Deutz-Fahr UK’s Tim Lawrence is very clear about what makes the tractors he sells special. “It’s the dealer,” he pointed out, nodding meaningfully towards Laura Wiltshire, managing director of Dunsfold, Surrey-based Wiltshires.

Tim, area sales manager for the impressive Deutz-Fahr range, explained: “We can continue to develop the product and make it as good as we can, but at the end of the day what’s important is the hard-won relationship between the customer and the dealer. That’s what sells the hardware.”

That customer focus played a large part in Wiltshires’ decision to take on the Deutz-Fahr range, which runs from 50hp to 340hp and includes a range of transmission options.

Long recognised as a specialist dealer across Surrey, East and West Sussex and Hampshire for the class-leading Merlo range of telehandlers, the agricultural and ground care machinery dealers found their customer base increasingly asking them to supply a similarly high-spec tractor.

“We have built up a special relationship over many years with farmers who regularly buy telehandlers from us, and we wanted to be able to supply them with the tractors they were asking for, and so we got in touch with Deutz-Fahr,” said Laura.

“Deutz-Fahr offers a comprehensive range of well-built, reliable and efficient machines which reflect the high standards we are used to with Merlo and our other franchises, and we are delighted to be able to supply them to our loyal customer base.”

One thing that is certain is that the paperwork that cemented the Deutz-Fahr deal was more complex than the dealership’s founder, Laura’s father Albert, had to deal with when he began selling Merlo telehandlers in 1996.

“John Iles, the co-founder of Merlo UK, came in to see me and look around the place,” Albert recalled. “We chatted for a bit, shook hands and the deal was done.”

The handshake began a remarkable relationship with Merlo that has continued over the past 28 years and helped establish the dealership’s reputation for supplying and maintaining quality equipment to both agricultural and ground care customers.

As a tribute to the machinery’s longevity, Laura pointed out that the first telehandler the company sold in 1996 is still in the yard at the dealership. “We bought it back in part exchange some time ago and we now use it ourselves for moving things around,” she explained.

Albert, the son of tenant farmers, moved to Dunsfold at the age of three and later studied engineering at Rycote Wood Agricultural College.

In 1970 he started up in business, repairing farm machinery in a lean-to barn close to the current premises, and ten years later neighbouring farmer David Renmant joined the business as Wiltshires began selling second hand machinery, mainly tractors.

The business took a further leap forward in 1996 when Darren Parks, who had been working at Wiltshires as an engineer, decided he wanted to move into sales, prompting the decision to offer new machinery by taking on the Merlo dealership and selling Deutz tractors.

A few years later Laura, who had trained and worked as a psychiatric nurse, joined the business. “Dad rang and said he wanted to install a better IT system, and would I come in and help with the project,” she recalled. “I never left.”

Although it was a considerable career change, Laura sees some similarities between running an agricultural dealership and the career she left 25 years ago. “There were plenty of transferable skills, particularly around dealing with people,” she recalled. “As a company we focus very much on personal service, and understanding people is a large part of that.”

Wiltshires prides itself on being a family business, and another family link saw Jess Parks, daughter of Darren, who now helps run a family contracting business, join the team as parts manager.

It wasn’t a role she stayed in for long. “Jess quickly got involved with all aspects of the business and is now sales manager,” explained Laura. “She started by selling a lawnmower to a ground care customer and never looked back.” Jess is supported on the sales side by Andrew Wragg.

The dealership began a successful parts delivery service to ground care customers in the late 1980s and now keeps local golf clubs well stocked with tools and consumables such as oils and filters. Laura introduced key franchises that allow Wiltshires to offer new ground care machinery in this sector, too.

Ian Simpkin, who joined the parts department in 1988, is still a key part of the three-person team headed up by parts manager Sue Kemp. Sue joined the dealership in August 2023 and has 30 years’ experience in the industry. The third member of the team is parts assistant Joan Tomkinson.

The ground care side of the business was designed to cater not just for golf courses and other amenities but for home owners with large lawns in the more affluent parts of the region. It was a clear attempt to diversify and has become an important part of the business, although agriculture has always been at the heart of the operation.

“Where there used to be three combines on a farm you now have one contractor doing all the harvesting,” pointed out Albert. “And dairy farms have all but disappeared from this part of the world, so you have to keep looking for new ways to grow.”

While diversification has been successful, it was the Merlo telehandler business that really established Wiltshires as a major player. And while the reliability of the brand and the comprehensiveness of the range is undoubtedly part of the story, great customer service has also played a part. Wiltshires has been a Gold Dealer since 2018 and was named Merlo UK Dealer of the Year at the end of 2022.

