Ernest Doe attracts thousands of visitors from across the UK to its February show held at its headquarters in Essex.
Martin Rickatson found out where the appeal lies for the firm, its suppliers and the show visitors.
After almost 60 years of hosting its own annual open days, eastern England multi-branch dealership Ernest Doe clearly believes the idea of holding its own show has merit.
During the first week of February each year, the company hosts more than 8,000 visitors over three days at its head office branch at Ulting, near Maldon, in eastern Essex.
And there are a number of elements which make the dealer open days a success, suggests the firm’s management.
Ernest Doe, which was founded as a blacksmith’s business in 1898 and has grown to become a 19-branch company, first held its own show 59 years ago.
The history of the firm, A Century of Service, written by the late Alan Doe, father of present managing director Colin, records that when Alan’s father Ernest first decided to hold a regular event for customers to display the range of the company’s wares, he deemed it should be held at the quietest time of the year, when the farming calendar was least busy in late winter and, for shooting people, the season was over.
The company held its first event at its Braintree branch in February 1960, focusing on the broad range of grain handling and storage equipment the company was able to offer, which would otherwise be difficult to display on a day-to-day basis at company branches.
An encouraging attendance and enthusiastic response led to the move after a couple of years to the firm’s main branch at Ulting.
Surrounded by the Doe family’s own farmland, the new site made it possible to broaden the event’s focus and show tractors and field equipment working.
Since then, demonstrations of tractors and cultivation equipment have been a regular feature of the show, with the site’s light soil type meaning only severe weather stops machines being worked.
World champion ploughman John Hill was among the demonstrators, offering ploughing advice and tips.
Today, the company has expanded up to Norfolk and down to Kent and Sussex.
Branches are divided evenly in their key franchise between New Holland, with which Ernest Doe can trace its lineage back to its long-standing history as a Ford tractor and New Holland harvesting equipment dealer, and Case IH, for which Ernest Doe became a dealer back in 2002.
As a result, show visitors are attracted from across that area thanks to branch promotions of the event and regional advertising.
However, national ads and a long-established reputation, particularly as a second-hand equipment source, means visitors seeking a day out and a potential bargain also come from much further afield, while others from the region who are not necessarily regular Doe customers are also common visitors.
Part of the attraction is that the event has evolved to encompass a number of distinct areas in addition to those working plots, where at least half-a-dozen tractors from New Holland and Case IH are demonstrated with equipment from Ernest Doe’s tillage machinery partners, which include the likes of Lemken and Kuhn.
Other working demos include Hyundai and other construction equipment, plus Stihl and Husqvarna chainsaws.
Beyond this, each of the dealer’s main franchise partners takes a stand in either permanent or temporary buildings on-site or, using their own show trailers, around a main display area.
This is designed to help build links between the suppliers, existing or potential customers, and the interlinking dealer sales staff from the firm’s 19 branches, who are all in attendance.
The show is about more than new machinery. Large displays of used equipment are created, including ex-demonstration and ex-hire tractors, combines and trailers, plus traded-in machinery.
Everything is listed in a catalogue, and visitors are able to examine the machines and talk to used machinery staff.
In addition, Ernest Doe also uses the opportunity to create an area for clearance parts from its stores, while its main showroom at Ulting is also open for sales and promotion of parts, clothing, tools and more.
There are also focus areas on areas as diverse as precision farming technology and trailer brake safety, allowing visitors to learn more and book appointments for further action if required.
Across all of its key business areas, from new and used machinery to such showroom offerings, the show/open day format provides a big boost to business at an otherwise often quiet time of year, says Mr Doe, while at the same time also providing significant benefits for customers.
He says: “We still support county shows across our region, taking stands at a number of them, but those events tend to be more about customer relationships and entertainment, while it is here at our show that business is done.”
Among the Doe Show field demonstrations is a section for vintage equipment formerly retailed by the firm, and a star attraction each year is one of the company’s famous Triple-D tractors, the high horsepower machine invented in the 1950s by joining two tractors together.
George Pryor, a Doe customer, had designed a turntable to couple two Fordson Majors minus their front axles, creating a 100hp tractor.
Ernest Doe was sufficiently impressed to put the machine into production at its Ulting workshops, also designing six-furrow conventional and four-furrow reversible ploughs, cultivators and subsoilers to match.
The tractor was named the Doe Dual Drive, later shortened to Triple-D. Production began in 1957, and the Triple-D was demonstrated and exhibited across the UK and abroad, including at the DLG show, the forerunner to Agritechnica, in Germany.
Models were also exported to Europe, Africa, Russia and both American continents.
At £1,950, the UK retail price was roughly that of three Fordson Majors when the turntable and conversion costs were factored in, but 289 were sold globally between 1958 and 1964. When Ford’s 6X tractors were introduced in 1964, the ‘pre-Force’ Ford 5000 was used as the base tractor, and the Triple-D became the Doe 130.
After a small number of Doe 150 tractors were later manufactured, production ceased in 1968 due to required safety cab investments and the march of mainstream makers into the high-horsepower and four-wheel drive sectors.