For more than 60 years Ken Patterson has been selling farm machinery and is now recognised as far more than just a salesman. Emily Ashworth meets the man who has witnessed six decades of change in the sector.
Walking in to Malpas Tractors, the New Holland dealership base in Ormskirk, Lancashire, there is an immediate liveliness in the atmosphere.
As colleagues laugh, banter and bounce off each other, there is one man who is at the heart of its vibrancy – step forward Ken Patterson, a sales maverick and a legend in this branch.
It would be perfectly apt to say he is 82 years young, teamed with a broad Lancastrian accent and a cheeky twinkle in his eye.
Ken has been selling machinery to the farming families in the area for more than 60 years, a career which has taken him all over the world and seen him become part of this community’s rural fabric.
Relishing in the loyalty he has come across from customers and their families, he proudly states he has provided services to the grandchildren of some of those he met when only a teenager.
Speaking of his time in the industry, he has no regrets over his decision to become a salesman, grateful for the amount of social interaction it has given him and has witnessed monumental advancements in machine technology.
Growing up in Upholland, a small village in West Lancashire, he recalls the closeness of the local community when, he says, everybody knew each other, and he was surrounded by farming families.
But it is that which seems to have stuck with him; the value of people and knowing how to deal with them is, no doubt, what has made him so successful.
Having started out as a mechanic at Williams of Wigan, it was not until 1958 he began in sales, moving on to Robert Hudson, another Ford dealer at the time, before settling at Malpas.
But just what is it that has seen him retain his crown for six decades?
“You have to sell yourself,” Ken says. “Years ago, we had to go to the farmer himself with the forms and ask him questions about their family and their age. It felt quite personal but because I knew most of them, I could just make it fun.”
Naming numerous dealers from years gone by from the top of his head, Ken can recall almost any tale from his years as a salesman and when asked about his first years in the business, he reals off story after story.
“I once traded two horses for a tractor,” he says.
“The farmer needed another Dexta so I took these two horses he had for sale, found a dealer and went back to my boss with the money.
“You wouldn’t be able to do that anymore, would you?”
Ken’s selling success has taken him to numerous machinery launches across the globe.
He thinks back and lists Thailand, Las Vegas and San Francisco to name but a few, all rewards for hitting sales targets.
But as the years have gone on, the sales industry has changed and alongside, farm machinery has soared ahead, advancing day by day and in turn, advancing in price too. And Ken has seen it all.
From the introduction of cabs to the first potato harvester, the world of farm machinery has certainly become a different place during his lifetime.
He says: “I remember when we had little toolboxes with start-kits in them. Now if something brakes it’s all done on a laptop.
“There was a time when you struggled to keep the lads working outside in the fields but when the safety cabs came in, you couldn’t get them out. They would work in all weathers.”
Ken also constantly witnesses the appetite for the latest and newest machinery on the market, a nod to perhaps a time when machinery was once bought purely for the work where as now, it is almost a statement.
“I looked at all the machinery in this farmer’s field the other day and thought there’s £800,000 worth of kit in it,” he says, clearly still in awe at the expense of farming today.
“To me, they all do the same job at the end of the day.”
And although generations of families have gone to Ken safe in the knowledge they will get the best deal, selling in today’s climate is a different game altogether.
“People used to trust you,” says Ken. They’d go to you and nobody else whereas now, they will shop around and look at different dealers.
“It’s harder to sell now than ever.”
When asked if he could sum up his time in the job, Ken surprises his colleagues in the office by sitting back for a moment in thought, rather than cracking a joke.
It is evident he looks back with a heartfelt joy and more importantly, happiness.
“I’ve had no stress and I’ve been happy,” he says. “I get to go out in to the countryside, have a cup of tea and socialise.
“Life’s too short and if you don’t enjoy what you do, you need to get out. I’ve met some fantastic people and made friends.”
And there’s no stopping Ken either. His rapport with the farming community remains so strong he’s still actively selling and going out in the field to do what he does best.
“I don’t go out as much as I used to of course, but it’s about building relationships,” says Ken. “You know where to go for your lunch or where to go for a cuppa.
“You’re part of people’s family.”
But it is probably Ken’s colleague, Alison, who best describes what the team think of him, stating how he keeps up with all the young workers in the garage below and is respected by all.
“He can give them all a run for their money,” she says.
“They don’t make them like Ken anymore.”