“The focus on telehandlers has given us the well-established customer base that has now prompted us to move back into tractors with Deutz-Fahr,” commented Laura. “In that sense we have come full circle.”

The restyled Deutz-Fahr range appealed to Wiltshires not just because of the quality of the product, the technology and the broad range on offer but because of the company ethos, which Laura said reflected the dealership’s own values.

“There are people still working with Deutz-Fahr who were there when dad first dealt with them in 1996,” she said. “That says a lot about the business and the way it operates.” 

Laura feels similarly about Merlo UK. “Sadly, the original Mr Merlo passed away in 2022, but his son Paulo is now at the helm. The family has a passion for their machines and as a result it’s a fantastic company to work with,” she pointed out.

Laura said the Merlo had won over a solid core of customers because of its simple design, panoramic vision and ‘bomb-proof’ construction – coupled with Wiltshires’ parts and service back up.

Craig Footman, regional sales manager with Merlo UK, pointed out that the brand had recently celebrated its 30th anniversary in this country – making Wiltshires one of the earliest stockists – and its 60th anniversary in Italy, where the family business is based.

He stressed the unique nature of many of the Merlo range’s features and pointed out that it was the first telehandler to be fitted with a side-mounted engine, allowing its boom to sit lower to improve visibility. The machines are usually more compact than competitors because the weight is concentrated in the chassis, boosting the telehandler’s stability.

Cab suspension, chassis levelling and boom sideshift are additional features, while the Multifarmer range is unique in boasting a three point linkage and power take off (PTO). Although the engines are bought in, most of the manufacturing is carried out in Merlo’s own factory in Cuneo.

The agricultural range (Merlo also makes bigger, construction-focused telehandlers) goes from a 2.5 tonne, five metre boom model up to a 6.5 tonne, nine metre machine. Wiltshires’ current demonstration stock includes a TF42.7, a TF35.7, an EW25.5 and a compact TF33.7.

While Tim Lawrence was quick to put the sales team at the forefront of his list of Deutz-Fahr attributes, he was also happy to highlight some of the features that make the tractor range special.

With a range that runs all the way up to an impressive 340hp, Deutz-Fahr caters for a broad range of customers, with standard stick-shift manual transmission available to 200hp sold alongside the manufacturer’s TTV transmission, which is standard on some of the bigger models. Deutz-Fahr claims its Series 6 TTV drivetrain offers “unprecedented smoothness and ride comfort and significantly improved efficiency”.

Tim described the range as “progressive and forward thinking”, with top-end technology, including RTK satellite navigation, increasingly optional in the lower-spec models.

He said many Deutz-Fahr tractors also boasted “true four-wheel braking”, an ergonomic layout offering a high level of driver comfort and air cab suspension on all models above 150hp. “Many of our tractors can be loader-ready as an option straight out of the factory,” he added.

“We believe the Deutz-Fahr range matches absolutely the kind of performance, build quality and specifications that our customer base is looking for and we are delighted to be able to offer such an appealing product as we move forward,” commented Laura.

For the many Wiltshires customers looking for something slightly smaller, the dealership also offers Iseki compact tractors and diesel mowers, alongside petrol mowers from Ariens and Countax.

The well-stocked dealership also offers Pottinger mowers and grassland/tillage equipment plus small trailers, rollers and harrows from Fleming and robotic mowers from Stiga.

Class-leading ground care machinery from Wessex International is popular with business and amenity customers such as golf courses, and the manufacturer also offers an impressive range of ATV (all-terrain vehicle) attachments.

Wiltshires’ many equestrian and soft fruit customers rely on the dealer for a range of machinery, from smaller tractors through to Merlo telehandlers, and as the drive towards ‘net zero’ continues, the team is increasingly stocking electrically powered options.

The family business is also keen to help young people progress, with two out of the three engineers in the workshop having originally joined as apprentices. Ben Jimmison and Patrick Reffell-Stevens are valued members of a team headed up by workshop manager Jason Reeve, who has been with Wiltshires for 12 years.

“We like to bring in new people and see them develop new skills and we are currently looking for another apprentice,” said Laura.

As well as looking to develop the skills within the team, Wiltshires maintains a steady focus on the customer, as was demonstrated on the day South East Farmer visited the busy showroom to find the team organising a rescue mission to a customer who had phoned Laura’s mobile phone at 7.30am to say his 20 year-old telehandler had broken down on the beach.

“Now we’ve just got to get it working so we can shift it before the tide comes in,” Laura explained.