And what kind of work were you mainly doing? Like, obviously heavy machinery work; so, excavation, like site preparations, that sort of stuff?
Nick Drew: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mainly I was involved in stuff like housing sites, housing developments and stuff like that, some small civil engineering works, and -- you call it local authority works, I guess, we call it the council. So, I used to do that kind of stuff. I was never into the real heavy muck shifting scene. That's a different world altogether. But it was just regular day-to-day work, really.
Taylor White: Totally. And when you had that back then, what did you find now versus then that you see? I mean, because you're still in this industry, and you still see it right on a day to day. Like, what do you see that's changed for the good and maybe the bad in the industry?
Nick Drew: Well, obviously, we're seeing a lot of technology now. With all the GPS and everything, that's the way they're going now. And the big thing in this country as well, the take up of the tilt rotators, and I know you've got some tilt rotators on board now, Rototilt, I believe from what I've seen-
Taylor White: Oh yeah.
Nick Drew: -and that's a game-changing piece of kit which is fantastic.
Taylor White: 100%.
Nick Drew: Yeah. And I've been to Sweden many times and it's just like everywhere you go, there's people with tilt rotators. And in the UK, it was a bit of a slow burner. It took people a long while to get to the gist of it, but now they understand the benefits. Yeah, it's expensive, but you've got to look at the bigger picture. And I think that's what it does; it brings massive benefits.
Taylor White: I agree, totally. And it was funny because you touched on what I was thinking when you were saying, that is, when you go to Sweden, they're everywhere. And I see a lot of it too, people being like, "Oh, welcome to the 21st century, North America, you're finally catching on." Did do you find the adoption of the technology of a tilt rotator, making a machine, making an excavator where, "Hey, we can put different attachments on this, we can swivel the bucket 360, you can put a broom on it, a grade beam, a roller, a packer." Like, do you find that other places, even the UK, were slower to adopt that once like Sweden and then started using them?
Nick Drew: Really, yeah. It's been slow to get going here, but now everyone's seeing what they can do. We're seeing more and more people get them on board. And like you say, you become a multifaceted piece of kit, you can put all those different attachments on, and it's just like the extension of your wrist, isn't it? The things you can do with them.
Taylor White: What I've found is key is having the right operator on it, right? Because like-
Nick Drew: Absolutely that's crucial.
Taylor White: -yeah. I always tell my guys and I'm like, "You can just jam somebody on that and then that very expensive piece of equipment, it could be worth really nothing because it's not being used to its full potential." But what's really key and really important is getting the people that actually like -- first of all, a really important thing is wanting the knowledge to know how to make the thing work. And like, that's what excites me is, when I hire an operator that is excited about learning new things about the rotator, like, "Hey man, like guys come watch this." So, I learned that if I'm loading the truck and I tilt this way, or if I use the grade beam and I swivel the topsoil this way,-- like, it's important who you have actually running the machine versus just having the machine.
Nick Drew: Yeah, absolutely. You've got to have someone who's going to embrace that concept and has limitless imagination of the things they can do with it. So, that is key.
Taylor White: And it's really cool. And I know on your page as well, too, you highlight people that are so amazing on these tilt rotators that just blow me out of the water. I'm just like,-- I fall into a trance sometimes, it's like I've been watching tilt rotator, because for three hours now, what am I doing with my life? But some people, guys and girls that run these machines, it's unbelievable, it's crazy what they can do.
Nick Drew: Yeah. It often makes me laugh. You get on the social media, you get some guys saying, "Oh, it's just dumbing down the skills." But, no way; it's taking the skills to yet another level. And like you say, the things these guys can do is just amazing.
Taylor White: Yeah. It's taking it to another level because you run an excavator, and then you get an excavator, and now you have six more buttons on your actual joysticks that you've got to now control and remember what each one does, and it's a completely different like factor of running a machine. So, the technology is a big thing as well, but I know a big thing that a lot of people touch on right now, especially us in like,-- what was it back then when you were doing it? Like, running your own plant, your own heavy machinery business with the laborers? Like, how was it finding people to work for you? Because right now, that's a hot topic.
