Established as a turf contracting and mowing enterprise by his father Dick Harmer in 1947, Vic Harmer talked to South East Farmer about how far the third-generation, family-run ground maintenance and contracting business has come.
Operating from the family yard in Acrise, just outside Folkestone, Kent, Harmer and Sons have diversified over the years and Vic, along with sons James and Andrew, now service Kent’s farmers, local authorities and a collection of private landscaping customers.
Always keen to progress the successful business his father had embarked upon, Vic made sure he learnt the family trade as soon as possible.
“Dad moved to the current yard in 1958 and even from a very early age I remember helping out at weekends and whenever I could,” said Vic Harmer. “I always knew I wanted to go into the family business.”
Before joining Harmer and Sons 30 years ago, Vic spent six years working on a mixed farm in Elham, Kent followed by a few years in the haulage industry, helping him to gain insight into and acquire wider business knowledge of the agriculture and logistics industries.
At his peak, Dick was employing around seven workers with four lorries and three tractors. Today, Vic has expanded to a 16-strong team, with a wide range of machinery and with sons James and Andrew also involved, Harmer and Sons is set to remain a family enterprise for several years to come. Covering the Kent county from Folkestone, west to Romney Marsh, north to Maidstone, east to the Isle of Sheppey and south to Thanet, Vic prides himself on remaining as self-sufficient as possible.
The team transport their own machinery, project manage waste removal and, where possible, recycling, and Andrew, who joined seven years ago after completing an engineering apprenticeship, ensures all the machinery and equipment is well looked after and fully serviced from the on-site workshop.
“Looking after the logistics, waste and machinery in-house means we can provide customers with a consistently good level of service,” said Vic. “The majority of our business comes from word of mouth and being self-sufficient means we can reduce the risk of other companies letting us, or our customers, down.”
A good reputation, coupled with heavy investment into its machinery and equipment over the last five years has allowed Harmer and Sons to further diversify the business.
The need to buy larger machines to fully service the ground maintenance and landscaping enterprise has paved the way for Vic to be able to offer a wide range of agricultural contract services.
Owning a forest mulcher, bat-winged mowers, gang mowers and rotary cutters, flail hedgecutters, tractor mounted flails, bulk trailers, flat trailers, low loaders, water bowsers, and excavators, allows them to service a whole host of farming requirements.
“We have always looked to venture into new market places. Acquiring some bigger machinery has set us apart from some of our competitors and created an opportunity for us to offer more agricultural services,” said Vic.
“Some of our equipment may only come out of the shed for a few weeks of the year and for local farmers they can benefit from our investment without having the expense of acquiring their own machines.”
While technology has come a long way from Dick Harmer’s original Fordson Dexta, Vic still prefers to ‘buy blue’ with the fleet of New Holland tractors being supplied from their local Haynes dealership.
“A big part of our set up is formed of Teagle equipment,” said Vic. “We find that works for us. It’s the right money, it’s reliable, the parts are easily accessible, and the dealer we buy those through, Phil Ford, looks after us.”
While the machinery has changed considerably over the years, the dedication of Harmer and Sons remains the same today. As the agricultural side of the business is developing gradually, Vic is always accommodating when it comes to helping out local farmers.
“We do a lot of work for Brockhill Park Performing Arts College’s School Farm. As a school they haven’t always got access to the right machinery, so we do all their major farm work; everything from supplying them with straw to dunging out.”
For neighbouring farmers, Harmer and Sons’ range of tractors and trailers are often utilised as relief vehicles. At the busier times of the year, Vic and Andrew can provide a vital lifeline to those who have experienced breakdowns, or those who just need an extra pair of hands for anything from corn carting to transporting straw and hayledge.
“A lot of the local farmers know what machinery we have and we work with them all,” said Vic. “We have grass from some, straw from others, we do flailing and mulching for a few and others make use of our tractor and trailers during peak times.”
As well as farming, Vic has also tapped into the local equestrian sector too. Working with customers from small yards to large horse stables, Harmer and Sons help owners to manage grassland and ménages, remove waste, cut hedges, and in recent years they have also found a lucrative side project from producing and selling their own hayledge.
Parallel to the growing range of agricultural contract work, the mainstay of Harmer and Sons’ work currently comes from local authorities.
Vic looks after over 400 sites, maintaining the grounds of hospitals and clinics, housing associations and retirement homes, residential and industrial estates, hotels, schools, churches, playing fields and recreational parks.
“Grounds and gardens often shape people’s first impressions of the establishment they are about to walk into. It is especially important for us to maintain public spaces which have a reputation to uphold, like hospitals, schools, residential and industrial estates.”
Local authorities also take advantage of Harmer and Sons wide range of machinery capabilities and Vic manages and maintains several conservation areas, ensuring they are cut and baled at the right times with waste also transported off site.
Having worked with some authorities for over 20 years, Vic often finds he is the first point of call for advice on various projects and while becoming Kent County Council Register approved took some time, the consistent level of service Harmer and Sons provides mean he is now well known and respected in the sector.
As Vic and his family celebrate the 70th anniversary, son Andrew Harmer is keen to carry the third-generation family-run business forward, with expansion only limited to customer demand.