Ambitious expansion | South East Farmer

Ambitious expansion

Features Posted 28/03/22
Backing from one of the world’s leading agricultural machinery manufacturers has inspired an ambitious expansion.

Backing from one of the world’s leading agricultural machinery manufacturers has inspired an ambitious expansion by a well-known Kent dealership.

Agwood Ltd, based at Swingfield near Dover, has transformed and enlarged the facilities on that site while also expanding its territory into Sussex and Surrey after being invited to take on a full-line Massey Ferguson dealership in that part of the world.

The company has opened a temporary but well-equipped new branch at Godstone while it develops plans for a completely new depot at Crawley. Working closely with the business’ other busy dealership at Linton, near Maidstone, it will give Agwood comprehensive coverage of Kent, Surrey and East and West Sussex.

The move will give farmers across the region access to the entire Massey Ferguson range, including the impressive new Ideal combine harvester range, along with Agwood’s other top tier franchises.

“We were delighted to have been given the opportunity to supply and look after Massey Ferguson customers across a bigger area and we are keen to get to know the farmers and landowners in that part of the world,” said Agwood founder Ian Wood, who began the company in 1978 and still plays an active part as managing director.

“This is a great opportunity for the company to expand in partnership with a prestige manufacturer and we are privileged to have been asked to support the brand’s expansion into a new area. It’s an accolade that reflects a lot of work by the whole Agwood team and we are looking forward to driving the business forward.” The expansion at Swingfield, along with the investment at Godstone and putting together the plans for Crawley, represents an investment of around £1m by the business over the past 18 months and is a vital part of the company’s business plan, as director Phil Bush explained.

“As a successful agricultural dealership, we need to keep growing and providing a broader range of services,” he said. “We need to ensure we can give all our customers the level of support they deserve, together with the best possible after-sales back up, and that is only possible if we continue to grow and generate additional business.

“Our customers also like to see investment in the business as it shows that we are planning to be here for the duration and are committed to taking good care of the equipment they themselves are investing in.”

Phil, who joined the company as general manager in 2019, has worked closely with Massey Ferguson on the expansion plans, specifically around finding the new Crawley location and employing the new team based for now at Godstone, while also overseeing the impressive changes at Swingfield.

Those changes are dramatic and have created a showroom that is around 60% bigger than previously, allowing for a number of new ranges that cater both for farmers and for members of the public looking for anything from wellington boots and secateurs to a ride-on mower or rechargeable strimmer.

“We have designed the new showroom with all our customers in mind,” said Phil. “Agwood has always seen domestic customers as a vital part of our retail mix, so we have worked hard to make sure they feel welcome without risking alienating our farming customers by making it too shop-like.”

It’s a balance that has been well struck, with the usual range of spare parts, greases, filters, overalls, work boots, lamps and heavy-duty tools sitting comfortably alongside garden implements, a new clothing range and plenty of quality domestic-level machinery from the likes of Stihl, Stiga, Mountfield and Husqvarna.

The redevelopment at Swingfield included adding a new building that houses a service reception area, workshop, warehousing, offices and a smart new boardroom with impressive audio-visual connectivity. The workshop itself boasts four 6m by 11m bays and can house three combines at the same time.

Moving the workshop out of the back of the original showroom building allowed Agwood to add a mezzanine floor to the rear. That mezzanine now houses the parts racking, allowing the showroom to expand into the space that had been taken up by the workshop and parts storage.

While the changes at Swingfield have transformed head office, and the dealership at Linton continues to perform strongly, it is the move into new territory that is particularly exciting for the Agwood team.

The temporary premises at Godstone are well located just off Junction 6 of the M25 and feature a well-equipped workshop, office space, parts department and storage yard for displaying machinery. Four new staff have been taken on and more will be recruited over the next six months.

While the site is geared up to provide a high level of service to Massey Ferguson customers in Surrey and Sussex, it will in time be eclipsed by the ground-up development being planned for the new site at Crawley, close to the junction of the M23 and A264.

