Where there’s muck there’s brass

Features Posted 27/06/18
From one man and his hedge cutter, to a portable toilet and marquee hiring empire employing up to 80 people in the peak summer months across their three companies, South East Farmer visited Four Jays Group to find out how the family-run business has evolved since 1958.

John and Janet Worsfold are celebrating their 60th anniversary of trading from Barling Farm in 2018. Four Jays, which was initially named after the founding members John and Janet Worsfold, with daughters Jackie and Jill, remains a family run affair. While John and Janet, now in their early 80s, still live on site at Barling Farm in East Sutton, near Maidstone, the couple have handed the day-to-day running of the business over to the family’s ‘fifth J’ their son Jonathan and his wife Sarah.

The successful marquee and toilet hire business started life as an agricultural contracting company, with John Worsfold taking advantage of the various grants on offer to farmers for looking after hedges and ditches while still farming himself.

With the right diggers and machinery in the shed, John diversified the business offering, dipping his toes into the swimming pool sector for a few years, but it was with the purchase of a marquee that the family company found its true calling.

“The marquee business actually came about for my sister’s birthday,” said Jonathan Worsfold, managing director of Four Jays. “Jackie was one of the first of her friends to turn 21, so instead of renting a marquee dad decided to buy one which he could then hire out to his farming friends. From there we soon realised that furniture and crockery would be needed so mum set up Janet’s China Hire.”

In 1976, a large fire caused the family to move away from contracting altogether and it was decided that Four Jays would concentrate on the equipment hire side of the business, which was returning money quicker than the family’s farming enterprises.

After attending a trade show in London, John was introduced to the idea of portable toilets and while they obviously went hand in hand with the events side of the business, there was also a growing demand from the region’s fruit farmers who were looking to provide facilities for their pickers.

“John was one of the first people in the country to invest in the individual portable loos,” said Sarah Worsfold, director at Four Jays. “Originally Four Jays bought into a franchise called Site a Loo and were responsible for servicing the South-East area. With so few people involved in this sector at the time the first toilets were imported from America; today, with the growth in requirement, our main supplier is now based and manufactures in Essex.”

Still farming

Before joining the family business and taking over the management of the marquee hire division in 1992, Jonathan completed his Higher National Diploma in Agriculture at Harper Adams. His love of farming remains and alongside running the main business Jonathan continues to pursue his ‘hobby’. Today, 30-acres of the family’s 100-acre estate is rented out to a local farmer, with 30-acres of coppiced woodland and 40-acres of grassland used to fatten lambs in the winter and for hay in the summer.

“We used to have our own flock here,” said Jonathan. “But as dad got older it was becoming difficult with lambing and so we now bring in around 60 lambs per year from a local farmer and fatten them up for Easter. They are all just grass fed, nothing else. I enjoy checking on them daily and looking after the ground.”

Adequate welfare facilities

When John invested in Four Jays’ first portable toilets in 1984 there was no such thing as welfare facility rights for workers in agriculture. 34 years on and his son Jonathan is faced with a very different situation, having invested in specialist welfare units to help customers including farmers in South East England meet ever-evolving legal requirements.

Any farmer who employs workers must provide them with adequate welfare facilities from clean toilets, hand washing to changing facilities and somewhere to eat meals and rest. This is relative to the number of workers and expected duration of the job. For workers in the field a long way from the yard, these facilities must be portable.

“Over recent years, staff welfare has become a bigger focus for all companies. With the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 coming into force CDM means that building sites, events and farmers need to be able to provide adequate proportional welfare facilities for staff,” said Jonathan. “It has had a big impact on our business and our investment into welfare units is one of the major changes we have seen in the last 10 years.”

Four Jays first started hiring basic welfare units out in 2003 in addition to their toilet fleet, however, as providing additional facilities were not within many farmer’s budgets the first four years were slow going.

“We invested in a range of welfare facilities very early on,” said Sarah. “Back then farm owners just saw them as an extra cost but nowadays they are becoming more of a necessity with the Health and Safety Executive, supermarket and Red Tractor Farm Assurance audits all wanting to see that the farms have the right welfare facilities in place.”

The ‘all singing all dancing’ welfare cabins hired out by Four Jays include everything farmers need to make the site compliant within one cabin. The company now has 50 welfare units complete with toilets, canteen area, some with office space and a range of stacking cabins which can be used to construct more substantial spaces for workers.

“Over the past 10 years we have also needed to invest in a fleet of generators which are incorporated in our self-contained welfare units,” said Jonathan. “These generators are used to power the kitchen facilities, lighting, heating and hot water, and we now also have a dedicated maintenance team who look after them.”

The largest welfare units are delivered by Four Jays’ crane lorry and these increased haulage costs often mean that the cabins can be a daunting expense for smaller farmers. Therefore, the majority are now trailers which are cheaper to deliver using a 4x4. For those with power and water on site, Jonathan has also developed a range of canteen and office trailers for use alongside the traditional portable toilets to ensure smaller farms are compliant if on a budget.

“We explored alternative avenues to make sure that smaller businesses don’t have to spend a fortune,” said Jonathan. “It is about finding a way to cater for all of our customers, helping them to adhere to the required standards while adapting to fit different needs, markets and budgets.”

Servicing the industry

For the farm toilets it is all about flexibility. The portable toilets are pallet based to ensure that once delivered by Four Jays the farmer can easily move them with a forklift to wherever they are required on the farm.

“Big farms are moving loos constantly to meet with their needs and where they are working,” said Jonathan. “For example, we work with Watts Farm Packers Ltd in North Kent who move the loos from farm to farm and even take them into Essex.”

