Family businesses tend to be inherited rather than created - it's often not until they are passed on that they are recognised as family concerns. Outdoor power equipment dealership RT Machinery (RTM), in contrast, seems to have been born with the intention of being a family outfit and at any one time has at least three, sometimes even four, generations involved.
The point, though, is not so much that Richard Taylor has established a dynasty in just a decade and half, but that right from the start RT has always been a very personal dealership and it has retained that flavour through years of growth, whilst becoming the significant enterprise that it is today.
RTM has a long term vision, based on the connection that Richard Taylor has always maintained between value and service. There is ambition, backed by determination, to make the company much more than just another dealership. Having grown from an enterprise of one, Richard, who established the start-up in his garden shed as recently as 2001, to fifteen colleagues in fifteen years, has his sights set much further ahead and farther afield. There is a big picture of RTM's future that is gradually becoming visible.
The company was set up to serve the professional ground care, sport, private estate and homeowner turfcare markets. It operates from a location which could hardly be more rural yet, roughly fifty miles North West of Central London, puts it within striking distance of the prosperous territory to the west of the M25, down to Windsor and the M4 and westward to the M40 corridor and Oxford. This enables it to service all of those locations, and benefits from the fact that, beyond the professional market, there are some hefty private estates and big gardens in its catchment area. While it could appear to be in the middle of nowhere, it is actually in the middle of everywhere.
In addition to selling new and used mowers and machinery, RTM provides spare parts, servicing and repair, equipment hire and operator training. In characteristic personal style, the business has developed strong bonds with a number of key suppliers, remains loyal to them and gets loyalty in return. From day one, RTM worked with quality brands, starting in 2001 with Etesia, Danarm and Scag, soon after adding Dennis mowers. Subsequent years saw the company bring into the portfolio products and services that complemented and developed the scope of the range. Each one had to make the grade, through a stringent selection and qualifying process. RTM tested them all for performance, quality of build and after-sales support; this is characteristic of the ethos of RTM, the integrity and ethics of their business practices. As Richard puts it: "It's good to stand with a straight back, with a genuine smile, no matter who you are talking to and that's something we look for in both suppliers and customers."
Spotting niches and developing trends have been vital elements in pursuing growth. RTM recognised the needs of grassroots sport and local businesses. Richard re-counts: "As golf and other key high end users stopped using traditional gang mower systems, we made it our business and the niche we needed to become probably the number one and most informed specialist for gang mowers and spare parts in the country."
So, identifying an opportunity, the company moved beyond reselling machines from its suppliers, and branched out with its own range of premium RTM Sportster gang mowers. Richard recalls: "We took what was probably the most highly engineered and precision cutting unit and developed it - with six-bladed cutting cylinders, taper roller bearings throughout, grease filled rollers with a rear roller scraper that works . And then our own design-simple 'flying V frames' that can, at the drop of a few pins, become a set of transportable (three in a line) 'Duck and Duckling', to get in and out of narrow gateways, field to field, across driveways and in and out of buildings."
RTM also decided to specialise in reconditioning and offering used spares, leading to the creation of its "Tow n Mow" remanufactured and new budget gang mowers, selling a set of three for under £5,000. Ever restless in innovating, the company even offers service exchange cutting units these days, to cut down on waiting times and double up on delivery and collection.
Another area in which they have developed uniqueness is in the extension of RTM and Suffolk products. In paddock sweeping, RTM is now one of the most knowledgeable and well-equipped businesses in the land, with a full range of paddock sweepers. The Suffolk Sweeper range gives high performance, traditional agricultural engineering and a unit to match both tractor or ATV. RTM can sweep from 1.2m up to 1.8m using a simple power source such as an ATV or ride on mower, and can use a tractor from 17hp upwards. Busting out of its home counties homeland, the company can deliver and install anywhere on mainland Britain. In a telling move, RTM welcomes enquiries from other dealerships to sell the machines.
Still not satisfied, RTM has also developed its own ranges of slitters, aerators and scarifiers to complement the estate and fine turf range.
Another way it is sharpening its edge is by moving from standard sales of used machines to selling RTM CPO quality pre-owned machinery. Certified equipment promises and delivers high standards of preparation in pre-owned machines that are sold with a stamp of approval and warranty akin to a manufacturer's new machine support. Richard is expansive on this subject: "Quality can only be assured if it's built into the whole process of used machinery marketing and support. It's like being a fruit and veg trader really - it needs the full package to do it well. Knowing our products, the quality in the assuredness of the origin and its traceability, individually checking and testing the wares for blemishes, grading and sorting them into the groups to offer, such as premium, in-season, the everyday core products and the knock-down price windfalls - the Taste Test if you like. All of this considered, we can then offer the warranties and guarantees to meet our standards and reputation to then add the finer touches of presenting the goods and making sure we have enough to go around."
