Hallmark Tractors is a name many people throughout the Midlands will instantly recognise. Now part of the Russell Group, Simon Henley talks to dealer principal Jim Nash about the challenges he faces in the future.
The name Hallmark Tractors has been associated with Ford and New Holland since the 1960s. In fact, at its peak during the early nineties, the company had four depots selling tractors and machinery to farmers throughout Leicestershire and Derbyshire.
One of these was the depot at Cubley, near Ashbourne, which was founded in 1995 by Eddie Nash, who brought his son Jim into the business to run the parts department. Encouraged by his father, Jim Nash’s determination to succeed saw business at the tiny Derbyshire Dales depot begin to boom. However, despite his success there would be some tough times ahead.
Changes within the dealer infrastructure and a downturn in the agricultural economy, sadly forced Hallmark Tractors to opt to close in 2015. However, there was a New Holland dealer in Yorkshire who had plans for Hallmark Tractors, as Jim Nash explains. "Paul Russell approached me and stated he was interested in buying the Hallmark business, including the Cubley depot, but only if I stayed on with the company. His goal, was to incorporate Hallmark Tractors into the Russell Group.
"Having established a deal in January 2016, one of the key focus points was to concentrate on expanding the Cubley depot. By October 2017 we had planning permission, and 12-months later we started building - our aim is to be in the new building by May/June 2019."
Having worked for over 30-years in a small dealership with limited storage room and a small workshop, the move to its new premises just 500m down the road will represent a colossal change to everyone currently working at the Cubley depot.
The new Hallmark Tractors building covers a massive 3,000 square metres, and features a capacious workshop with under-floor heating. The under-floor heating system is a ground-sourced geothermal design, supported by solar panels which should make the building electrically self-sufficient over a 12-month period.
Adjacent to the workshop there is a large retail store, a capacious parts department with a mezzanine floor level and dedicated sales offices. The building will house a new ground care department offering both commercial and residential equipment, and it will incorporate an extensive machinery storage area for larger machines such as combines, which the company will now focus on selling in higher volumes.
As part of the Yorkshire-based Russell Group, the new 2.7 hectare Cubley site will also offer New Holland construction equipment. The company is also considering the possibility of expanding its portfolio to include commercial vehicles, but this is not yet confirmed.
To the average Joe, taking on such an extensive range of new product lines may seem daunting. However, when asked how he is preparing to face the challenge of dealing with not only multiple types of farm equipment, but also ground care and construction machinery, Mr Nash seems unfazed. "One of the challenges any company faces when it is taking on new product lines is a requirement for specialists within those specific fields. A benefit of being a part of the Russell Group is that there are already ground care and construction specialists working within the company, who can support the Cubley depot as it develops.
"Since the joining of the companies in 2016, the business has seen a growth rate increase of 70 per cent," adds Mr Nash. "With new depots at Rothwell in Northamptonshire and here at Cubley, the growth of our business relies on an efficient management team, supported by a careful purchasing regime and a highly efficient sales system.
"The senior management team meets with the company directors once a month to review and evaluate the entire business. To remain competitive in the business and give our customers the best deal possible, it is essential for us to order large batches of tractors/machinery to ensure we always have stock when required and reduce delivery times."
He continues. "One of my main tasks is to manage the machinery we have in stock. We have invested a great deal of money into data technology, to assist both our sales and management teams. For example, every machine we have in stock is bar coded to make identification instantaneous. This not only helps the sales team, but also the process of stock-taking.
"We also have an App for our phones, which provides internal access to the company’s inventory, which is constantly updated. This data gives the sales team the power to instantly identify a brand of machine in-stock for a customer, give him the specification, hours and the price of that machine.
"Alternatively, the salesman can photograph a machine which we have taken on trade and I can upload it directly to our website for sale. It is virtually instantaneous and has become a key element in our ability to increase our sales.
"Another tool we use, is social media. Alongside traditional advertising in the farming press, I now use Facebook as a sales tool. We have over 11,000 followers, and we are currently looking at competitions and give-aways to encourage new followers.
Product sales are important for any company, however customer service and after-care is an increasingly necessary aspect of the modern agricultural machinery business. To help ensure customer satisfaction, Hallmark Tractors now employs sales support representatives who install new machines on-farm and follow up with customers to deal with any issues or inquiries.
"One aspect of customer service which has worked extremely well for Russell’s in the past, is offering customer workshops," declares Mr Nash. "Once we get into our new premises, the plan is to hold a workshop day focusing on combine operation and updates. This has proved popular with Russell customers, and it is something we are keen to embrace here."