Northern Excavators celebrates 31 years with Doosan

By: Chris McCullough, Photography by: Chris McCullough

The world’s oldest Doosan dealership, based in Northern Ireland, celebrates 31 years affiliation with the brand in November 2018

For the past 31 years, a plant dealership in Northern Ireland has been working with the Doosan brand and its predecessor Daewoo.

A new Doosan DL 450 wheel loader all set for delivery

Northern Excavators Ltd imported the first Daewoo excavator into the country back in 1987 and today is celebrating more than three decades of allegiance with the South Korean manufacturers, making them the oldest Doosan dealership worldwide.

Doosan took over Daewoo Heavy Industries Machinery back in 2005 following the collapse of the former government-owned business after it was declared bankrupt under US$80 billion of debt. Later, in 2007, Doosan acquired the Bobcat brand from US company Ingersoll-Rand, further expanding its presence in the construction machinery market. 

Northern Excavators Ltd—formed in 1968 by current company managing director Clifford Lilburn—will be celebrating 50 years in business this year.

The beginnings

Clifford Lilburn (left) Northern Excavators Ltd managing director, with sales staff Dennis Watson and Stan Dougherty

For many years before the company formation, Clifford was involved in contracting work on excavators. One of his main jobs was to dig out part of what became the M1 motorway into Belfast, which incidentally was once a canal route to transport coal from the city to Lough Neagh.

After using several brands of excavators, including JCB, Ford, and Massey Ferguson, Clifford decided to start his own dealership, first taking on the Whitlock agency in 1968. Following that brand came the Hymac range in the early 1970s and Northern Excavators was firmly put on the map.

However, several years later, the business took a new angle—importing excavators from Japan.

"We brought in the first Kobelco machine to the UK and Ireland in 1983," Clifford says. "That was via a three-way partnership deal we had with two other companies. Unfortunately, due to high import duty rates by 1986, it was no longer financially sustainable to carry on with Kobelco.

"However, just one year later, we were able to strike up a deal with Daewoo and imported the very first Daewoo machine into Europe right here into Northern Ireland." And it was a historic import that has led Clifford, now 76 years old, and his Northern Excavators Ltd team to this day.

"The very first excavator model we imported was a tracked Doosan DH120," Clifford recalls, assisted by his veteran salesmen Dennis Watson and Stan Dougherty.

"In fact, that very first machine, although it came here and worked, was eventually bought back by the Koreans who have it sitting on a plinth in front of the factory in South Korea.

"The third machine that we imported is actually still working up in County Londonderry for a building contractor, even after all these years."

With such as strong allegiance with South Korea and Doosan, the team at Northern Excavators believes they are the world’s oldest Daewoo/Doosan dealership still in operation.

Top sales

Some of the new Doosan and Bobcat machines in stock at Northern Excavators Ltd

Both the Doosan and Bobcat brands have performed extremely well for Northern Excavators Ltd over the years. In fact, the company sold in excess of 100 new machines from both stables in 2016 and also the following year in 2017.

"The Doosan brand signifies quality and reliability," Clifford says. "We cover all of the Ulster area for the brand and have consistently held the top sales performance in the UK and Ireland since day one for it.

"Doosan holds around 20% market share in Ulster; such is the good reputation it has here.

"Builders and groundwork contractors are our biggest customers, making up 70% of our sales, with the remainder going to hire companies and other outlets."

The team behind

Northern Excavators Ltd employs 20 staff at its Hillsborough base. Clifford says the longevity of the business is also attributed to the loyalty of his staff.

"It’s our employees who make this business what it is," he says. "We have staff who have worked for us for nearly 50 years; that says it all."

Veteran staff Dennis celebrates 50 years with the company next year and Stan has clocked up 45 years. Keeping the mix right is some young blood working in the company, one of whom is salesman David Lilburn.

Superior engineering

Only one careful owner! A quality used Doosan excavator ready for sale.

The popularity of Doosan machines has also played a major role in sustaining the business relationship between South Korea and Northern Ireland for so long. According to the team at Northern Excavators Ltd, the Doosan DL350, DL450, and DL550 wheel loaders are the most popular with their customers.

Plus, in terms of excavators, Doosan models DX490, DX530, and DX700 are also common purchases in Ulster.

"Doosan provides a range of excavators from half-a tonne to 70 tonnes," Clifford says. "Not only do they provide reliability and excellent service to customers, Doosan machines hold a higher residual value when reselling.

"We have Doosan machines still working in our area with more than 20,000 hours on them, which is a real testament to the superior engineering that went into manufacturing the machines.

"I have to say the Koreans and everyone at Doosan are all very easy to deal with. There are no issues at all when it comes to any warranty work and their service and parts back-up is excellent as well.

"We look forward to working with them for a long time to come," he adds.

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