Nick Drew: Yeah. It was very, very difficult. I mean, I'd never employed people on the ground. I was just doing the machinery hire, so to speak. I still had to find operators, which was difficult way back then. That was, about 1997 to 2001. And it was hard enough then. And now, everywhere I go, people say we can't find operators, what are we going to do? And I just haven't got the answer. Because somehow, we've got to embrace getting younger people involved, getting them interested in the game and bring them on in.
Taylor White: I agree totally. I think that's exactly what it is, is we need to show people that necessarily wouldn't want to be exposed or work in the construction blue-collar industry, show them what it's like, and show them how it can be. But I think a part of that is also a lot of businesses and construction companies need to make it places that these young people want to come and work for. Right?
Nick Drew: Exactly. Yeah. You've got to make it appealing to people because-- sadly, some people are just brainwashed with, they've got to go to college, they've got to go to university, they've got to get all this degree, this degree and that, and they don't ever consider the construction industry. But I mean, the construction industry, as it was portrayed, has come a long way from what it used to be. So, it is an attractive place to be. So somehow, we've got to convince these people that it is a great place to work.
Taylor White: And then I think that's where guys like you come into though, and, highlighting that, and showing people what it is like. I mean, and showing the different type of machines, and attachments, and technology, and what's going on in the industry, in the news. And I mean, that is what you do.
And so, you did highlight about why you made that shift. You had a bit of a bad experience with someone who was like,-- where did your love for what you do now-- because what you do now is, I think, a niche in the market. I mean, you have people that are doing it, but when you,-- I think you're the original of doing this; of freelance blogging and journalism in the construction industry. How did you get into that?
Nick Drew: Oh, well, you're quite right there, because at the time, there wasn't anyone else doing it. And how it came about was, -- I think it was 2008, I was posting on forums for people with an interest in heavy machinery, and a guy who I owe a lot to called Will Mann, he was working for a magazine in London at the time called Contract Journal. And he was watching what I was doing on this forum, and he just messaged me out of the blue. Really strange. And he said, "Oh, we love what you're doing. We're thinking of setting up a blog, we're going to call it The Digger Blog," and he said, "we thought you'd be ideal for it." And I just thought he was having a wind-up to start with-
Taylor White: Pulling your leg.
Nick Drew: -yeah, I did. I thought, "This guy is not serious." But he was serious, he came all the way down to the West Country here in England where I live, from up London way, and met me in a pub for lunch, and we had a chat about it. And the next thing, I was practicing how to do all this stuff; posting on the blog and putting, inserting the pictures, and all that kind of stuff, which was all new to me. And I had a month of learning how to do that, and then I was away, never looked back really. And then, we had a recession here in the UK in about just the tail end of 2009, and the business behind it decided to get out of construction because they weren't getting the advertising revenue.
But in the meantime, I'd been talking to another website called The Construction Index and they said, "Come and join us." So I joined them, I was with them for a while, and then, I happened to be in Turin with a New Holland Construction product launch, and the editor of Earthmovers Magazine, which is a magazine I've been reading since 2004 when it first come out, I've still got every copy, he came up to me and said, "Hey, Nick, you know there's always a place for you at Earthmovers if you're interested." And that was another one of these mind-blowing moments. I thought, "This is not happening." But I thought, "Well, why not? Let's give it a go." So, I joined him, I was still driving machines, and I was doing that as a sideline.
And then we got to about 2015, and it was getting awkward to combine the two jobs. You know, you having to go in to run a machine. Although I was self-employed, you'd have to say, "I will need a couple of days off next week to go to Munich or wherever I was going." And they'd look at you a bit funny and think, "Oh, we need somebody sat in that seat." And I thought that was the sort of thing I thought I got to get out and do, one way or the other. And I thought, "Well, I'm enjoying this much more, I'm going to do this." So, I've been doing this ever since. And I'm not going to say it was all a bed of roses. It was a struggle to start with, because I dropped a wage from driving machines and you can earn decent money driving machines these days, as we know.
But, yeah, it's built and built as I've gone along, and it's all going great now, so fantastic. And I'll say I absolutely love it. Every day I get up, I love it. Because it's somewhat different; I'm going to see somebody different, or someone's machine, something new, something. I'll still get the buzz because I can get on the machines and try them out, do a test drive. So, yeah, it's just the best job in the world. Love it.
