Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

'We believe in growing business gradually'

Next Level Can

Fleming Agri Products Ltd managing director George Fleming

"Our family celebrated 150 years [in business] in 2010, so we are 152-years-old now," said George Fleming, the fourth generation to lead Fleming Agri Products.

"The business originated in St Johnston [in Donegal] and this side of the business moved to Newbuildings [in Londonderry] in 1983.

"The family still has a business in St Johnston, which my brother runs, while I run the Newbuildings business."

Back in 1983, two well-known manufacturing businesses closed in Derry and the Fleming family decided this was a good time to move their agricultural machinery manufacturing operation into the city.

Today, Fleming Agri Products employs 70 staff, manufacturing various types of agricultural machinery - at present the company is focussing on production of land rollers, slurry tankers, muck spreaders and trailers, meeting farmers' current seasonal demands.

"We produce low to medium technology products for the small to medium-sized farmer," said Mr Fleming. "We distribute through a dealer network across the UK and Ireland and to France, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand and Australia."

Only 18% of production is sold in Northern Ireland, with about 10% of items being exported outside the UK or Ireland.

"We have about 140 different products in our range," said Mr Fleming, "and we are producing about 130 of them. We do buy-in some products from Italy and Poland to complement our range.

"Our turnover this year would be just under £8m," he added. "We are gradually growing the business. I am not a fan of doubling turnover every two years. The business has grown at a rate of 10% to 15% a year and we have been working on that growth rate for 10 or 15 years, apart from 2008/9."

Although the recession did not directly impact agriculture as it did the rest of the economy, it had a serious impact on the Fleming business. "Farming never got the boom. It became the poor relation during the property development boom.

"But during that property boom a lot of people bought houses with two or three acres of land and kept horses and wanted to be farmers at the weekend - the 'hobby farmers'. They bought small tractors and equipment", Mr Fleming said.

While this remains an important customer segment in Great Britain - where many high income country dwellers are largely unaffected by recession - this type of business mainly disappeared in Ireland. But, added Mr Fleming, "our core [farming] business was always there".

Despite this, the recession did affect the ability of professional farmers to buy equipment from Fleming's, too. "The banking system failed our customers, so in turn it failed us," said Mr Fleming. "The boom to bust did not affect the farming industry. But the lack of lending did. Farmers have not had the money there to reinvest for tractors or machinery. That was the effect on the agricultural world.

"We lost turnover, but we did not lose staff. Any staff that left, we did not replace, but we did not lay anyone off."

Today the focus has return to expansion. "We aim to continue growing our business," said Mr Fleming. "This is export focused and we are looking to increase this business."

Even after 152 years, this family firm keeps its sights firmly on the future.

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