Did you ever consider hiring out a trailer? Did you know that it was even an option? Wexford man John Stafford is making it his mission to let farmers all over the country know about his new business.
Mr Stafford (pictured below) is a man who would be well known in the Irish machinery trade. Many farmers would have met him when he travelled the country as a sales technician and demonstrator with machinery distributors, Farmec Ireland.
It was a time he enjoyed a lot, and admits it gave him many of the invaluable customer contacts that were to become the lifeblood of the trailer hire venture he has launched.
"I always wanted to set up my own business, be my own boss," explained Mr Stafford. "From a young age I had an interest in engineering - I went across to Reaseheath College in the UK for a yearlong farm management course and it was there that my love of machinery and all things farming really kicked off.
"When I came back I put my energy into the home farm (100 acres of tillage), helping my Dad's sugar beet contracting business. We enjoyed a successful period up until about 2004 when the sugar beet industry ground to a halt.
"We diversified into other lines of contracting work as best as we could - including baled silage - but it was difficult to recover after the closure of sugar beet here."
It was around this time that Mr Stafford knew he would have to seek off farm employment to supplement the farm income, and his natural interest in all things mechanical led him to Farmec Ireland.
"I really enjoyed my time there and learned about machinery sales and service," he revealed. "I realised that you have to get out and about and be visible to your customers in order to earn their trust. In the machinery industry it's really all about back up - how quickly can you get someone going again when a breakdown occurs?"
Towards the end of his six year stint with Farmec Mr Stafford spotted a niche in the market for agricultural trailer hire and, after doing some research, wasn't aware of anyone else offering a similar service in the southeast area.
"The concept of the business is to give fellas an option who maybe need a good size trailer for three or four weeks in the year for hauling bales or drawing silage or grain, but who don't want to have the trailer sitting depreciating in their yar d for the other 49 or 50 weeks of the year," he explained.
He made contact with some of the common trailer manufacturers that would sell in Ireland like Broughan, McCauley, Deery and Predator. Key to his success would be being able to offer a good range in terms of brand, size, shape and function of trailer.
It was a process that involved an initial large investment, especially for new trailers, but he offset this by seeking out some good quality second hand trailers for the hire fleet as well.
"We have a good workshop here on the farm and my mechanical background meant I was able to fix them up to a standard that I would be happy to let them go out on hire.
"In practice that might mean upgrading a trailer with air brakes, fitting new tyres, replacing floors or adding new lights. I was able to do all that work myself. I'm constantly on the lookout for well-kept trailers that could add to the fleet!"
Today the fleet consists of 16 trailers in total, including four bale trailers, six grain trailers, three grain and silage trailers, two dump trailers and a potato box trailer. As can be seen from the pictures, it's an impressive line-up and there is an option there for most lines of farming or contracting work.
There is no preference in terms of brand for Mr Stafford - it simply depends on what the customer wants. "We have trailers in the fleet from Broughan, Thorpe, Smith, Deery, McCauley and Predator," he revealed.
"Each brand has its own particular fans and I noticed since I started the business that there is great brand loyalty - a Broughan fan will generally stick to Broughan for their good finishing, and similarly a Thorpe fan wouldn't rush into having a fling with another brand too quickly!
"Smith trailers would often be in demand by silage men due to their axle being further back and helping to place more weight on the tractor drawbar. Those looking for a good grain trailer would often look for an axle that is slightly further forward, thus keeping more weight off the tractor's drawbar."
Customers have come from far and wide so far. There have been trailers hired out to farmers as far away as Cork, Laois and Tuam, while a lot more business takes place closer to home in Wexford and Waterford.
"If the trailer is going a long distance I will usually attempt to meet the customer halfway somewhere," said Mr Stafford. "We have a support van on the road all the time as well in the case of breakdowns."
Trailer hire costs
Prices for trailer hire generally range from €150-€300 per week depending on the trailer, the customer and the length of the hire period. The price would be on the lower end of that range if the hire period is longer. The price is also lower for a known, trusted customer looking for repeat business and who previously returned the trailer in good condition after the hire period was up. The customer insures the trailer as part of the hire agreement.
A new trailer in the fleet will command a higher hire price; for example the new Broughan silage trailer would be charged at around €300 per week. "That trailer cost me €18,000 to buy new, so I have to protect myself with a reasonable price when it is going out on hire," said Mr Stafford.
"I have a lot of contacts in the machinery trade around the country and I am usually able to find out quickly if a new customer is capable of looking after one of my trailers. If I hear something I don't like - I don't need the hassle! Having said that, most people are very good."
Before a trailer leaves the yard a thorough check is carried out to make sure everything is in working order - brakes, lights, tyres, floor, tailgate and body. It is agreed with the customer that, should the trailer come back damaged in anyway, the customer will have to pay to have the damaged part repaired or replaced. "Most people are fine with this but the odd time you end up having arguments," revealed Mr Stafford.
"That's why it's so important to know a bit about your customer and to do a good pre-hire check on the trailer before it leaves the yard. The cost of a new trailer tyre can be €600-€700. It adds up quickly so you need to be clear about what happens if something gets damaged."
Trailer technology has moved on in recent times, and the RSA regulations mean safer braking systems are now the norm rather than the exception. "Not without their faults but safer overall," was Mr Stafford's opinion when asked about the new rules.
"They certainly make the national trailer fleet safer on the road, and the expense involved isn't massive. A farmer can get an older trailer up to the new spec for in or around €200 for the 40kph speed rating. One stupid rule that annoys me is that every tractor has to be fitted with a flashing beacon.
"This is overkill and it's actually dangerous. I think beacons should be reserved for bigger loads and wider units, rather than the 90hp tractor with a transport box."
Contact Stafford Plant Solution at 087 2792747 or www.staffordplant.ie