Taylor White: We need more of that. We need more of people highlighting that they actually love what they do, right?
Nick Drew: Yeah, yeah.
Taylor White: I always say that to people as well, and it's refreshing to hear that because making sure that when you wake up that you're doing something that you love, it's important. And like you said, you took a pay cut at that start just to be like, "This is truly what I love," because you realized-- probably I'm going to assume that your happiness and your passion for something was worth more than a little bit of money. And it's worked out for you because now this is what you do, and everyone's watching you on social media, and everyone watches your blogs, or looks through your blogs on Earthmovers Magazine. So, Earthmovers Magazine, are you just working with them, or you do freelance on your own?
Nick Drew: I primarily work with Earthmovers, obviously, and they're the host on their website for the Digger Man Blog.
Taylor White: Yeah. They seem great.
Nick Drew: Oh, they're fantastic. Fantastic company, and it's just a brilliant magazine. I love it. I can't say a bad word about it. It's just fantastic. But I do a lot more freelance stuff now as well, I've been commissioned by various companies, CAT, JCB, Caterpillar, Hyundai, Takeuchi, there's loads of them, but to do photography and do some video work and stuff. So, it's just going up and up and up all the time, which is fantastic. And, the amazing thing is, I'm now I'm 61 years old, I feel like a bit of a dinosaur.
Taylor White: Really?
Nick Drew: Yeah, yeah.
Taylor White: You look amazing, man. Geez. Good for you. I saw you're biking, you're doing biking-
Nick Drew: Yeah-
Taylor White: -you're getting fit, and I like it.
Nick Drew: Yeah. I'm skating again, and dabbling with going back to playing hockey, but who knows.
Taylor White: That's awesome. Good for you. No, it's exciting, and like you were saying, some of these opportunities sometimes it kind of feels surreal. I mean, like, I'm sure you have amazing contacts with everybody now, but like the first time that maybe someone from CAT reaches out, or you make that connection from CAT or JCB, and they're like, "Hey, we want to pay you to come here and do this, and do that," is it surreal? Do you ever sit back sometimes and say, "Dang, I created this life for myself. That's like, this is my passion, this is what I want to do."
Nick Drew: Yeah, absolutely. I'm constantly pinching myself. "Is this really happening?" But yeah, I just embrace it and go with it.
Taylor White: And like you were saying, you're headed to Finland tomorrow?
Nick Drew: Yeah. Finland. No, I go to Finland on Monday.
Taylor White: Nice.
Nick Drew: I'm out there for a week. It's a place that is very dear to my heart, I really love the place. I've been quite a few times now, I've got some good friends out there. I'll put a shout-out here for [inaudible 16:01] , who works for the [inaudible 16:02] magazine.
Taylor White: Shut out, [Ollie?].
Nick Drew: Yeah. Just a great guy, we've become great friends. He's been doing this with journalism for over 25 years in Finland. And, we've worked together a long time now. He picked up on me in the early days of the blog and was sharing some of my material, and we've gone on to work together and just become great friends. I go out there, cover some shows and stuff, and we always find some job reports for me to go and see that I can bring back and do a story for the magazine. It's just fantastic.
Taylor White: Nice. And what do you see as of right now? Like, what are some of the main stuff that these companies are wanting you to highlight? Or maybe, I know that you get to select what you want to highlight as well, but what do you see right now that is really important? Like, is it people talking about labor source? Are you mainly just highlighting like, "Hey, we got this new piece of machinery that's coming up," what are you really highlighting? What are you doing your blogs on? And or what do you prefer? What's your favorite thing to blog about and to showcase online?
Nick Drew: Well, the blog by its nature is a host of various topics. I don't try to focus on anything special in particular. I like to keep it varied, keep it interesting. A lot of people still love the old kit, so I'm always doing stuff about the old classic kit. Even today, I posted a blog there and I'm talking about a Poclain excavator from 1983 this friend of mine has actually restored, and people will love all that stuff, in the old photos, old videos-
Taylor White: I love seeing that stuff.
