Grimme is one of the most recognisable machinery brands, and it’s fair to say that the company has made a significant impact on the UK root crop industry, especially since its subsidiary was set up at Sleaford, Lincolnshire in 1993. Jane Carley profiles the company’s expansion in the UK.
In recent years, a rethink on Grimme’s sales and service network has seen the development of dedicated retail outlets, and growth has been such that two of these outlets will see new and improved depots open this year.
“We initially used a B2B dealer network as many other manufacturers do,” explains Grimme UK managing director Patrick Graf Grote. “But we felt that as many dealers were focusing on tractor franchises and full line products, it was difficult for them to dedicate themselves to our equipment.
“As such, we decided to look at a B2C route in the main root crop growing areas so that we could focus on aftersales and customer care that is so important with a specialist crop and machinery. This was accomplished first at Boston and then in Shropshire using dedicated aftersales partners.”
The concept was highly successful, so Grimme UK also established its own outlets in two areas where there were large acreages of potatoes and vegetables but not a suitable partner; York and Fife.
Grimme’s sales team take care of machinery sales and trade-ins, while the depots take care of parts and service. A substantial parts stock is maintained for kit which by its nature has numerous wearing parts and consumables, with larger items available at Swineshead - Grimme UK’s HQ since 1997 - or by overnight delivery.
Some 60 per cent of the UK root crop growing area is now covered by Grimme’s B2C service.
Grimme UK’s York depot was established in early 2010 with just four staff members working from a small Portakabin, temporary workshop and a hand full of spare parts. Fast forward to 2021, the team is now twenty strong in service, parts and sales. Parts capacity has increased with stocks of more than 5,000 different spare parts worth about £1 million for machines that work in potatoes, sugar beet and vegetables.
Originally starting with just the Grimme brand, the team now supports machines made by ASA-Lift, Stanhay, Grimme Irrigation by Beinlich and more recently Haith handling products, all now part of the Grimme ‘stable’.
To allow for expansion, Grimme has invested £3 million on a new two hectare site at Market Weighton. Whereas the previous workshop was not large enough to fit one self-propelled harvester, the new workshop can handle up to four of the latest four-row machines with room to spare. A new five tonne overhead crane has been installed to take care of the heavy lifting and should speed up many daily service tasks.
The whole ground floor including workshop, parts, sales office and showroom is fitted with energy-efficient underfloor heating making it a comfortable place to work. Upstairs, there is plenty of room for other staff and visitors, together with well-equipped meeting and presentation facilities offering extra comfort and practicality for staff and product training.
Grimme’s team in Yorkshire support about 300 growers, planting and harvesting some 16,000ha of potatoes in the Yorkshire and Humber area. In addition to potatoes, they also support a significant carrot growing area, plus parsnips and beetroot.
In Scotland, operations are due to move to a new base in Dundee this summer, which has a large proportion of the devolved nation’s growers within 90 minutes’ travel.
Mr Graf Grote comments that it has been a challenging decade with a larger cost base and greater exposure to debt and overheads for the company. The profile of the growers has also changed, with smaller producers exiting the market and the bigger players taking on more land.
“While sales remain consistent, we have fewer customers; going by recent industry data, around 350 growers now grow around 65 per cent of the UK potato crop. In carrots, estimates show that 90 per cent of the crop is controlled by around 10 vertically integrated businesses. We aim to work closely with all growers and develop good relationships to offer the best possible service.”
Changes to technology and climate mean that self-propelled machinery has grown considerably in popularity, hence the need for more workshop space at depots.
“We’re also seeing a shift from two-row to four-row harvesters, and and we are predicting spring equipment will move to two-bed systems over a period of time,” Mr Graf Grote says. “But trailed harvesters remain important, and we look forward to introducing a new generation in 2022, which will be an evolution of our proven product.”
Another focus is on preventative maintenance to increase uptime, which may take advantage of developments in telematics to monitor machines and schedule workshop time.
“But there is some scepticism from growers,” he warns. “The availability of machine data such as headland turning and unloading time is more attractive to them as it offers the opportunity to increase their efficiency.”
The past 12 months has meant a move away from face to face contact for all industries, but Mr Graf Grote is hopeful of a return to in-field planter and harvester days this year. The immediate future for the major events such as Agritechnica is less certain, and the difficulty of overseas travel may impact on international product launches, he suggests.
Despite being well prepared for Brexit, transport issues, bureaucracy and its impact on exchange rates remain a fly in the ointment for the company.
“We have made some key financial decisions to help reduce the impact on our customers and we are in a better position now than we were at the end of 2020,” he comments. “There are, however, wider implications for the used machinery market – it relied very much on exports to the EU, but phytosanitary checks and additional costs will affect their viability in the future.”
Grimme GmbH was founded in 1861 when Franz Carl Heinrich Grimme took over the family forge in Damme, Germany, expanding the small business to include metal goods and agricultural machinery.
The first brands included Fendt, Lanz, Porsche and Niemeyer. His son, also called Franz took over the company in 1930 and began to experiment with machines to make the potato harvest easier.
With two mechanics, he established the Grimme Landmaschinenfabrik factory in 1936, building up to 1,500 windrowers a year before the Second World War.
In 1966 the Europa series was developed and this single row potato harvester became the market leader in Germany that year. At the same time, Franz Grimme decided to focus entirely on potatoes, unlike many other manufacturers who had substantially expanded their product range.
His son, also Franz, who joined the company in 1970 and took over management from his father in 1980, says: “That was an absolute stroke of luck for us. We were able to fully transfer our passion to our products and still do today.”
In 1969 the first self-propelled potato harvester was launched, and Franz Grimme comments: “It was not comparable with today’s technology but was a real step into the future. Today we are present with our innovative machines in over 120 countries around the world.”
The first venture into self-propelled harvesters in 1974, a two-row machine with 80 or 100hp engine.