Murphy Agri Products of Cahir, Co. Tipperary, is an enterprise which is driven by enthusiasm and a good business head, a head which has driven it towards a multi-million turnover within the 15 years it has been in business.
The founder is James Murphy, a mechanic by trade, who took to selling machinery soon after venturing out on his own and has hardly looked back since.
Machinery dealers require agencies and two of his earliest franchises were Conor Engineering and Keltec, with Broughan trailers being another valued agency which came along later.
These are companies which he still deals with today and is happy to have in his yard.
Right from the start, it was decided to avoid cheaper eastern products and there is a strong belief in the importance of quality and well-executed engineering.
One of the big breakthroughs was landing the Kuhn agency for the area; he thinks of this as being a huge boost to the business and is delighted to see it continue to grow.
Build quality is a major advantage of the brand he believes, as well as the fact it works well in the field, especially the mowers of which he had a few in the yard ready for the season.
If mowers are selling well, the balers have tailed off slightly and he sees this as a product line where both dealers, and Kuhn itself, need to refocus their efforts as there is nothing wrong with the machines themselves.
Indeed, he believes the Kuhn models to be good machines and capable of holding their own in any company, but he does admit that selling balers in Ireland is an uphill struggle against the homegrown competition.
This will not stop him trying though, and there will be a demonstration unit doing the rounds come the season; just to get it working on farms is, he believes, the best sales tool there is.
He is not quite so enthusiastic about attending shows. Farmers need to interact with the machinery as it is working rather than on static display, he feels, and to get them to try something new, he is not afraid to go knocking on their doors directly.
It is a method that has worked for the business, turnover grows each year and the buildings have expanded in size as it does so.
The yard, which was just a typical example of a run-down farm when he moved in, is to be fully concreted as the next stage of expansion, for he believes in reinvesting as much as he can back into the business, rather than taking sunny holidays.
His other great belief is in constantly moving forward, not looking back or worrying about the state of the world. He said that it is a matter of just ‘getting on with it’ and doing whatever is necessary to grow the business.
Sharing the load
Despite this evident enthusiasm there is one constant restraint on growth and that is the availability of skilled staff.
Currently, there are five who work in the business, but this is insufficient for the workload so he has sub-contracted a proportion of the repair and service work to Greencare Mechanical Services Ltd. of Golden, Tipperary.
Greencare is solely concerned with the the repair and maintenance of machinery; it neither sells nor runs its own and offers only a third-party solution to the issue of staff shortages.
That said, its staff are fully trained on Kuhn equipment by Kuhn itself, so all the post-sales work associated with the brand is undertaken by Greencare, with Kuhn’s blessing.
As essential a part of the business as machinery is, it is not the whole picture, for used tractors are another major component of the firm’s turnover.
Like much of the Irish trade, his main source of supply is the UK, yet that is no longer as reliable a hunting ground as it once was, due to the larger tractors that are being used over there.
The demand in Ireland is for tractors of around 120hp, but these are becoming scarce in Britain because they are not being bought at that size to any great extent.
The average power of a new tractor in the UK is now 168hp, a figure that is rising by around 2% per year.
When buying he sets an upper limit of 5,000 hours irrespective of age, the oldest he has at present is on a 2012 plate, yet it remains in excellent working order.
The other rule he sets himself is to buy only Massey Ferguson, John Deere or New Holland as he knows these will find a ready market with plenty of support in the way of parts and maintenance experience. All are fully serviced and sold with a three-month warranty.
Buying on the continent is one option, and it is an alternative that James has tried with mixed success, so he now avoids doing do.
If suitable used tractors are getting difficult to find, then how about a manufacturers franchise?
This is another route that James has considered and has been close to signing on the line a couple of times, yet he fears for his independence, for big brands require a certain degree of compliance with their methods if the relationship is to be a harmonious one.
Another income stream is contract tractor hire. This is a field of operation that he is entering the company into gently.
Hire fees are by negotiation and will take into account intended use, amount of use and length of hire period.
He is also rather selective in which customers he chooses to hire them out to, as the maintenance of cash flow is essential to the business.
Murphy Agri Products to grow further
For the coming year James is confident of another good season, although he did notice a drop in sales once the wet weather set in during February.
Tractors were less affected than machinery, so the likelihood is that farmers will be investing again as the ground dries out and the madness of silage draws closer.
Whatever happens, James will be certain of prospering as it is obvious that Murphy Agri Products is a very much a work-in-progress and the occasional squall will not be setting him back at all.