A young farmer from South Wales has launched a machinery repair business, setting himself the ambitious target of having his own dealership within a decade.
Tom Jenkins founded Jenkins Agricultural Services, based near Cardiff, last summer, specialising in repairs to New Holland kit and Honda ATVs.
He already employs three people, has built turnover to approaching £15,000/month and is on track to get his 100th customer this spring.
“I always wanted to work for myself,” says the 23-year-old. “It’s a very competitive sector, but I figured I had nothing to lose.”
Taking the leap
A former student at the Gelli Aur campus of Coleg Sir Gâr, Tom had been employed at the JG Plant and Riverlea dealerships before deciding to strike out on his own.
“I had a great time working for other people and learned loads, but I was restless for the next thing. Leaving was exciting and nerve wracking – I was actually sick in the car park before I handed in my notice at my last job!”
Tom’s top tip
Young farmers looking to launch a business should remember cashflow is critical. I started doing work for customers before I had sorted out the HMRC/VAT registration paperwork which meant that for the first two months I couldn’t actually send out an invoice. Get all the paperwork and systems put in place before you actually start up.
His approach to building his customer base is partly based on pricing. “The main dealers are in yards three times the size of ours and they’ve got astronomical overheads.
“Main dealers might be charging £60/hour whereas we charge £40/hour.
“But it’s also about the quality of the service. If the phone rings at 9pm in silaging season, I’ll go straight out and sort a problem.”
Contacts are also crucial for Tom and this is where his membership of Llantrisant YFC is paying dividends.
“At the moment we’re working for the slightly older generation, but in 10 years’ time it’ll be people who we’re good friends with who will be the ones we’re doing the work for.
“My mother also runs a feed merchant, Jenkins Equine and Farm Feeds, and I’m pretty sure she hands out business cards to everyone who walks through the door!”
Tom acquired his love of kit growing up on the family smallholding and helping out on neighbouring farms, including one that ran a grass-case equipment repair business.
As well as a lot of hard graft, chasing his ultimate dream of becoming a dealer involves a few sleepless nights. “I never thought it would be as hard as it is, but I’ve got the energy to put in the hours now.
“Maybe further down the road, when I have less time, I might not want to work such silly hours. Right now, I simply don’t have a social life at certain times of year. I’ve also got a very understanding girlfriend!”
It’s been a steep learning curve and one of the main lessons he’s learned is to budget for unexpected costs.
“Basically, whatever money you’ve got in the bank when you start, you’ll probably find you actually need double that amount,” he says.
He was also surprised by the insurance premiums. “Plus the more work you do and the bigger you get, the more it will cost you.
“However, this cover is vital and, ultimately, you get what you pay for. I’m grateful my provider would even insure me to the level they have at my age.”
Being the boss
So how is it, being a boss? “It can be hard, especially when the boys you have working for you were good friends before they worked for you. But I’m pretty mellow; it’s not very often I blow my top!
“Everyone understands that, outside of work, whatever happens in work is forgotten. I try to lead by setting an example – you’ve got to be the first one there and the last one to leave.
“There are occasional moments when I’m half tempted to go back and work for somebody else, but it’s far more often that I think: ‘This is going brilliantly, we’re really flying.’
“Ultimately, I love what I do – and fortune usually favours the bold.”