Understanding their customers’ business requirements, as well as ensuring that the toilets are transportable, Four Jays has also invested in a number of European-style toilets, which are proving popular with the workforce.

“Two seasons ago Tim Chambers at W B Chambers Farms Ltd trialled squat toilets alongside normal farm loos,” said Sarah. “They wanted to see which ones would be used more, which would be cleaner and which their workers would prefer. Squat toilets were deemed the most suitable and so we invested in more for them.”

Chambers Farms have developed their use of the squat toilets mounting a small number of them onto orchard trailers alongside external hand washing facilities so that the units can be towed around to keep up with their large gangs of workers.

As the portable toilets are chemical based they require weekly servicing and Four Jays currently services in the region of 1,800 portable toilets on long term hire, around 70 trailer toilets and 200 loos which go out to events.

“Most of what we do is cleaning and logistics,” said Jonathan. “As well as looking after our own loos, as other companies have invested in loos or fleets of welfare trailers we have expanded our servicing rounds. Going out to service toilets is a completely different job to hiring and if someone only has 10 units it doesn’t warrant putting a tanker on the road, so we will look after their toilets as well.”

Looking after toilets on long term hire in Kent, Sussex, Surrey, London and South Essex, Four Jays’ dedicated fleet of service drivers have access to a range of tankers ranging from the large 3,000-gallon capacity, to 500-gallon tankers as well as a range of smaller 3.5 tonne trucks which have been adapted with vacuum tanks and fresh water facilities. To better service its farming customers, the firm has also invested in four all-wheel drive transits, complete with pressure washers to help keep the toilets clean, which are more capable of reaching toilets in agricultural locations.

Alongside the rise in demand caused by regulations, Sarah and Jonathan have also seen the expansion of many of their customers’ businesses over the years. Increased numbers of workers mean that more facilities are needed, and this year Four Jays has invested in 150 new toilets.

“We have an on-going annual upgrade programme for toilets and there is a lot of reinvestment,” said Jonathan. “Older toilets will be coming off the fleet and we have invested in new ones which will go straight into the event fleet. Those from the event side will then come into the hire fleet to go to farms. Standards are going up and we need to keep up.

“This increase in business from our expanding hire fleet has resulted in a larger workforce to meet our customers’ needs. This includes enthusiastic teams of staff led by committed managers who all work within the requirements of our trade associations who audit our operations and advise on ongoing training.”

Themed toilets<.b>

While standards are going up in the farming toilet scene, Four Jays is also moving with modern trends on the events side of the business. With the use of wrapping, the firm has created an appealing offering, adding a touch of class and humour for those who don’t want their wedding or events toilets to look like plain, green or white portable trailer loos.

“We have developed a number of themed toilet trailers to fit with what people want,” said Jonathan. “We have shepherd’s hut themed trailers to fit the ‘shabby chic’ trend, and a ‘lift and fly’ wrapped toilet where the gents side looks like you are in an aeroplane and the ladies looks like you are in a lift. We have a boutique design with pictures of celebrities and phone boxes around the urinals. There is also the four seasons trailer - each cubicle depicting a different time of year. It is just a bit of fun.”

A lot of these high-end prestige trailer toilets are part of Smart Event Support’s fleet, a Langley-based company which Four Jays took over in 2014. Four Jays has acquired a lot of other businesses which have been absorbed into the Four Jays brand, however, Smart Events has been kept separate.

“Smart Events has a very good name in the industry, so we decided to run them as a separate company,” said Sarah. “They are known for both high quality toilets and service and deal with other marquee hire companies, so thankfully we have retained a lot of the business relationships and existing customer base.”

Show suppliers

As well as hiring out its toilets and marquees for private weddings and events, Four Jays has become a cornerstone of the agricultural show scene, suppling marquees for the Heathfield Show, Kent County Show, the Weald of Kent and East Kent ploughing match associations and for Hadlow College’s open days to name a few.

“As well as marquees for agricultural societies we also look after trade stands for exhibitors such as Hobbs Parker, Lambert and Foster, CLM and South East Farmer magazine. We are one of the preferred suppliers at the Kent County Show Ground and we will be doing the marquee for the Household Cavalry who are at the show this year.”

Sustainability

Keen to do their bit for the environment, Jonathan and Sarah have also invested in the fleet and the Barling Farm site to ensure that the business is running as sustainably as possible.

Welfare units now run on low voltage and the new units have lighting on PIR sensors to conserve power. A few of the latest office and canteen welfare cabins will only operate when there is someone in them and after an hour they will power down into a sleep mode.

“We are constantly investing in new equipment to be as eco-friendly as possible,” said Jonathan. “We have solar powered panels on our barns which generates a lot of the electricity which we use on site here and in summer we are virtually self-sufficient.”

With Janet’s China Hire and the toilet servicing sides of the business consuming a lot of water, Jonathan has also developed a system to harvest rain water. As well as a bore hole there is now the facility to store up to 60 tonnes of rain water on site. This has not only alleviated the strain on the private spring which feeds the farm and 12 other houses locally, but also provides a source of soft water which has led to saving on cleaning chemicals too.

“We are on a private spring here, so the water pressure is bad and the water is hard,” said Jonathan. “We were finding the chemicals weren’t working properly. We were using far more than we should have. As well as the harvested rain water we have four big water softeners in place. They were a big investment, but we are so much more efficient now and they are worth their weight in gold.”

While the business has diversified into welfare units, driven by changing regulations, looking at the future, Sarah and Jonathan hope the Four Jays Group can consolidate its services, continue to invest in the fleet and ensure it helps farmers keep up to date with the latest welfare regulations.


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