15 January 1999

OVERSEAS VISITORS ARE A BIG EXPORT BOOSTER

WITH its principal focus on local farmers and local manufacturers, the LAMMA show hardly has a reputation for international appeal. Yet its the overseas visitors who take the trouble to make their way to the event that, for Paul Johnson, is one of the bonuses of exhibiting there.

As sales director of farm equipment maker Terry Johnson Ltd, he is keen to build export sales as the next step in developing a business that began with a chance opportunity and has been turned into an established player in the farm machinery trade.

"A successful exports campaign would be the making of this company," says Mr Johnson. "Theres a big market beyond our shores and although we have been dabbling in it for a while, Im hopeful of making more of an impact in the years to come."

No wonder, then, that with little more than 10% of the companys output sold overseas, he is more than happy to greet farmers and trade representatives from France, Denmark, Spain and other nations at the companys LAMMA stand. "You never know what these contacts might lead to," says Mr Johnson.

In 12 years of trading, the firm has stuck with what it knows best and worked towards progressive development rather than radical growth. The two product lines on which it was founded – Todd sugar beet cleaner loaders and Bettinson wheels – are still mainstays of the operation, although the Swift-Lift elevator and conveyor range, acquired in 1994, now accounts for the lions share with around 65% of sales.

The opportunity for founder Terry Johnson to turn his hand to running his own business arose when the multi-interest Hestair group decided to abandon the world of agricultural machinery. As works director of Hestairs Bettinson drill factory in Holbeach, Lincs, he was in pole position to buy a chunk and chose rights to the Todd beet equipment, Bettinson wheel products, and Whitsed potato harvesters. Production of the latter had pretty much drawn to a close but promised on-going spares demand.

"And we still get calls for Whitsed spares," notes the sales director.

Today, the company remains in Holbeach but in the larger Swift-Lift premises which have themselves been expanded to now include 1860sq m (20,000sq ft) of manufacturing space and 840sq m (9000sq ft) of warehousing.

"We dont have any fancy production equipment because we dont really need it for our product lines," says Mr Johnson. "But we do reckon to do the job well and turn-out a quality product."

In addition to building elevators, conveyors and beet cleaner-loaders, and assembling row-crop and dual wheels – only the specialist clamps are bought in from Swiss maker Schaad – the company takes on some sub-contract work producing components and assemblies for other manufacturers, including farm machinery makers.

So, where does the business go from here? Its something family directors Terry and Betty Johnson, Paul and sister Mandy have no doubt contemplated at length.

"At present, we are adjusting to a rather depressed market that will see our turnover down perhaps 25% to 30% on our usual sales," says Paul Johnson. "Home sales are starting to pick up but we need a further drop in the value of Sterling to regain our competitive position overseas."

Some of the countrys elevator products went up in price by as much as £5000 in some countries simply because of the strong pound. That made the task of competing with other European manufacturers all the more difficult.

But it has not dented Mr Johnsons ambition to sell more equipment to overseas growers.

"We already sell wheels as far afield as Africa and Asia, and there is growing interest in the use of beet cleaner-loaders in some countries notably Spain and Poland," he points out. "In Europe, there the Swift-Lift range competes with strong Dutch manufacturers, we compare well on quality and features. So I am confident that once we are competitive on prices again, we shall make further inroads." &#42