If you’re going to do a job, do it right. That’s the key to running a successful contracting business and building customer loyalty, Robert and Jane Targett believe.

It’s an attitude that obviously works. Since starting contracting 30 years ago as a means of bringing in extra income to the family dairy farm Robert, with brother Colin, wife Jane and son Matthew, has developed a strong base of 50 clients, all in a competitive region.

“We offer a premium service, so it can be difficult trying to compete when there are so many other contractors in this area,” Robert says. “Some have tried to expand, but it just doesn’t happen as there are so many people chipping away around the edges.”

Any new business is picked up mostly by word of mouth, so building strong relationships with customers is vital, says Jane. Many of their customers have been with them for more than 20 years.

It is this close relationship and stable customer base that helps them balance the demands of customers with the workload on their own 400ha (1000-acre) farm, which has 500 pedigree Holstein cows. “Generally we know what order we’ll be going to people during the season and we can plan accordingly,” Robert says. “If something goes wrong, you just have to be honest and up-front.”

It’s this honest approach they’ve used when tackling the rising cost of fuel. “Our margins aren’t big enough to take up the extra cost, so we quote a base price and then add a surcharge depending the fuel price on the day. We haven’t lost customers yet doing it this way.”

Every self-propelled machine has fuel monitoring on board and staff are encouraged to maximise fuel use efficiency for every job.

By taking pride in offering a premium service, the Targetts invest in new machinery on a regular basis. They are proud to have owned one of the first New Holland FR9060 forage harvesters in the UK and are also in their twelfth year using a reverse-drive tractor and triple mower set-up. But owning such high-capacity equipment means machinery depreciation is the biggest single cost to the business.

To keep on top of it, they calculate depreciation for every machine as pounds per unit of work – for tractors, pounds per hour and balers, pence per bale.

“By keeping track of the value of each of our machines and the cost of a new one, a simple calculation can tell us the cost of that machine per chargeable unit,” explains Jane. These costs, with allowances for items such as new tyres, can then be benchmarked against previous machines, and also used to work out the best time to sell, she says.

Robert and Matthew both have a keen interest in machinery and engineering, so most maintenance and servicing is done in-house.

The traditional way Robert and Jane treat their staff is refreshing to see. “There are employment opportunities out there and agriculture isn’t the highest paid, so it’s important to hold on to staff.”

Everyone receives training for any new piece of machinery and is kept up to date with health and safety advice. Work always stops for lunch and tea and, although they try to avoid working on Sundays, when they have to, Sunday lunch is provided in the field. Work shuts down completely for two weeks over Christmas.

While the contracting and dairy unit form the core of the business, Robert and Jane have developed other income sources.

Eight years ago they set up Cary Moor vet group, which covers 5000 animals and is responsible for £0.25m-worth of veterinary business. In 2004, they took over a town and country supply store, specialising in feed additives and horse products.

The grain store is another area that could be developed by offering a service of rolling and selling grain, Robert says. “We already store for some customers, but there are plenty of dairy farmers using straights, so it could be worth doing.”

Building customer loyalty with an efficient quality service is the key to Robert and Jane Targett’s Somerset contracting business, based in Castle Cary.

What the judges liked

  • Customer comes first mentality
  • Aware of costs, but conscious of need to provide quality service
  • Traditional approach – staff treated as members of the family
  • Not afraid to invest where appropriate
  • Well-known in local area
  • Open to developing new income sources

Farm facts

  • Work undertaken: 2000 acres first cut silage, 1000 acres second cut, 500 acres third cut, 1000 acres corn harvested. Also drainage & digger work, umbilical slurry application and building
  • Machinery fleet: Tractors – Fendt 930, 2 x Fendt 716, 2 x MF6480, MF6290, MF6150. Other – JCB 414S loader, New Holland FR9060 forage harvester
  • Labour: Nine full-time staff throughout the year