A Day with Dennis
By Laurence Gale MSc
I have fond memories of trying to keep straight lines when using a 36-inch Dennis mower on the ornamental lawns of Cannon Hill Park. Ken Lumley, head groundsman at the time, always made it look so easy, gliding around the flowerbeds, with the precision of the Red Arrows, However, when I tried, the beast of a mower saw the end of many bedding displays! But the end result was always worth the effort. The quality of cut and the desired mowing pattern the machine left on the sward is a reputation Dennis is keen to retain.
Thirty years on from my first encounter with a Dennis mower I am invited to see the latest developments that have been made since Howardson Ltd bought the company in 1981. My host is Ian Howard, Managing Director of Dennis Mowers.
Back in the early eighties Dennis was going through a particularly poor time. Sales were low, about £40,000 a year and, combined with little or no new development strategies in place, the company was relying solely on past glories.
His father had made and financed the initial deal and he eventually persuaded Ian to become Managing Director in 1985. Ian's engineering background in the coal mining industry was the key that eventually allowed Dennis to develop its engineering and design capabilities.
In 1991the company took over the defunct JP Mowers, which had designed a changeable cassette system way back in the 1960's but had not effectively developed it. Ian immediately saw the potential of the system, and so the Dennis FT range of mowers was born, offering a cassette system with 7 widths from 17 to 34 inches.
Over 75% of all football clubs now have a Dennis mower of one type or another. Current sales figures show that 60% of their market is taken up by bowls and cricket, 25% football and 15% ornamental lawn/Local Authority use. Dennis also exports over 10% of their production overseas to such countries as Sweden, Italy, France and Norway.
The company employs eighteen staff at their head office near Derby. The factory has been modernised and includes an extensive array of workshops, consisting of lathes, milling and drilling machinery. This enables the company to design and make many of their own parts. Ian is keen to obtain other specialist parts from Midlands based factories, thereby keeping the whole product British made.
Dennis is constantly working with groundsmen and greenkeepers to improve product and services. Listening to what they want is key when developing new products. This has led to some important changes to the ergonomics of their mowers, particularly handle design, which now incorporates vibration reduction technologies. The new handles are fitted to all FT models and the latest Simplex mower, which will be officially launched at this years' Saltex 2005 show. The Simplex is designed to meet the needs of the Local Authority market providing a mid range mower dedicated to cutting only.
This year alone Dennis have managed to implement eleven new changes to their product range, bringing in a number of anti-vibration and noise reduction features together with additional greasing and oiling points.
Dennis's whole production line is geared around specific order requirements, with the emphasis on expert workmanship using quality materials. The rear roller fitted to most models, for example, is constructed from well over fifty parts! Cutting and roller units are pre-assembled, as are the chassis and handle bar configurations, allowing quicker assembly of the final mower.
Nearly all the pre-assembled units are universal to most of the mower range. Even mowers more than twenty years old can effectively receive many of the updated units and parts. It is this part compatibility that makes Dennis unique in mower manufacturing.
Dennis is renowned for sturdy, well built mowers and many over the age of thirty are still being worked in the industry. These older mowers often find their way back to Derbyshire for servicing. During my visit some older mowers from Wolverhampton FC and Southampton FC are being serviced at the factory. It's part of Dennis' ongoing liaison with their customer base. It was Dave Roberts, Head Groundsman at Southampton FC, who helped Dennis redesign the front roller, introducing channels to prevent the grass from being flattened prior to mowing.
The team at Dennis produce and manufacture well over 400 mower units per year, proving that the customer still wants a quality branded mower that can fulfil the needs and requirements in an ever changing and progressive turf grass industry.
Ian and his staff are keen to meet the demands of the industry and keep the Dennis flag flying for many years to come. With a turnover set to exceed £2 million in 2005 and annual growth averaging around 24% Ian looks to be moving his company in the right direction.