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Hamilton Ross Group are leading suppliers of Agricultural, Construction, Garden Power, Groundcare and Forestry & Arb machinery and Animal Health products across Central Scotland.

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Accelerating Growth: Q&A with Eric Gardiner, Managing Director & Tommy Smith, Group Parts Manager (Part 2)

 

This is the second part of our interview with Eric Gardiner, Managing Director, and Tommy Smith, Group Parts Manager. Upon reaching their forty-year anniversary milestone, both reflect on their shared history within the company, and the secret ingredients to making the family business a successful one.

  • How is the family ethos transpiring in the running of the business?

Eric – Bringing my son Jamie in four years ago has made a big difference for me. I managed to release a lot of time, and I’ve been able to focus on sales, while he’s come in with expertise in another domain, data management. I keep telling people, the information that he is producing will be accelerating our growth, if we know how to utilise it correctly. Having a family member I can trust, and onto whom I can rely, is crucial for the future of the business.

“Having a family member I can trust, and onto whom I can rely, is crucial for the future of the business.”

  • What are the future developments for the business?

Eric – I think the biggest sense of achievement is in keeping the machine rolling, seeing it growing, and expand over the years to go forward with the next generation, to keep the continuity within the family company. We’ve grown since I took it on, and we’ve acquired some other businesses as well. I’ll be there to support Jamie and help him transition into taking over my role – he’s definitely showing the signs that he wants to take the business to the next level. We want to consolidate what we already have, and expand in new territories, but it’s got to be the right opportunities, at the right time, for us.

Tommy – Every sector of the business will have their own targets, and we’re striving to get to them. That’s the big kick you get, achieving goals that you’ve not done before. In the eighties, we were dealing about £465k through the Parts department in Tarbolton – to the end of February this year, we’re expecting £2.5m. We’ve added lots of other things over the years, when it used to be just agricultural back in the day. By 2025, we’re aiming to break the £10m barrier for Parts as a Group.

Eric & Jamie outside the Bishopton depot (2019)

  • How has the pandemic affected the business?

Tommy – From our point of view, I suppose, supply issues – sourcing run-of-the-mill products like chainsaws and brushcutters. That’s been the biggest challenge, but suppliers have since returned to pre-pandemic availability levels.

Eric – The pandemic has had a strong effect on the company. Financially, the last two years, between 2020 and 2022, are the two most successful years that the company’s had. Sales have grown, costs have been reduced – the pandemic probably made us tighten our belts, and become more efficient.

  • As an industry, what makes it attractive?

Tommy – Variation. You can speak to any of the staff, in any department, they’ll never have had two days the same. You can plan as much as you like in this game, but you’re five minutes in the door, the phone rings, and your plans are gone. You’ve got to adapt, you’ve got to be able to think on your feet, and you get a buzz from that on a daily basis – well I do, I hope everybody else does as well!

Eric – The opportunity to progress in your career is there if you want to pursue it. I mean, when I started, I was literally sweeping the floors, and clearing out the Parts department, which was pretty run down. I went from there, to working in the Parts department, to working in car sales, to working in car service… I got dumped into accounts and got involved in general management, and then I got back into sales and into senior management. It’s been very varied all the way along – although for the last ten to fifteen years, I’ve been very focused on groundcare, and that’s what I’ve enjoyed doing.

Both Tommy and I are living proofs that you can start at the bottom, and move your way up to the top, and so is Jim Steel (Sales Director) – he started out as an apprentice, and he’s now my co-Director and right-hand man. Seeing the staff progress through the company fills me with pride, and I’m a great believer in trying to promote from within. It’s educating the people along the way, so they can achieve the levels that we want them to get to. We’ve invested heavily into training in the last ten years, and I genuinely believe that it’s had a major impact on improving the performance of the company.

Tommy – I think, over the years, agriculture has been looked upon as a very insular industry – it’s always been people from within agriculture who’ve worked in it. But nowadays, with the evolution of technology, the requirements have changed a lot. From a Parts point of view, you need to have a basic knowledge of so many different machines or products, whereas when I started, forty years ago, it was basically tractors, balers, and old combines! We need to attract people from outside the industry to come in, and it’ll be daunting for them, but it is so rewarding.

“Seeing the staff progress through the company fills me with pride, and I’m a great believer in trying to promote from within.”

  • What are the skills necessary to be successful?

Tommy – Problem-solving for one, on the Parts side, and a bit of customer empathy. We like to try to get the guys to look upon the machines as if they were theirs, and to provide the service at that level.

Eric – A good work ethic is fundamental. I have always worked very hard, all my life, to instil a good work ethic in all my three kids, and that’s why Jamie’s work ethic is second to none, he’s not afraid to put in the hours. I believe the work ethic is there at the beginning, and then aptitude comes into it – if you go into parts, service, sales, you need to learn the ropes. When we get new apprentices, at sixteen, we can tell right away whether they’re going to make it or break it.

Lyle Kennedy, Parts Advisor at the Tarbolton depot (2023)

Delivery of a Massey Ferguson 5718S from the Tarbolton depot (2022)

  • Do you have any funny anecdotes?

Tommy – I do remember one actually, back in the Jurassic period, when we didn’t do electronic ordering, you phoned – or faxed – your order to Massey Ferguson. Ian and I were standing behind the counter one morning, when the delivery driver came in and said, “I’ve got your delivery outside, you’ll need the forklift.” We looked at each other and thought, forklift, we didn’t really order that much, and the delivery driver said, “the side of that trailer is yours”. So Ian looked at me and went, “what have you ordered?”, I said, “I didn’t do the order yesterday”. Eventually, we took the paperwork off it, and tracked the order number to the back of the book. It was supposed to be a Massey Ferguson jacket for a customer, and between Ian phoning the order in, and the person on the other end writing the number down, they had got one digit wrong – and it was a side of a trailer that had arrived instead of a jacket!

Tommy playing golf at Royal Troon Golf Club (2022)

  • Any hobbies in your spare time?

Eric – I like fitness training and skiing. I do enjoy a holiday break as well, more and more.

Tommy – I played a bit of football when I was younger, in fact we had a five-a-side football team at the depot and we played in a league of local dealers – we instigated it between the dealers down there. These days it’s golf, some people don’t understand it and some people do! It gets you away and takes your mind off the job for four or five hours. I would say everybody needs a release of some description, just to really get into their own space if you like.

The current staff and Directors at the Hamilton Ross Group thank Eric & Tommy for their forty-year-long and ongoing dedication to the business.

Read Part 1 of our Q&A with Eric & Tommy.

If you or someone you know has an interest in a career with the Hamilton Ross Group, please send your CV to [email protected] or visit our Indeed page.

Posted by Hamilton Ross Group

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