Pushing the grocery metaphor to the limit, he adds: "Remember our stall here is fixed. We are not going anywhere and we are here every week. I guess we have the banter and the customer experience to make it a pleasurable process too!"
There is also a keen awareness here that there is more to a dealership than machinery. The business itself has been continually retooled by adding new people and by supporting the development of those already in the business. The aim is not just growth, but sustainable growth.
Part of that comes from family. Father, Robin Taylor, is a director and daughter, Robyn Taylor, is a key team member, and has successfully completed the BAGMA Leadership and Management Diploma. Even school-age grandson Oliver is part of the scene. But RTM is about much more than family ties. Richard works hard to develop local talent. Training and education is viewed as an investment in colleagues and the business. Richard explains: "I see the business as being almost 'organic'. It's continually evolving and growing, with knowledge and capability being passed from one generation to another."
Increasingly, other skills come from outside, with a weather eye kept on the importance of fostering close relationships with talented partners who can help the business develop. Sustainability is built in through investment in IT and cyber security, with up-to-date server capacity and networking, backup systems, a dedicated IT specialist and a commitment of resources for the long term journey. They work with external (but close) specialists at the top of their game, in web and digital profile development with business specialists such as start-up exp2 and marketing expert Andrea Pickering at Marketing Wisdom.
The whole enterprise is on display once, sometimes twice a year, at RTM demonstration days held at the premises at Nether Winchendon. It moved there in 2014 having outgrown its original site. Attended by customers from far and wide, the event, most recently held in September, is strongly supported by those long term supply partners. It includes working demonstrations of mowers of all sizes, chippers, sweepers and everything else that makes up the RTM offer.
Changes within the industry have amplified the importance of these events. In 2014, the company held two, as ground care exhibitions such as Saltex moved indoors to venues like the NEC. It helps that the Buckinghamshire premises has literally acres of open space for the event and the suppliers to stretch out in. Open days allow the manufacturers to demonstrate their products in a natural environment, and lets the customers see the equipment at work, while RTM staff are on hand to discuss parts and servicing requirements.
What the demonstration days also show is that RT Machinery is, following the vision of Richard and those around him, developing into much more than a dealership. With its own brand and specialities alongside industry leading names, with fully certified pre-owned product, a sharper marketing focus and a wider geographic range, RTM is on the way to becoming a unique new type of business within the industry.
Demonstration day lets users get hands on with the machinery
"A golden opportunity to walk the walk, talk the talk, cut the grass, drive the ride-on, trim the edges… and all in surroundings not far off what heaven must be like," was how one visitor described the latest demonstration day at RT Machinery's Vale of Aylesbury home at Nether Winchendon in September.
The latest in a series of annual open-air, open days saw the family business welcome more than 150 customers to a day of hands-on product experience, with machinery and demonstrators from key RTM supporting brands including Etesia, Pellenc, Dennis, Sisis, Wessex, Scag, Kilworth, Eliet, Indespension and many others.
Accompanied by a jazz band and catered for with a hog roast, drinks and lots of cake, the company's customers made the most of the opportunity to get into the real detail of the machinery in the late summer sun. The company feels that direct involvement with equipment in the open air, with expert advice and no time pressures makes for a valuable learning experience for customers.
Commenting on the event, visitor, Andrew Grout, Head of Woburn Abbey Gardens, commented: "I learnt a lot on the day about the many products you offer, and we were able to recognise and solve some issues the London Gardens team had with using existing machinery. All together a very fruitful day."
Suppliers were equally effusive. As Les Malin, Operations Director of Etesia UK put it: "As a manufacturer, Etesia have always championed the benefits of dealer open days, but they only work if the effort is put into them. This was clearly evident today. A well organised event with a diverse customer mix, National Trust, local authority, well known multinational Companies and private individuals. The RT Machinery team obviously put in a lot of effort, not only in getting the customers here, but giving them plenty to see and do."
Richard Taylor summed it up as: "Positively the best one day event and show we have ever held. Well attended, good use of resources and thoroughly enjoyable. Our staff were a credit to us. So were our brand partners. Well done all. Good job done! Roll on next year's RTM Show." - and that will take place on Wednesday 6th September 2017. Same place, same hands-on experience.