It takes a special sort of individual – and a great deal of hard work – to grow a business from scratch and then continue to find new opportunities to take it forward.
It also helps to take that one opportunity that opens the door to future growth – and in Steve Bryant’s case that opportunity came in the shape of his local parish council.
Steve, who set up Groundscare & General Services Ltd some 25 years ago, was invited to cut the local verges by Rolvenden Parish Council shortly after he had decided to go it alone and offer grass cutting and other groundscare work.
“They liked the job I did and passed my name on to Goudhurst Parish Council, which gave me my second contract – and the business grew from there,” Steve recalled.
And grow it certainly did, to the point where the Groundscare & General Services fleet is now headed up by no fewer than seven Claas Axion tractors, one packing 850 bhp and the remaining six rated at 830 bhp.
The other attribute that an entrepreneur needs is a good team, particularly as the business starts to grow, and that’s something the Rolvenden-based business benefits from. Groundscare & General Services is now headed up by Steve’s son George, who is managing director, and Steve’s cousin and right hand man Ashley Bryant, who looks after the slurry and manure loading and spreading services the company now also offers.
While the groundscare, flail mowing and verge cutting services have continued to flourish since that first enquiry from the Parish of Rolvenden, it was moving into haulage and spreading a few years later that saw the business really take off.
Like all business growth, it needed investment, but that has not been something the family-run concern has shirked, regularly ploughing profits back into buying new machinery and expanding the operation.
“If I found a pound on the floor now and the choice was between spending it on myself or investing it in new kit, I would always choose to put the money back into the business,” Steve explained. “It’s provided the funding we need to take the operation forward and allow us to continue to offer new and better services.
“It has also helped us develop a valued reputation for reliability, since we make sure that the equipment we use is fit for purpose, up to spec and well maintained.”
Steve was born on the Hole Park Estate at Rolvenden and after finishing his studies at Hadlow College he began his career on the estate as a gardener and farm worker. “From the start, though, I knew I would rather work for myself and so I bought some equipment and began offering verge cutting and flail mowing and general grounds maintenance,” he recalled.
“I knew when I picked up the first local contract that this was an opportunity to make a success of the venture, and it has been very rewarding to see the business grow steadily, supported over the past ten years or so by George and Ashley and the rest of the team.”
That team now amounts to ten men, while the services on offer have broadened to include muck spreading, slurry haulage, construction work, plant and machinery hire and collecting and supplying poultry manure.
The poultry manure collection work was highlighted by George Bryant as a good example of the company’s quiet efficiency and the way it has built strong relationships with its customers as a reliable and trusted supplier.
“Poultry outfits generally tend to be low key about their operation and they don’t like to draw attention to themselves, so they rely on us to turn up when we say we will, remove the manure and then find an end user for it,” he explained. “The only time we ever meet up with any of the management team is if something has gone wrong – and that’s very unusual. For most of the time they just trust us to get on with the job.”
As a result, Groundscare & General Services is the biggest supplier of poultry manure in the south of England, producing more than 1,000 tons per week. It can supply an in-depth laboratory analysis for growers who want to take advantage of its nutrient value, which includes high levels of available nitrogen.
The company also offers a range of services to the construction industry, making efficient use of its range of 360 degree excavators that are also used to support its agricultural operations.
Alongside the Claas Axions, the company operates four tracked JCB and Hitachi 360 excavators, two Case 3CX back hoe diggers and five mini-diggers, all of which are also available for hire.
It has two slurry tankers, a 3,000 litre HiSpec and a 4,000 litre Redrock Machinery model fitted with a dribble bar to allow more accurate spreading of slurry or anaerobic digestate, which is another of the company’s broad range of products.
The equipment list also includes eight Richard Weston 17-tonne fully sheeted trailers and a 20-tonne Richard Weston dump trailer designed specifically for dealing with dirt and hardcore, a 17-tonne Herbst dump trailer and two low loaders – a 16-tonne Chieftain and a 25-tonne Macauley.
Completing the line-up are two road brushes that can be fitted to the Axions and a 25-tonne Richard Weston muck spreader with a 24m spread, together with an array of smaller machinery that is used for verge cutting, flail mowing, strimming, hedge trimming and other groundscare work.
The grounds maintenance side of the business, still a fundamental part of Groundscare & General Services’ offer, has contracts with a range of customers including solar park operators, local authorities and cricket clubs, and can tackle anything from scrubland to lawned areas. The company operates Kubota mulching deck mowers, including a new Kubota G23, and a Hayter Harrier 56 Pro.
While grounds maintenance was the starting point for the company, the business expanded rapidly after Steve began moving and spreading slurry and, more recently, digestate from anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. “I thought there was money in muck, so I invested in the kit I needed and developed that side of the business,” he recalled.
Along with spreading slurry, Groundscare & General Services works closely with AD plant operators. It supplies a number of plants with poultry manure, which is recognised for its ability to produce nutrient rich digestate, and also spreads the digestate for farmers looking for the boost it can give their fields.
The business relies heavily on word of mouth recommendations right across its broad range of services, tidying the verges for a number of parish councils and keeping several local churchyards looking smart. “At least one of our customers has been with us for the past 15 years, possibly more,” Steve said.
With George and Ashley responsible for much of the day-to-day operations, Steve has more time to spend on his other farming interests, in particular the herd of Romney sheep and 25 Sussex cattle that he raises at Colebarn Farm, Cranbrook. While they eventually end up sold in meat boxes, he clearly takes a huge amount of pride in the animals he cares for while the business he founded is in capable hands.
Those capable hands are continuing to grow the business, with George putting its success down to being “competitive and reliable and speaking the same language as the people we deal with”.
The company, which provides its wide ranging services across Kent, Surrey and Sussex, also works closely with agronomist James Short from Hutchinsons to make sure that its products deliver the optimum benefits to the soils they are spread on and that they stay the right side of regulations around Nitrate Vulnerable Zones and the like.
Moving digestate from AD plants is becoming an increasingly important part of the business, with customers including Sheppey Energy at Eastchurch and Environment First at Chart Sutton.
“We have a lot of experience in moving and spreading digestate and we have built up a good customer base of farmers who are keen to take advantage of the benefits it delivers to their soil,” said George. “At Groundscare & General Services we place a lot of emphasis on soil health and on protecting and improving the environment.”
Photos: ©Martin Apps, Countrywide Photographic