Nick Drew: Yeah, I love it. I remember you'd done one video with an Atlas. Yeah. And I think I blogged on that one at the time, didn’t I? Things like that, they just jump out at me and I think, "Yeah, that's fantastic. I've got to share that." Because I know people love it.
Taylor White: Yeah. Your process behind finding what to blog about and stuff like that, that's what I mean. That's what I find interesting is like, how you go about-
Nick Drew: It's a full-on job-
Taylor White: Yeah, totally.
Nick Drew: -yeah. Trying to find stuff for every day of the week, or working week, it's like, "Oh my God, how can I keep coming up with stuff?"
Taylor White: Yeah. You've quite the brain, because it's kind of even related to like YouTube content or something. It's like you do so much effort into producing that one piece of content or that blog, and that write-up, and then immediately after you're done, you get the sense of, "What's next?"
Nick Drew: Yeah. It's a relentless task. It really is. But as we've said, fortunately, I love it.
Taylor White: Yeah, exactly. So, I want to talk about maybe your time at the-- so, CONEXPO 2020 was your first CONEXPO?
Nick Drew: Yes.
Taylor White: And I remember seeing tons of your content, and one piece that actually sticks out for my brain whenever I think of you, and I think CONEXPO is this really cool looking dozer with this crazy field of view. It started with a D, maybe or-
Nick Drew: Dressta TD -16 N, yeah.
Taylor White: Yes. Yeah, wow. Great memory. But whenever I think that-- so, it was your first one. What drew you about out there, and what did you like about it, and your experience with it maybe?
Nick Drew: Well, I went to the CONEXPO and that I was actually invited out by the LiuGong Group who obviously are the owners of Dressta, and they wanted to give the new dozers some high-profile coverage. So-
Taylor White: That's crazy because it was-
Nick Drew: -I was asked to go. Yeah-
Taylor White: -that's literally what I remember. That's awesome. I didn't even know that, we didn't talk about that, pre-hand. Hey, that's crazy. Yeah, that's literally what I remember was, I remember showing my father actually, I'm like, "Look at this dozer. Like, that thing is crazy-looking." It was really cool. And you highlighted all the features about it.
Nick Drew: Yeah, it's fantastic. And, it was designed by a guy in the UK, called Gary Major in partnership with a colleague of his, Ed Wagner, an American guy. And they've just rewritten the rule book really on that one in terms of visibility. It's just mind-blowing. So, we're still waiting for the finished product to come through. It's happening, we've heard so-
Taylor White: Well, things take time.
Nick Drew: Yeah, absolutely. They've got to get these things right. And I've been fortunate enough to see it up-close as well. So, we're just waiting for that to come out.
Taylor White: Yeah. It was nice to see you highlight that stuff, and to see you at the show as well, too. Coming all the way from UK, it was really interesting to see somebody from over the sea, and over the ocean, and come over here, and see what we’ve got going on. Because I know that you guys obviously have a lot of awesome large shows over there as well, but highlighting CONEXPO, that was pretty neat for us to see. Like, what else did you-- I know that you were there specifically with the company, but did you get to walk around and see like new technology, or the networking? What really stands out for you at that CONEXPO?
Nick Drew: Yeah. I mean, I spent quite a few days there, probably nearly a week really. And I did get to go around, obviously. It got cut short because of the COVID, didn't it? -
Taylor White: - oh yeah.
Nick Drew: -and we were panicking about getting back, but we did make it. I mean, it kind of took my breath away, really. The razzmatazz, nobody does that like the North American people. It's fantastic. So, I was buzzing all the way around there, and it kind of overwhelmed me a bit. So, I'm looking forward to coming back and immersing myself in it again.
Taylor White: Yeah. There's a lot of interesting people there, and machinery, and technology, and it's a really good place for people to showcase that. But also, I feel like just putting a face to people as well. And having somebody like yourself coming from so far to the show is pretty, pretty incredible. So, hopefully, maybe a different business or somebody this year can get you out there to highlight some new crazy dozer.
Nick Drew: Yeah. Let's hope so. We'll be working on that.
Taylor White: Just wanted to pop in here real quick and let everybody know that if you need to meet them, they're going to be there at the CONEXPO-CON/AGG. You'll meet industry leaders and friends, and you're also going to build new relationships in the community and you'll find the equipment services and people within your construction field.
