Volvo hauler purchase ‘Sparkes’ a 40-year relationship

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With Volvo Construction Equipment, it’s all about building relationships with buyers. One British customer, Kelston Sparkes from Bristol, just celebrated three major milestones: his 80th birthday, his 60th wedding anniversary – and 40 years of purchasing Volvo machines.

Relationships can sometimes begin in the simplest and smallest of ways and blossom over time into something much bigger. Take the relationship between the Kelston Sparkes Group and Volvo Construction Equipment, for example. It started back in 1971 with a big job that wasn’t going so well and an ambitious sales representative from Anglo Swedish Equipment – and over time has turned into a mutually beneficial long-term relationship.

In 1971 the Sparkes Group, a Bristol, England-based business – which deals in plant hire, earthmoving, and crushing and screening – was carrying out a contract in nearby Bitton to clear out a riverbed. But the Shawnee Poole tractor-trailers they were using simply weren’t doing the trick. Only half-full of earth and stones, the trucks were struggling to make it out of the riverbed.

Fortuitously, Jim Hubbard, a sales representative from Anglo Swedish Equipment, called Kelston at that time. When he learned of Kelston’s dilemma, Jim told him he’d bring a Volvo articulated hauler over for a demonstration – “A Volvo hauler would sail through that job,” Jim told him. 

Kelston was reluctant. A new Volvo hauler cost nearly £12,000 – a huge amount of money in those days. But Jim insisted that Volvo machines were more than equal to the riverbed job. After some coaxing, Kelston finally agreed to a demonstration. “If your trucks do what you say they can do,” he said, “I’ll buy two.”

At the job site, Jim loaded a DR860T articulated hauler to the brim with material from the riverbed. “That’ll never move,” Kelston thought. But sure enough, the hauler easily brought the load up the river, just as Jim had claimed it would do. And true to his word, Kelston purchased two of them.

One of those haulers is now the centerpiece at the Kelston Sparkes Group’s head office in the Somerset countryside just south of Bristol. That DR860T is more than just a vintage machine; it’s the symbol of a strong and successful 40-year relationship. In four decades, the Sparkes Group has purchased more than 600 machines from Volvo – currently, the business runs 50 Volvo articulated haulers and 25 excavators ranging from 14 to 50 tonnes. And although it’s been 15 years since Kelston, who just turned 80, ran the company (his son, Alan, and son-in-law Robert Stark manage the business now, and Kelston’s granddaughters Kelly-Ann and Aimee work there as well), the low employee turnover at Sparkes Group and Volvo has allowed relationships to be maintained and to flourish over time.

“Volvo never lets you down,” Kelston says. “They provide excellent service, no matter what.”

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“We’ve built up a fantastic relationship with Volvo,” Alan adds. “They’ve always treated us well, and we’ve reciprocated by continuing to buy Volvo. Loyalty and commitment – they’re what make a business work.”

Those are qualities that have kept the Sparkes Group coming back to Volvo again and again. And the company’s loyalty hasn’t gone unnoticed. Remember that DR860T? By 1996, after having logged thousands of hours, the reliable old machine was looking pretty tired. To commemorate 25 years of trading with Volvo, the Kelston Sparkes Group received a nice gift: Volvo Construction Equipment, working along with the Sparkes Group’s workshop manager Steve Marsh, helped to completely refurbish and overhaul the DR860T and presented it back to Kelston as a token of their appreciation. After all, relationships are a two-way street.

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Ends.

June, 2011

Text: Christin Runkle

Picture 1: The Kelston Sparkes Group’s first Volvo machine, a 1971 DR860T, sits at the Volvo Construction Equipment facility in Duxford after its full overhaul in 1996. Kelston’s purchase of the articulated hauler kicked off a 40-year relationship between his company and Volvo.
Picture 2: The original 1971 Volvo DR860T sits outside the company’s head office near Bristol, England. It is shown with family members active in the business: from left, Kelston Sparkes, his son Alan Sparkes, granddaughter Kelly-Ann Swann, and son-in-law Robert Stark.
Picture 3: Kelston’s first Volvo articulated hauler on its first job in 1971. Forty years later, operator Tim Cole, pictured, still works for the Kelston Sparkes Group, though he now drives an EC460 excavator.

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Brian O’Sullivan
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