A 200 year-old family business that prides itself on matching traditional values with a modern outlook celebrated its anniversary with an impressive open day at its Winchester showrooms.

A T Oliver & Sons Ltd, universally known simply as Olivers, opened the doors of its impressive, modern showroom and welcomed customers old and new to a wide-ranging display of agricultural machinery, with harvest leaders Claas centre stage.

While Claas combine and forage harvesters are prominent in the Olivers offering, the event is likely to have been an eye-opener for anyone not familiar with the variety of equipment and machinery sold by the well-respected dealership.

Having bought the dealerships at Winchester and at Petworth in West Sussex from the retail business of Claas UK in 2018, Olivers has broadened the machinery range considerably, with franchises including Grange, Horsch, Spearhead, Opico, KRM, Martin Lishman, Maschio, Spread-a-Bale, MX, Tanco, Cherry Products and Bunning now fully supported.

Despite the huge increase in machinery and products on offer, sales director Russell Hallam still comes across farmers who think of the Winchester branch as a Harvest Centre focused on the tractors, combines and forage harvesters boasting the premium Claas name.

“I guess it was a Harvest Centre for 25 years, so it’s probably not a surprise, but the open day was an attempt to show farmers and landowners how much more we have to offer since Olivers moved in,” he said. “Claas is a fantastic brand and we are very proud of the site’s history, but we now provide a full range of equipment from some of the best manufacturers out there.”

The open day also gave service manager Steve Hickin the opportunity to highlight the impressive facilities at Winchester, where the three full-size combine bays allow the seven-strong team of engineers to get to grips with any necessary repairs or servicing.

To keep servicing costs predictable and prevent any unwanted surprises, Olivers offers its Olivercare range of bespoke servicing packages, which are priced according to the model and the expected acreage covered by the machine.

“Customers are increasingly looking at whole life machinery costs, not just the price of the machine,” explained Olivers’ aftersales director Rex Hedges. “Our service packages allow farmers to budget for the cost of keeping their tractor or combine in first class working condition – with no unexpected surprises.”

Olivers began in 1823 when Thomas Oliver set up an agricultural contracting business based at the family farm at Hatfield Hyde, near what is now Welwyn Garden City. His son founded his own business at Harpenden in 1861 and was later joined by his sons Archibald and Walter. 

Through the years the business has dealt with a range of famous old names, including Marshall stationary engines, which Olivers began selling in 1866, Massey-Harris, David Brown, Field-Marshall and Case tractors, which were first sold by Olivers in 1921. 

The first combine harvester sold by the business was a trailed McCormick, supplied in 1937, ten years before the business became a Claas agent.

In 2008, the business separated into two key divisions, Oliver Agriculture to handle Claas and associated franchises and Oliver Landpower to manage JCB and Challenger, amongst others.

Oliver Agriculture now serves farmers and landowners across a large part of the south of the country, with the Winchester and Petworth depots complemented by sites at Reading, at Tingewick in Buckinghamshire and at Luton, which also serves as the company’s headquarters. 

South sales director Russell Hallam’s opposite number is William Helliwell, who looks after customers in the north of the patch, while managing director David Jarman is keen to maintain the company’s focus on serving the farming community and listening closely to the needs of customers.

“This is still very much a family business that has built up an enviable reputation for customer service through 200 years of business and now enjoys a great deal of loyalty. We are determined to continue to be worthy of that loyalty and to protect and strengthen the Olivers brand,” he commented.

While proud of its history, Olivers is also looking forward and is a keen supporter of farming apprenticeships. There are 18 apprentices currently working across the business, mostly in service but some in the parts department. A further four are expected to start in 2023.

One area in which the sales team attempts to support customers is by ensuring a pipeline of machinery, including ordering ahead. “In the case of sprayers, for instance, we will order a machine knowing that we can change the spec up until a few months before delivery. When the next customer places their order, we tweak the already ordered model to match what they want. It means ‘their’ order is already on the way rather than only being put on the system that day,” explained Russell.

The sales team, all of whom have farming backgrounds, keep their ears to the ground and talk frequently to customers to make sure that their stock, and their order pipeline, reflects what the industry is focused on at that time. “We know, for instance, that customers are increasingly looking for minimum soil disturbance and so we make sure we have min-till and strip-till machinery on order,” William added.

The team also keeps on top of grant opportunities so that it can advise farmers on what is available and what machinery will tick the boxes for opportunities such as the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund (FETF).