Just so everybody knows, the registration is now open. And if you guys want to save 20%, use the promo code: podcast20. Again, promo code: podcast20. I will be there. Nick, he’s definitely going to be there. I know it, I'm manifesting that. And, lots of people are going to be there, and it's North America's largest construction trade show. And it's March 14th to the 18th, 2023 in beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada. Check out conexpoconagg.com to register for more info.
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Taylor White: So, I want to talk more about the industry as a whole, because obviously you see lots of it, and maybe something that you see, that you can dive down into a lot which is, what kind of equipment are you seeing? What are you seeing as far as these machinery? I mean, like the manufacturers of these brands, a CAT, JCB CASE, and all these people -- I'm probably naming a bunch of North American stuff. I feel like we're catering more to the operator now, and I feel like we're going more tech. What are you seeing, and what are you seeing of them wanting to highlight in the machinery?
Nick Drew: Yeah. Obviously, there's a hell of a lot of tech coming on these days, and they're all sort of going that way now with the, not so much autonomous, but the aids to operating machine control and all that. So, there's that. There's obviously quite a focus on electric stuff, which I don't quite know where that's going to go in terms of the bigger equipment.
Taylor White: I think it'll start with the smaller, for sure.
Nick Drew: Yeah. We're already seeing that here with the smaller, like mini excavators and stuff like that. As it happens, I've recently had an opportunity to go and try the new CASE electric one, but unfortunately, I'm going to be away while that's taking place, but it's definitely the way it's going. And then of course, in here we got JCB dabbling with the hydrogen machines.
Taylor White: Yeah.
Nick Drew: So, I don't know how that's going to pan out, it'll be interesting to see.
Taylor White: Yeah, I saw some of that. It's crazy how everyone's kind of trying to get away from everything but diesel-
Nick Drew: Yeah.
Taylor White: -and fuel, and kind of going to all these different alternatives, and I think it would be cool to finally see one of these actually make it mainstream and make it to the point where we can actually use it day to day, all day, and it becomes like secondhand nature. But, I just feel like, like you're saying, I think we're far away from that, you know?
Nick Drew: Yeah. It's a little way away, I think, for sure. But it's going to be exciting to see who's brave enough to take that plunge, and here is our new all singing, all dancing, new machines.
Taylor White: I know, it's like a race to the finish line, I feel like with a lot of these companies-
Nick Drew: I understand that the Bauma show is coming up in Munich in October and I'll be there for that. And it'd be interesting to see-- some people are talking about alternatives appearing there, but we shall see. It's a bit cloak-and-dagger at the moment, no one's giving too much away.
Taylor White: Yeah. You definitely hear a little bit of rumors of what's going on, and whatnot, but what kind of differences do you see from where you are to where I am, like North America to UK, what kind of differences do you see as far as the construction industry as a whole? Is there anything that stands out to you as far as maybe the way stuff is run, or more specific, as far as maybe you guys utilize an excavator in some places different than we would, or different pieces of machinery?
Nick Drew: Yeah. I mean, I think we are quite different in the way we do things as different territories, I guess. I know you guys are quite big into your skid-steer loaders, aren't you? Track skids, track compact loaders, and stuff like that. Over here, although they are used, they're a bit more niche, we don't see so many of them.
Taylor White: Really?
Nick Drew: Yeah. They are about, but nowhere near in the numbers that you guys use them.
Taylor White: Yeah. We use track skid steers. Like, every construction company has like two or three of them.
Nick Drew: Yeah. No, we don't see that here. And it's quite interesting sometimes to go out and see them, because they're not everywhere like they are in North America.
Taylor White: Why do you think that is?
Nick Drew: I don't know. I just don't think we've embraced it. We've always just used it like in traditionally the backhoe loader, but obviously that's nowhere near as-- the backhoe, the wheel, like this JCB, the 3 CX. The backhoe loader concept was always popular here, but obviously, that's declined a bit in recent years.
Taylor White: Even here as well.
Nick Drew: Yeah. It's nowhere near as-- I mean, when my dad was operating, he drove them, and that was all he ever wanted to drive and they were everywhere. But times have changed. I think the mini excavator concept has really taken over from that field, and we see a lot of them here, for sure combined with-- and obviously, we are big on our site dumpers. Little forward tipping dumper and things like that, up to 10 ton.
