Rings success due to quality service and skilled labour
In the first of this occasional
series charting the progress
of machinery rings,
Geoff Ashcroft travelled
west to the Hereford-based
7Y machinery ring
WEVE been surprised to maintain growth through a period when farming has remained very profitable," explains Nick Helme, manager of the 7Y machinery ring.
"Over the last few years many farmers have had the surplus funds to reinvest in machinery, but still chose to run with the ring and control their overhead costs."
So it comes as no surprise then, given the current economic climate, that Mr Helme predicts further growth at 7Y.
Membership currently stands at 333 and a target to reach 400 members by the end of the year is already on course. Add to this a turnover figure of £1.25-£1.5m is forecast for 1998 – and the picture starts to unfold.
"Rational, business-minded farmers will continue to use the rings services as long as we can provide a good service," he says.
But its not just the supply of machinery on which the ring prides itself, but more recently in its supply of skilled labour.
Recognising an industry shortfall in experienced, highly skilled agricultural workers, 7Y took on a labour and training manager in 1997 to further develop this side of the business.
"No one appears to be training replacements for people who leave agriculture and in a few years time, the industry will wake up to itself and wonder where all the skills have gone," he says.
With a self-employed workforce of 70 at the rings disposal, worth about £300,000 of annual turnover, labour is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the business.
"We have a classroom at Wharton Court which currently provides six young apprentices with a day-release training course to brush up on their skills, or achieve NPTC qualifications."
It is a scheme which is partially funded from the European Social Fund, and when not in the classroom, the apprentices also receive on-job training by going on-farm with 7Ys skilled workers.
Maintaining personal contact with members is also viewed as fundamental to 7Ys success. As the ring continues to expand its membership, such contact has become harder to sustain and has required a different way of thinking.
"In 1997 we decided to open three regional offices, all linked back to 7Ys base. It revolves around using community people from different areas who can maintain the personal contact with other ring members," explains Mr Helme.
And for the future?
"Now that weve got the main part of the business well developed, we will be moving into commodity trading," says Mr Helme.
Nick Helme: "Business minded- farmers will continue to use the rings services – as long as we can provide good service."