* If you’re after a contractor who can undertake virtually every imaginable task, then David Prouse is your man.
But this is no “Jack of all trades”. His business – Roy Prouse Contractors – was set up in 1960 by his father and has grown from a straightforward operation offering ploughing and muckspreading to one that turns over more than £1m. The firm offers everything from feed supply and foraging to access-platform rental and plant hire.
Having a broad range of work is good when it comes to risk-spreading, but takes some careful management. “One of the biggest challenges of running an outfit like this is letting go,” says David. “I simply can’t manage every operation, although I might like to think I can.”
“We’ve got trusted guys who are perfectly capable of running their own teams, whether it’s the forage-gang, workshop fitters or digger drivers.”
That’s the key strength of this outfit. David has created a situation where he can take a step back from the business, leaving it to run itself while he explores other potential opportunities.
But finding staff prepared to take on the extra responsibility is a challenge in itself.
And keeping the existing staff happy is an area which David sees as key to the firm’s success.
“As an industry we need to pay our men as much as we can. I’ve lost good guys because they can work fewer hours and earn triple the amount as plumbers.
“We can have ultra-high output kit, but it still has to be operated by a competent, well-trained and motivated driver to get the most out of it.”
His approach to equipment is a carefully considered one. There’s no rigid replacement policy in place and kit is costed on an individual basis. This generally means mid-horsepower tractors are replaced at 5000hours and high-tech, high horsepower machines – like Fendt Varios – run for 10,000hours.
But staying ahead of the competition often requires the purchase of new tackle.
“We’ve always been the innovators in our area. We were the first to run a self-propelled forager, umbilical slurry injection service and maize drilled under plastic.
“This year we’ve invested in Claas’ 14m Cougar self-propelled mower. It has allowed us to get over the ground quicker, even in Devon’s 10-15-acre fields. That means we can keep more customers happy by getting to them on time.”
But, as with many new enterprises, it hasn’t been without its headaches. David had calculated he needed to cut 5000 acres with the Cougar to break even. That was fine because at the time he ordered it he had 7000 acres on the books. But, since the monster mower was delivered, it hasn’t always been easy to maintain that acreage in a fiercely competitive marketplace. “No matter how long you’ve been in business you continue to learn new lessons,” he says.
He acknowledges the need to get customers to sign a contract at the back end of each year, setting in stone exactly what they’ll require the following season.
It’s difficult to see how David can diversify his business much further. He’s already heavily involved with the local biogas plant but is keen to get more involved with the emerging biofuels market.
“For now we’ve got plenty of new stuff going on. I need to concentrate on keeping the wife happy, getting a few more family holidays in and getting the bank manager to buy me lunch more often.”
Above: Daniel James, 2006 Contractor of the Year Richard Minton, NAAC Chairman. Below: Peter Debenham, Kleber and Nick Fone, Farmers Weekly
Roy Prouse Contractors, Holsworthy, Devon
WORK UNDERTAKEN Silage – grass (6000 acres), maize (1000 acres) and wholecrop (800 acres) baling and wrapping muck and slurry work all arable operations feed and forage supply plant hire and groundworks
MACHINERY FLEET Tractors – 6 x New Holland, 5 x Ford 1 x MB Unimog and 4 x Fendt Combines – Claas Lexion 430 and Dominator 204 Forager – Claas Jaguar Mower – Claas Cougar Loaders – Manitou 628, JCB 414 and 526 Sprayer – Bateman RB16 plus various excavators and dozers
LABOUR 18 full-time staff, plus up to 12 part-time in busy spells
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