Protech Machinery Looks to the Environment
The growing demand for farmers to manage the countryside has led to a Herefordshire company establishing a business as a leading expert in specialist post drivers and winning an award for the best product/ innovation at this year’s LAMMA machinery show. Protech Machinery directors, Andy Hooper and Steve Craddock are from farming families and as well as training in agricultural engineering, both have worked and gained experience in the industry.
Andy explained: “We worked at the same manufacturers for a number of years and found that we had similar goals. We get on well together, we work well together and we’re both ambitious.”
Steve said: “We had a lot of experience between us covering production, design and buying and the next logical step was to set up our own company, which we did in 2003.”
The major decision facing the two partners was how to bring their skills in design and production to produce machines that would stand out in the market place.
Steve explained: “We’d always specialised in agricultural products and we noticed how much second-hand post drivers were making at farm sales. We thought we could almost make a new one for the price they were fetching and we could design ours to meet individual needs.” He continued: “There’s a lot of diversification grants available now and fencing machinery is classed as a diversification, so a number of people are getting into it because there’s a 50% grant against the cost of a new piece of equipment. Farmers are maintaining the countryside through Stewardship schemes and CAP reform and that’s the way agriculture is going, and so we decided to target that market.”
The products evolve through customer feedback. Andy said: “We have customers approach us and say what features they need and we might get two or three asking for similar things and so we go away and develop a machine that fits their specifications. It’s very much customer led.
“We really do listen to their needs. I think the reason we’re being so successful is that we are flexible and design the machines to fit in with the various working situations of our customers. We’ve probably got the biggest choice of post drivers on the market through developing machines that meet a wide range of people’s needs.”
The terrain also dictates what sort of machine is required. One of the Protech post drivers is fitted to a huge excavator used on Snowdonia and one has been designed for a front end loader to be used by the RSPB at the Welches dam in Cambridge as they needed a specialist machine that could drive sleepers into the riverbed to create the dam.
The customers are varied. The Herefordshire Nature Trust received National Lottery funding in order to maintain the outstanding Lugg Meadows and they needed to put up deer-proof fencing. Andy pointed out: “They wouldn’t have found another post driver on the market, because no-else does one specifically for a compact tractor.”
Steve said: “When we first started we thought we would be doing just one basic model, for farmers, but when we actually went into it and we got more knowledge of the market, it was amazing how complex the range needed to be.”
The award for the best product/innovation at the LAMMA machinery show has been a highlight for the two partners. The P300 model was designed for contractors. Protech realised that this was a post driver range that would get heavy use and would need a series of specialist features to allow the contractor to use it in a variety of situations.
Steve said: “We wanted to display our product at the important shows and the good thing about the LAMMA show is that it is dedicated purely to agricultural machinery, it’s free to get in and you have the right people there who are interested in your products. “The shows have been very good for us because as we haven’t got a dealer network set up as such, when you’re trying to sell something over the phone to someone, they’ve either got to buy it from what I tell them or they can come and see it at a show. It’s good for us because people can come and pick up a leaflet, see the machines and the quality of the machines, and it’s like anything, if they see the machine they can judge whether it’s up to doing the job.”
When it comes to future plans the business intends to keep their focus on a variety of machines associated with environmental management.
Andy said: “We’re thinking of offering a complete package, an environmental package, including flail mowers, machines for hedge cutting, vegetation maintenance, scrub clearance as well as fencing. We believe that environmental management is a growth market, and this is the market we intend to target.”
The company is in the process of setting up a website. Andy explained: “It’s very difficult for a new company to come into the market now unless people have seen your machines working. So far we’ve been fortunate because recommendations have been passed on by word of mouth or customers have asked to see a machine in their area.
“A website will allow people to see pictures and specifications of the various machines, print off leaflets about them and it might also introduce export opportunities as we look to expand our business.”
Steve concluded: “A big part of our success has been working hard on the quality of the machine and the pricing issue. We really listen to what our customers want and that has driven our business.
“We have taken on extra staff and are working seven days a week to keep up with demand. We have lots of plans for the future and believe that whatever the machine, if you keep the design simple, you can produce a good value for money, quality product.”