Phil Bush is currently in negotiation with the landlord over plans for the site that will create a 7,000 sq ft depot featuring a workshop, parts department and showroom on a half-acre site that will deliver a full-line flagship Massey dealership for that part of the world.

“We have great plans for the site and we are looking forward to the new branch coming on stream, probably in about 18 months’ time,” he said. “In the meantime the Godstone site is fully functional and will deliver Agwood’s renowned levels of customer service to our new family of customers.

“All our existing suppliers are on board with our plans and will be joining us at Godstone, and with Agwood and Massey Ferguson on the same page when it comes to growing the two businesses and increasing market share, this is an exciting time for us all.”

Ian Wood began the business in 1978 with a Renault franchise before switching to Case in 1998. Eight years later, with Massey Ferguson looking to grow its presence in this part of the world, he was offered the chance to take on the MF dealership for Kent and East Sussex, opening the Linton branch, formerly a John Deere outlet, and selling and servicing the famous red marque from that new base as well as from Swingfield.

“And then in 2021 Massey Ferguson came back to Agwood again and gave us the opportunity to expand our full line territory into Sussex and Surrey,” said Phil Bush. “We put forward a business plan they liked and we have worked with them to set up the new dealership while expanding the facilities at Swingfield at the same time.”

A total of around 30 people now work for the business, which prides itself on second-to-none levels of after care that reflects the quality of the brands it stocks.

Phil has worked in the industry for 35 years, including 29 with another big-name agricultural dealer, Ernest Doe, and has masterminded the expansion plans.

As well as focusing on both agricultural and domestic customers in the showroom, Agwood also relies on a mix of in person and online sales, with a strong ecommerce platform a vital part of a new website launched in July 2020, when lockdown was another incentive to promote ‘virtual’ browsing and buying.

With a broad range of quality franchises that includes OPICO and its allied HE-VA, Sky, Strautmann and Maschio Gaspardo dealerships, along with Suzuki, Schäffer, Kioti, Ventrac, Lemken and AS Motor, Agwood is confident that it can meet the needs of new and existing customers across Surrey and Sussex and in its Kent homeland.

Agwood’s Linton depot also operates a large hire fleet which is changed every 12 months, with one large customer hiring around two dozen tractors each year. “The customer wants new, reliable equipment along with fixed costs for the coming year, and that’s what our full contract hire service gives them,” Phil explained. That focus on supporting the customer continues across the whole of the dealership. “We like to think we are still small enough to care and deliver personal service but large enough to support our entire customer base, from retail customers looking for a garden fork at the weekend to large arable farmers who need – and receive – unbeatable levels of service,” he went on.

“Service is top of our list every time. We understand that the agricultural world is a lifestyle, not a job, so we are there for our professional customers on Sundays and Bank Holidays if they need us. If someone rings, whatever the day or the time, they need to know that someone will answer the phone – and that something will happen as a result of the call.

“If I have to drive from my home in East Grinstead on a Sunday afternoon to get a part to someone in Dover, then I will – and that goes for everyone in the team.”

And while most dealerships quote harvest as the time when they need to pull out all the stops, Phil recognises that there are other customers who also need an instant response. “A dairy forklift used for feeding cattle is just as important to that farmer on a daily basis as a combine is to an arable farmer during harvest. We treat both as being equally important,” he said.

Agwood’s parts department is set up to ensure that most spares are always available, while an emergency parts service guarantees next day delivery by 7am, with a harvest deadline of 7pm the previous day.

Agwood also has four tractors, from 120hp to 400hp, available as back-up loan machines for farmers covered by Massey Ferguson’s Always Running scheme aimed at filling the gap if a machine can’t be repaired quickly.

“Everything we do is geared towards helping farmers get on with the job and do it productively and efficiently,” Phil concluded.

Click here to read the full Agwood feature


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