5 April 2002

Dowdeswell tells of year from hell

Dowdeswell Engineering has had some torrid times in the

past year – events which nearly brought the company to its

knees. In a frank and open discussion with Andy Collings,

managing director Tim Dowdeswell explains what happened

and how he now plans to rebuild the company

A YEAR from hell, is how Tim Dowdeswell describes the last 12 months. It has been a year which has seen the closure of his companys Harlestone plant, a decision made to cease plough production at the Southam factory, and acute financial problems which threatened the future of the whole Dowdeswell operation.

But now the climb back has started. According to Mr Dowdeswell, the financial problems have been resolved, plough production is underway, and sales are being made.

"Its been a tough time which I would not relish repeating," he says. "But I feel that weve come through the worst and now its a matter of re-establishing ourselves as the UKs leading plough manufacturer."

The route to the present has been a rocky path and one which Mr Dowdeswell concedes could have been made easier if a few crucial decisions had been made earlier.

"With hindsight I believe we should have closed down the Harlestone operation a few years ago," he says. "The market for the type of machinery we were making there – power harrows and bale wrappers, for example – was on the decline. Our sub-contract work was also creating large debts which we had to carry.

"With no bank loan facility available for Dowdeswell Norfolk – the Harlestone division – it meant that Dowdeswell Engineering had to provide funding – which put a severe financial strain on the plough division.

"Plough production was also on the decline – from 2500 units in 1996 to 900 units in 2001 – and there was also the strength of the £ which was favouring imported ploughs."

The crunch came a year ago when, with the writing on the wall, Dowdeswell was forced to shut the plant down. Its product lines and tooling facilities were all sold off and the company is now seeking planning permission for the 6ha (15 acres) site.

"It looked at one point we would have to cease plough production and concentrate on a parts supply business," says Mr Dowdeswell. "An announcement was made to this effect."

But a concentrated house tidying effort at Southam – the letting of buildings, a reduction in the labour force by 75% and tighter controls overall – has seen finances recover and a decision made to resume plough, furrow press and disc harrow manufacture.

"We are now in a position where we do not owe money to the bank and, although a much slimmer operation than before, we are in a position where we can provide a full product range and supply dealers and farmers with the equipment they need."

Mr Dowdeswell concedes that, on the dealer front, he has lost a number of his outlets when they took on other plough franchises but is confident that the Dowdeswell name will ensure there is a demand for his companys products.

"We are back to our core products and will continue to build implements to the high standard Dowdeswell has always been renown for," he says. &#42