This fly-on-the-wall story takes us inside Catley Engineering in Leicestershire, where Simon Henley recently spent the day with company founder Colin Catley to find out what it is like being a dealer principal of a modern independent agricultural machinery dealership.
Ask someone to describe how they would imagine the life of an agricultural dealer principle, and you are likely to hear the tale of an executive donning a logo-branded shirt and jacket who spends a great deal of time in sales meetings, taking video conference calls with manufacturers or talking on the phone. That is what you would expect, right?
Well it may apply to the directors of large multiple dealer franchises, but that is not the case for the smaller family-owned agricultural engineering firms. Here the road to success may indeed require the occasional suit and tie, however wearing overalls is still a prerequisite for the modern day company director at an independent dealer franchise.
Colin Catley is the owner and director of Catley Engineering, a single-depot agricultural machinery dealer which has held a franchise for McCormick tractors since 2011. Mr Catley founded the company 14-years ago and today, the west Leicestershire-based business has become one of the most successful McCormick agencies in the UK, currently employing seven full-time staff with four technicians in the workshop.
This is a busy dealership, and deservedly so. Having previously worked as technician at another dealership before establishing his own business, Mr Catley will willingly turn his hand to anything which needs to be done to keep one of his customer’s happy.
First cut silage is well under way in Leicestershire. This morning, before he has even had the chance to take a sip from his coffee cup, Mr Catley receives a text at 6.15am from a farmer in Lutterworth who is having problems with his front loader.
“The text was from a customer with two McCormick tractors, who is having trouble with the quick-connect system,” he explains. “We are very busy at present, so rather than contact one of the lads, knowing this was an urgent call I fetched my van from the yard and went to Lutterworth myself.
“We all have company vans which the lads use for service calls. I still have my own service van, because there is always times like this when being able to go to a customers farm for a repair or service issue is essential, particularly in the summer season.”
Having arrived at the farm, Mr Catley is able to diagnose the problem but does not have the necessary parts to complete the repair. The farmer wants to bale haylage this afternoon and with rain expected, an agreement is made for the customer to bring the tractor back to the Catley Engineering workshops where the parts are in stock and can be quickly installed.
It is 9.30am when Colin Catley gets back to the depot at Peckleton. Today, McCormick Service Engineer Chris Hall from AgriArgo UK is here to install a software update on a customer’s McCormick X8.680. He is also here to advise agricultural engineer Simon Roberts, who is addressing an unquantified wiring loom issue on a McCormick X7.690.
“McCormick are very supportive when it comes to dealing with warranty or service issues which we are unable to diagnose,” reports Mr Catley. “If a customer has a problem we are unable to sort out, they will quickly get involved and help us rectify it.”
Having checked in with Mr Hall and workshop manager James Barker, he takes the milk he has brought from home out of his van, puts it in the workshop fridge and flicks on the kettle so he can grab a quick cuppa.
By the time the kettle has boiled, Mr Catley is already engrossed in a phone conversation with a farmer who wants to see a second-hand Manitou telehandler which Catley Engineering has advertised for sale. The customer wants to come and see the machine at 11am.
Colin Catley likes to handle machinery sales at the dealership himself. The company does very well this way, primarily because everyone gets the same service and the same personal touch. Dealing with the boss man directly is often the easier than going through a dedicated salesman, and furthermore, it is what Catley Engineering customers seem to prefer.
The Manitou has already been cleaned, but it still needs a quick check over before the customer arrives. With nobody spare and more work coming in, Colin Catley grabs the keys to the telehandler and sets to work once again. That cuppa will have to wait.
Outside, he notices there is a broken a mirror lens on the Manitou which needs changing. As he grabs the necessary tools to replace the glass, he continues to answer his ever-present mobile phone, which never seems to stop ringing.
The first call is from a customer whose nephew wants to be an agricultural mechanic. The young man is looking to gain some experience and after a few moments of chatter, the phone call ends with the words; “send him down.”
The phone rings again. This time the call is from Mr Catley’s insurance agent. He is calling to discuss a recent break-in at the dealership compound, where thieves broke into two brand new tractors and stole the control screens. A neighbouring farmer was also affected by a similar robbery on the same night.
“We have got the thieves on CCTV,” declares Mr Catley. “You can clearly identify them, but it is up to the police now to proceed with the legal aspect of the crime. We are just left to clean up the mess and sort out the insurance details.
“As the owner of the company, this is one of those unwanted hassles which I have to personally deal with. You cannot let it affect the day-to-day running of the business or the service to your customers. It is one of those things where you just have to get through it and move on.”
With the mirror fixed, the Manitou is wiped down and parked up ready for viewing. A big part of the company’s business comes from its Pottinger franchise, and today a local contractor has bought a 12.5m rake into the yard for new tines and a minor pto repair.
The size of the unfolded rake creates congestion outside the workshop, where even though this is a McCormick dealership, there is always an eclectic mix of tractors and machinery from other manufacturers, with John Deere, Case IH, Fendt and JCB tractors all in various states of disassembly.
Lunchtime arrives, along with the farmer who wants to look at the Manitou. The tea made for Colin Catley by the lads during their lunch break has gone cold by the time a deal is done to buy the telehandler, but it is another successful sale for the company and another happy customer to boot.
No sooner has the new owner of the Manitou left, when the farmer from Lutterworth arrives with his tractor and loader. Having already spoken with his employer, parts manager Derek Bailey has pulled the required components from stock and within 30 minutes, Mr Catley has removed the faulty quick-release coupler and re-connected the hydraulic system with screw couplers.
“This is just a temporary measure while we get the quick-release coupler replaced under warranty,” he explains. “When the new part arrives, one of us will go to the farm and replace the screw connectors with the new block. What is important, is the customer can keep using the tractor while the new part is being ordered.”
With tractor from Lutterworth repaired and the farmer on his way home, at 2.45pm Colin Catley manages to finally have the cuppa he promised himself this morning. His respite however is brief.
With so much going on inside the workshops, Mr Catley takes time to check with workshop manager James Barker and talk with engineer Simon Roberts to make sure they do not have any problems they cannot handle. It is all good.
In the office there is paper work stacking up on his desk, so Colin Catley must now dedicate some time answering emails, preparing quotes and, dealing with text and phone messages he has been unable to answer. As he sifts through a pile of post-it notes and trawls through his emails, he prioritizes what demands his attention first.
Today, there are several quotes which need to be finalised, including one for a new McCormick tractor. There is another for a Pottinger mower and two from farmer’s who are looking to buy a new front loaders for their tractors. Thankfully help is at hand.
To make sure the company paper trail stays on course, Catley Engineering relies on the skills of Debbie Wilmot, who handles the admin and accounts department and makes sure everything, including the wages, are paid on time. By working closely with Derek Bailey, who correlates parts and labour data for invoicing, Debbie also makes sure the bills go out on time.
The Days End
It is now 6.00pm. Catley Engineering is officially closed, yet the workshop here will remain active for at least another hour. Tomorrow will bring its own inevitable challenges.
For Colin Catley, his first job will be to deliver a grass tedder to a farmer near Mansfield. He has to be there by 8am, so it will be loaded onto a trailer ready to go before he lives the depot tonight.
“I have a great team, who can handle almost anything between them,” says Mr Catley. “The issue we have is that with so much going on in the workshop, the lads often have their backs against the wall. Getting parts has also been increasingly difficult lately, which does not help.
“My job as company owner is not only to run the business and generate income, but to support my team so they can continue to do their work with the minimum of unnecessary interruptions. At the end of the day it is not only about keeping our customers happy, but also enjoying the work we do. Personally, I would not want to do anything else.”