Daniel, Gareth and Edward James are totally committed to their customers. The strength of relationship that the James family has built with their customers over the past 40 years has enabled them to introduce innovations that might defeat other businesses.
Based in the far west of Wales on the coast at Cardigan, Stepside Contractors splits its time between producing forage for the area’s dairy herds and dealing with the muck and slurry that they produce – in one end and out of the other.
The business was started in 1973 by Gareth James, who marketed himself as a silage specialist, chopping local farmers’ grass with a trailed Pottinger MX5 forager.
Now eldest son, Daniel, is the one in the driving seat with backup from brother, Edward.
Gareth still plays an integral role in the business’ day-to-day running. Aside from providing an extra bum on a seat in busy spells, his long-standing relationship with local farmers makes him crucial in Stepside’s unique approach to customer service.
Every couple of months he will visit each of the firm’s 40 or so key customers, taking invoices with him and picking up cheques and extra work on his rounds. Although time-consuming, it guarantees payment and nurtures a contractor/client relationship that is second to none.
This closeness has enabled the family to introduce invoicing customers on an acreage basis for silage work, with farmers paying per trailer load.
“By billing per trailer load, we’re encouraging our farmers to concentrate on the quality of the forage produced, not the quantity,” points out David. “At first customers were unsure, but now they regard it as more cost-effective because they pay for just what they produce.”
The company has seen its third-cut grass area double and the overall customer base grow to the point where a second forage gang had to be set up.
Stepside rates are separated from diesel cost because, like many operators in the area, the firm relies on its customers to provide fuel.
With a full forage gang using thousands of litres each day, can a small dairy farmer be expected to supply enough clean diesel to keep the contractors machines running?
The family approached each customer and persuaded everyone to install a new high capacity plastic tank, free from sludge and contamination.
As well as paying drivers a commission for every new job they bring in, the family are mulling over the idea of shared machine ownership, allowing the operator to buy into the business.