When Mark Brown decided it was time to set up his own business, he had in mind “a one man in a van, going around fixing people’s machinery” kind of future.

Twenty or so years later, at the helm of ground care machinery specialists M&A Brown & Sons Ltd and responsible for five vehicles, 11 people and a permanent base at Iden Green Farm, just outside Goudhurst, he joked: “I grew a monster.”

It may have grown beyond his expectations, but the company’s reputation has grown with it, to the point where M&A Brown & Sons’ name is well known throughout Kent, Sussex and into South East London for the quality of its sales and repair service.

The business has both commercial and domestic customers and prides itself on the level of service it delivers in both categories. Mark’s wife Amanda, who has played an integral part in the growth of the business, explained: “Everybody counts. It doesn’t matter if it’s a commercial operator looking for half a dozen ride-on mowers or a home-owner asking about an entry level strimmer, they both get all the help they need.”

M&A Brown & Sons stocks a comprehensive, carefully selected range of ground care machinery, from leaf blowers, strimmers and pedestrian mowers through to ride-ons, impressive zero-turn mowers and compact tractors, complete with the implements that make them useful.

“We only sell quality brands like Ariens,
AS Motor, Wiebang, Echo and Hayter because we know they are the best and will give great results over an impressively long period,” explained Amanda. “It would be easy to over-stock, but we would just be adding quantity over quality, and we are happy that we already sell the right brands for our customer base.”

That customer base includes farmers, smallholders, estates, councils and individuals who value good service, advice and the knowledge that M&A Brown & Sons will be able to look after the machine long after the paintwork has dulled and the first scuffs have appeared.

As a sub-contractor, M&A Brown & Sons also supplies, maintains and repairs ground care machinery used on rail routes and at major airports. Meanwhile companies such as Forst, which supplies chippers, and Ariens are now using Mark and his team as a service centre, which means they can look after equipment that is still under warranty but was bought elsewhere.

The team at what is very much a family firm takes a flexible approach to the workload, but in general Mark handles the commercial enquiries while Bob Shelley looks after domestic customers.

Mark trained as an agricultural engineer, working for a number of big name machinery dealers in the South East before moving into ground care because he felt it was “a niche that suited his skills and experience”.

He joined Glendale Managed Services in Lewisham, South East London, as a workshop manager in around 2000, just a year or so after he and Amanda were married. Glendale provides ground care services for operations such as councils and hospitals, and while Mark enjoyed the work and being part of the team at Glendale, he found the daily journey from High Halden in the Weald of Kent a challenge.

“He decided he wanted to be one man in a van,” Amanda revealed, “but it snowballed a bit. One van became two and then three. We then took on a workshop so that we could do more repairs and then expanded into selling new machinery. It’s been a steady growth supported by a great team.”

Fortunately for Mark, while he now spends much of his time running the business alongside Amanda, he still gets the chance to get his hands dirty, particularly when engineers are sick. “Some of the guys were off with ‘flu’ last week and so Mark was back on the tools and loved every minute of it,” Amanda revealed.

After moving from a van-based operation to a permanent base in 2004, M&A Brown & Sons moved to their current location on the Cranbrook Road at Goudhurst two years later, initially in half of one building but now in three buildings on the site.

Alongside a spacious workshop, they have an office, a parts store and a well laid-out showroom and forecourt which has displays of Echo, Toro, Al-Ko and Branson/TYM equipment alongside the brands mentioned earlier.

“Ideally we would like to buy premises rather than rent, but whenever we come across some potential farm buildings locally we find that they are on sale with planning permission to be turned into homes,” Mark commented. “You can see why, but it makes it difficult for this kind of business to find a suitable rural location to operate from.”

Another recent purchase which sets M&A Brown & Sons apart is a cylinder sharpening bench that means the company can put a new edge on commercial cylinder mower cutting units. “It’s not a cheap bit of kit so few people offer the service these days. We invested in the bench because our customers appreciate the fact that we can keep their mowers in top condition,” Amanda explained.

Although he has built up his own impressive customer base over the years, Mark is still making the journey to Lewisham, as M&A Brown & Sons now acts as a sub-contractor to Glendale Managed Services, supplying and maintaining the company’s equipment.

The business became a limited company in 2012, although the decision had to be put on hold for a few months while the couple awaited the arrival of their second child. They had one boy, Theo, but needed to make sure Zach was, as expected, a boy, before adding the “& Sons” to the company name.

Theo, who now works for a local farmer after completing an agricultural course at Hadlow College, was 15 during the coronavirus lockdown. “He finished all the work set online by his school in the morning and then spent the afternoons working alongside his dad in the workshop,” Amanda recalled.

Younger brother Zach, now 12, spends all his free time at Iden Green Farm cleaning machinery and doing all sorts of other jobs around the site to earn extra pocket money. There’s no pressure on either of the boys to join the family business, but both have inherited their father’s love of machinery and it looks like a distinct possibility.

If they also inherit mum’s focus on customer service, the business will be in safe hands long into the future. “We know most of our customers by name, many of them often pop in just for a chat and the kettle is always on. I also have a reputation for insisting that everyone who answers the phone talks with a smile on their face,” she said.

Customer service is backed up by well-honed skills, lots of training and a wealth of experience throughout the team, plus a realistic approach to the cost of repairing equipment.

“If we think the likely repair costs on a comparatively inexpensive piece of machinery will turn it into an expensive piece of machinery, we tell the customer it’s not worth repairing,” said Mark, who is also well known in farming circles as a Weald of Kent Young Farmers’ Club leader.

It’s an honest approach from a family business that began with a search for independence and has grown into a well-respected local employer with a reputation for service that is second to none.

The range offered in the UK by the US based outdoor power equipment manufacturer Ariens focuses on ride-on zero turn mowers.

The zero turn mowers have a commercial focus throughout the range, from the entry level Ariens Edge through the Zenith range of commercial petrol powered zero turn models, including the recently introduced battery powered Zenith E and Arrow E ranges.   

In 2020 Ariens acquired specialist German mower brand AS Motor, which manufactures and supplies professional mowers for mulching, high grass and slope mowing. Models can tackle slopes up to 55 degrees or grass up to 100cm tall and the range includes remote controlled models.

Hayter has been designing and producing premium quality lawn mowers at its headquarters in Hertfordshire since 1946.  The Hayter brand is synonymous with quality, which is why Mark and Amanda felt they were the best option for their showroom.

Winton Machinery offers a robust and reliable range of tractor-mounted, PTO-driven implements suitable for sub-compact through to small tractors. Winton mowers and groundcare machines now feature several upgraded key components such as bearings, gearboxes and blades. 

The Branson and TYM range of tractors runs from 19hp to 75hp and offers affordable quality for smallholders, equestrian facilities, sports grounds and similar facilities. The Branson brand, which has been made in South Korea since 1968, is now part of the TYM group, the largest tractor company in South Korea.

AL-Ko and Weibang are the newest additions to the product line-up at M&A Brown & Sons. AL-KO offers a broad range of gardening tools which includes log splitters as well as an extensive range of lawnmowers.

Weibang is becoming well known as a top-performing commercial mower, offering maximum reliability and built specifically for the UK. Weibang machines are built to last, with heavy duty, professional quality components and the highest quality materials.