Taylor White: Yeah. I see those all the time, especially on someone over there as well, Conor the Digger Driver?
Nick Drew: Yeah.
Taylor White: I see on his sites. Yeah, they use the site dumpers. I've honestly never seen those here.
Nick Drew: No, no, no, no. It's amazing. We've always used them in this country, and every site's normally got loads of them.
Taylor White: And I guess, so the purpose of that is just moving material onsite from point A to point B rather than versus I guess, carrying it with a skid steer or carrying it with something else?
Nick Drew: Exactly. Yeah. Because in North America, you would probably shift stuff like that with a skid steer or a small wheel loader, which is very popular in North America right now. But here we've always had the site dumper, and that's been our thing for firing gear around chips, stones, whatever, topsoil, yeah, that's what they're used for. Even that has evolved a bit now because traditionally they had no cabs on them, and now, there's been a real push to get them with full air-conditioned cabs and everything. And that's becoming more common now, we see more firms embrace that, which I think is a great thing really because without a cab, the drivers were very vulnerable, even with a seatbelt on. And obviously out in all weathers, we get some pretty horrendous wet weather in the UK, as I'm sure you're aware. So, it's better for the drivers to be in a fully enclosed cab. So that's the big change in dumpers here.
Taylor White: Yeah, I think it's a big change even across the board with a lot of other stuff as well, too. Like, I remember my dad at, we have-- how much snow do you get where you are?
Nick Drew: We don't get much.
Taylor White: Oh, okay. So we get tons of snow. So snow-
Nick Drew: Yeah, of course.
Taylor White: Obviously, you know in Canada we all live in igloos. But at the snow dumps, I remember my dad used to say he used to run an old CAT D8 D9 dozer in the middle of the winter, minus 40, open cab, and he used to wrap the motor with an insulated blanket and then throw the insulated blanket over his body. And he'd be like 2:00 AM in the morning, crawling a 200-foot-high snow pile, pushing up snow that dump trucks were pushing off, and yeah, over time, people are like,"You know what? Maybe we should put cabs on these things."
Nick Drew: Yeah, exactly. That's when it really hits home how things have moved on, isn't it? There were hard men in those days.
Taylor White: Well, 100%, yeah. But that's funny the differences in the machinery. I guess the site dumper really takes out from the loader or the skid steer that we would use on site, like doing water and sewer. Like, you're using a loader or a back in the bucket of something to bring stuff back and forth on site. And over there, you're doing something different. That is interesting.
As far as brands and where you are versus here, I like talking about the differences, because this is what I find interesting. Like, you saying skid steers and loaders aren't so prominent, that's really interesting to me. So, what kind of brands are popular there as far as, CAT or CASE, or John Deere here, what do you guys have over there that's prominent?
Nick Drew: Well, I suppose in different regions, different machine brands are more popular than others. But we've got all the usual candidates in this country, Hitachi, we've got CAT, we've got Hyundai and Volvo, you name it, they’re everywhere. And there are lots of hardcore JCB fans out there as well in the UK, so we see that. But now we've also got the Chinese guys coming in with the LiuGong, they've been very popular. I've done quite a bit of work with those, as I mentioned earlier-
Taylor White: They seemed like pretty good machines.
Nick Drew: Yeah. There's all the-- behind the tin, there's all the well-proven components. And, in the time I've been working with LiuGong, I've seen a vast change in the quality of the end product as it comes through. So, they're all getting their act together. And we've got SANY as well. They're doing some stuff here.
Taylor White: I see that too here. Lots of more SANY, even at some shows and on some job sites. Driving around, you'll look and you'll be like, "Oh crap, that's a SANY, or a Hyundai too. We see Hyundais now.”
Nick Drew: Yeah. And we're just imminently waiting on XCMG to enter the UK market. I mean, they're number three in the world of construction machinery equipment manufacturers.
Taylor White: Who is that?
Nick Drew: XCMG, Chinese.
Taylor White: Really?
Nick Drew: Yeah. Number three in equipment manufacturers, check them out as they come in.