“The specifications for the kind of equipment that qualifies for the grants, which are currently focused on areas such as slurry management, regenerative farming and livestock handling, are specific and we are there to help farmers maximise the benefits these grant offer,” said Russell. ”We also make sure we have equipment in stock that fits the bill.”

Olivers supplies a range of slurry equipment, including larger, contractor-focused kit from Samson and the more affordable range of Abbey Machinery which is ideal for smaller acreages and dairy farms. Slurryquip, Mastek and Storth accessories are another quality range that is supplied to offer complete slurry packages for any operation.

When it comes to livestock handling, Olivers stocks hurdles, fences, lamb weighers, crushes and the like from the well-respected Ritchie Agricultural range, along with creep feeders, bale trailers and slurry nurse tanks from Portequip.

Alongside Claas, Horsch is one of Olivers’ biggest sellers, accounting for 25% of the business. With grant opportunities and the rising costs of inputs pushing farmers steadily towards eco-friendly, no-till systems, the manufacturer’s Avatar drill is a big seller which has outstripped all expectations.

Available in 4m to 12m widths, the Avatar is particularly good at drilling through cover crops and can cope with a greater depth of trash than comparable machines.

Horsch is also leading the field with a new sprayer boom that follows the contours of the field and has “taken the market by storm” in William’s words, while Olivers is also seeing big demand for its LEEB range of sprayers, including the new FT front tank model which the manufacturer describes as “an intelligent spraying technology that mounts to a tractor’s three-point linkage”.

Olivers was the first dealer in the country to stock the Grange Machinery range, including the Strip-till Preparator with hydraulic front cutting discs for trash management and the innovative LDT – or low disturbance toolbar. This boasts automatic wing folding for headlands and the facility for a second implement to be trailed behind the machine.

Another manufacturer supporting low chemical use is KRM, whose inter-row hoe offers impressive mechanical weeding and is designed to match the row spacing of Horsch’s Avatar range.

Bunning’s HBD spinning disc manure spreader represents excellent build quality and meets current legislation, as well as being able to record what has been spread, while Oliver’s partnership with leading rotary mower manufacturer Spearhead saw the dealership named its 2022 Dealer of the Year. Spearhead’s Multicut has dominated recent sales growth at Olivers, with the 480 and 650 models both benefiting from a flat top deck, which keeps everything cleaner.

Richard Western’s HS Plus range of grain trailers benefits from full commercial axles and air brakes, while the newer models have an impressive automatic load securing system and hydraulic rollover sheets that can be operated from inside the cab.

Tractor growth at Olivers has been led by Claas’s impressive CMATIC range of continually variable transmission (CVT) machines which deliver just the right amount of power on demand, reducing fuel consumption and giving a smooth ride. Most popular are the Arion 660, delivering 205hp, and the Axion 870, which produces 295hp.

“Along with the more frugal transmission, the new tractors offer greater driver comfort and the reliability that farmers expect from Claas,” commented Russell.

As well as selling some of the best agricultural machinery available, Olivers offers first class follow up and backup, with sales demonstrator James Thompson ensuring that new machinery is set up properly and that additional kit like GPS or telematics equipment is connected, working and ready for action.

That attention to detail continues in to the servicing bay, where Olivers’ advantages as a main dealer come into play. “Using the right diagnostic equipment, highly skilled, franchise-trained technicians and genuine parts makes all the difference when servicing or repairing complex machinery,” explained service manager Steve Hickin.

“We have open lines of communication with the manufacturers in case we need more support, and we offer fluid sampling to keep ahead of any potential issues. A machine that has been properly serviced by a main dealer will also generally benefit from a higher resale value.”

For customers who are looking for an alternative to genuine OEM parts, Olivers has researched after-market brands it trusts, including Granit. Bourgault which makes retrofit seed coulters for drills such as the popular Horsch Sprinter drills.  

“The Bourgault range minimises soil disturbance and has a lower draft than the coulters supplied as standard, giving more even crop placement in a narrower row, something many of our farmer customers prefer,” commented Rob Bushell, Parts Manager.

Alongside the after-market parts and usual consumables, Olivers’ Winchester depot is also now selling a range of other items, including Buckler Boots and Jack Pyke clothing, in a bid to encourage footfall and create a ‘one-stop shop’ for farmers.

Read the full feature on Olivers

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