Taylor White: No way. So, they're pretty big over in the Asian markets then?
Nick Drew: I believe so. Yeah.
Taylor White: Wow. That's pretty cool. I've never even heard of them.
Nick Drew: They're third behind Caterpillar and Komatsu at the moment in the league table of machinery construction equipment.
Taylor White: I wonder where they'll be priced, because that's a whole other different topic, is the pricing of everything now has gone up like crazy, especially with inflation and lead times on equipment too. It's insane. We're still waiting on pieces from CAT that we bought last September. And I know that a lot of other people and even people listening to the podcast right now, they're dealing with the same issue as-- first of all, you can’t find the people, but you can't get the machinery fast enough as well. A lot of people are waiting on a lot of pieces. You guys obviously are dealing with that, the same thing that we are, right?
Nick Drew: Yeah. It's exactly the same. And a lot of the, should we say more favored brands, they're not being able to supply. So, people are actually going to the other brands.
Taylor White: Yeah. I think you're right. I think that's what's happening.
Nick Drew: Yeah. They need the kit, and they need it now. They can't wait. So that's what they're doing.
Taylor White: It's a good opportunity for these other brands. That's a really good point. That's what I think too. A lot of people are going, "Okay, well, if CAT can't get me this, or John Deere can't get me this, well, I'm going to go to, maybe I'm going to try the SANY." I think that's why maybe in the past three years you have seen more of that. That's a good point. I actually never thought about that. That's actually really important. I mean, people going, "Hey, if I can't get what I want, I'll go somewhere else and get it.” because at the end of the day, everything behind the, like you said, behind the tin is all the same stuff. It's all somewhat all made in the same place anyways. I just feel like some brands maybe get a bad rap because of a stereotype like, "Oh, that's made over here, that's made here," but at the end of the day, it's all kind of the same. But some brands have different things that others have like as far as, maybe an LCD screen, or a touch screen or air-cooled seats, or something like that.
Nick Drew: Yeah. And there's a certain element of brand snobbery. Some guys are “not sitting in that -. I want CAT on the side,” or, “I want this on the side,” and, there you go. But that's the same with people buying cars, isn't it?
Taylor White: Yeah. You're right. It's the same thing. Brand loyalty-- I know a lot of business owners that are like that, that are just like, we only buy this and that. And I get a lot of that rap too. People saying like, "Oh, you only buy a CAT, you only buy this." Well, we own a John Deere, we own a Kamatsu, I've owned lots of Kamatsus. We've tried John Deere, we used to own a Hitachi. You go with whatever that you really like, and for us, it comes down to the service-
Nick Drew: Yeah.
Taylor White: -and how we can get parts if something's broken, or how we get treated as a business. And I think that that's really important as well, but you're right. There's some people that are really brand loyal.
Nick Drew: Yeah.
Taylor White: Yeah. It's funny. Some people get really caught up in that whole conversation of, "I like this versus that," right?
Nick Drew: Yeah, definitely.
Taylor White: Yeah. So when you had your business, what kind of excavators did you have or backhoes?
Nick Drew: Well, 360 excavators was my main things. I had Hitachi, sort of 13 tonners. And I did have one Hyundai for a bit. And on the minis I had a Komatsu, can't remember the number of it now, but it was a like 2.5 ton. And then later on I had some Hitachi minis. And then most recently, I did have a Takeuchi TB235 for a while-
Taylor White: I've never got to run a Takeuchi.
Nick Drew: -oh, you need to try.
Taylor White: You know what, those are one of those brands that I'm starting to see more of here in Canada and around where I am and they intrigue me. Are they good machines?
Nick Drew: Yeah. I'd really rate them personally from a personal perspective. I love them in terms of operation; just the smoothest things on the planet. They're lovely. Great machines.
Taylor White: Yeah. I see some guys online that are using them and it's interesting because it's not something that I see lots of, but I'm seeing more of. And I've just never had the opportunity to operate one.
Nick Drew: Yeah. You got a guy there, Elite Earth-
Taylor White: Elite Earthworks.
Nick Drew: -yeah. Elite Earthworks. He's a big Takeuchi fan, isn't it?
Taylor White: Oh yeah. He's been trying to get me to try a Takeuchi for two or three years now. So, are you guys dealing with the same stuff over there, as far as-- are you hearing a lot of talk about the price of fuel, and is it crazy over there as well, too? Are you guys getting in like crazy price gouged with fuel, and oil, and all that?
Nick Drew: Yeah. It's not great here. I think it's just happening everywhere, isn't it? After everything that's gone on with the COVID, and now we've got the Ukraine situation, and it's a bit of a toxic minefield at the moment.
Taylor White: Where do you think you're at? I mean, it's all personal opinion. I understand that, but where do you think we're at as far as what we're going through? Because, I mean, the whole world just went through a massive construction boom in the last three years. Like, if the pandemic did one thing, maybe I'll just speak for North America, but if the pandemic did one thing, it just made construction go crazy. We saw it insane last couple of years.
Nick Drew: Yeah. Oh, it's still crazy busy here. And they're building like there's no tomorrow, and who knows?
Taylor White: Do you see that now? Is it just as busy now?
Nick Drew: Yes. It's just as busy, if not busier. It's crazy. Yeah, absolutely crazy. So, we're just hanging on and hoping that we can keep going and ride the storm, as they say.
Taylor White: And get inflation under control as well, too, right?
Nick Drew: Yeah. The governments have got to try and do something with this situation, it's crazy here.
Taylor White: Are they doing the same thing over there as here? They're trying to like raise interest rates and hopefully, that kind of slows stuff down?
Nick Drew: Yeah. That's what they're doing here.
Taylor White: Did you guys have the same housing market explosion as well over there as we did in North America? Like, prices of homes just freaking skyrocketed and-
Nick Drew: Yeah.
Taylor White: -yeah. It's crazy. It's like, we're further away but everyone's been having the same thing going on. I think you're going to look back-- I always say this in meetings, like, we're going to look back on the time that we're in right now. Like last year, somebody wanted some work done, you'd throw a number at them, “Perfect, when can you start?" And I've never seen that. Even someone like my father that's been in the industry for over 40 years,-- he's 57 now, so he's been doing it his whole life, but he's like, "Tay, I've never seen a time like this. This is wild." But it allowed us to grow in a way that we've never grown before, which is really interesting. And I feel like a lot of other companies as well, got to act on that.
Did you see the same thing? A lot of businesses take the opportunity of the growth of construction over the last couple of years and kind of act on that opportunity?
Nick Drew: Yeah, definitely. We've seen quite a lot of that going on here. Not all of them have survived. There's been some casualties, should we say, but no, it's been phenomenal. And your business is a prime example. I've watched with great interest as you've boomed and gone on and on and expanding. And it's great to see. And I'm delighted that I have covered you in the past on the blog, so that's all good.
Taylor White: No, I always remember that, especially you covering that. Because you did the 69 Atlas, and you did my wife on the Kamatsu, the writeup. That was really awesome to see.
Listen, Nick, I'm super pumped to have you on today, and I want to thank you, obviously for your time, and I hope that we can see you at this year's CONEXPO in March.
Nick Drew: Yeah. Let's hope so.
Taylor White: Yeah. And I think that people should definitely check out your stuff, pay attention to you because I know that I do the same and I feel like you really always have your finger on the pulse of construction. Would it be fair to say that?
Nick Drew: Well, yeah. I'd like to think so. I try my best anyway.
Taylor White: I think you do a little bit more than that. But Nick, thank you for coming on, man. I really, really appreciate it, and we'll catch you in the future.
Nick Drew: Yeah, thanks a lot. Thanks for having us on. Fantastic. Cheers.
Taylor White: Just wanted to pop in here real quick and let everybody know that if you need to meet them, they're going to be there at the CONEXPO-CON/AGG. You'll meet industry leaders and friends, and you're also going to build new relationships in the community, and you'll find the equipment services and people within your construction field.
Just so everybody knows, the registration is now open. And if you guys want to save 20%, use the promo code: podcast20. Again, the promo code: podcast20. I will be there. Nick, he's definitely going to be there. I know it, I'm manifesting that. And lots of people are going to be there, and it's North America's largest construction trade show, and it's March 14th to the 18th, 2023, in beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada. Check out conexpoconagg.com to register for more info.
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