By now, the majority of readers will either have dealt with Agrigear directly or indirectly through one of its many dealers north or south of Ireland. In fact, the chances are, if you have BKT tyres fitted to any tractor, loader or implement in your yard then they have passed through Agrigear’s premises just outside Bailieborough in Co Cavan.
Fred Clarke started out his career in tillage farming and contracting. Growing a considerable number of acres, things progressed and Fred began milling both his own grain and grain belonging to local farmers. Once milled, feeds were supplied to the co-ops in surrounding areas. In addition to farming full-time, Fred saw an opportunity and set up a building company erecting silage pits and grain stores.
In the late 1970s, challenges such as rising fuel costs, the jump in interest rates to 23%, topped off by the decade ending with three years of challenging weather severely affecting crop yields and the milling business as a result, put a financial strain on things.
On his travels to the Netherlands in 1981, Fred was visiting a friend when the two men came across a breaker’s yard. Fred noticed large quantities of secondhand wheels and tyres which he thought to be good value so he bought them and had the consignment shipped home. With tough economic conditions at home in the early 1980s, the secondhand tyres sold well and left a profit. Knowing that there was an opportunity, Fred kept up the importation of these used tyres, gaining customers throughout Ireland.
In 1983, Fred made the decision to focus solely on the tyre business. At this point, he was travelling to countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Russia on a monthly basis sourcing used agricultural tyres and shipping them home to Cavan for resale.
As many of these tyres were coming off American-built army vehicles, rim measurements varied quite a bit to European wheels.
“To overcome this, we adapted the grain store which is still part of the main premises and built a facility to customise and fabricate rims so that these tyres suited the Irish market,” said Fred. This was the start of the manufacturing end of the business which remains core to what Agrigear does today.
In 1984, Fred manufactured his own dual-wheel system which he patented. With the development in larger turf-cutting machines at the time, Agrigear supplied many of these original equipment manufacturers (OEM) with dual-wheel solutions.
Continuing to grow over the next 20 years, Agrigear supplied the Irish market with new and secondhand tyres. Following the growth of complete wheel solutions to OEMs, agencies were established with key rim manufacturers, which allowed Agrigear to import a wide range of rims.
BKT – a turning point
Down through the years and into the 1990s the business carried agencies for Goodyear, Michelin and Taurus off-road ranges as well as being main distributors for the Nokian tyre range. Fred explained how Agrigear also started supplying tyres for cars, vans and jeeps as well as offering the service of tyre reconditioning and vulcanising.
Having been abroad at shows, Fred came across the Indian tyre manufacturer BKT which was in its infancy with no presence in the Irish market. Having liked what he had seen, he soon struck a deal and in 2001 Agrigear became the sole Irish importer for the BKT tyre range. Over 55 dealers were quickly appointed across Ireland to retail the BKT range. Today, BKT is one of the most popular off-road and agricultural tyre brands on the Irish market.
Fred explained that Agrigear has a strong relationship with BKT, noting in particular how he and his team have had key roles in the development of tyres such as the Agrimax and Ridemax ranges.
In 2007, an additional 20,000sq ft was built on to the factory to cope with business growth.
Fred explained that around this time, the business increased production of wheels for the OEM markets. Today, Agrigear to some degree supplies almost all Irish OEMs with wheel solutions which accounts for roughly one-third of the business. Agricultural tyres account for 80% of the business today with the remaining 20% made up of industrial, earth-moving ranges.
By 2015, the business had outgrown the premises again which led to the substantial investment in a CNC plasma cutter, shot-blasting and power-coating facility alongside a 23,000sq ft dispatch area to improve both the intake and dispatch of tyres before they embark on the journey to dealers across the country. The storage facilities to the back of the premises continues to grow to carry higher levels of stock.
The company can design and manufacture wheels specifically to customer requirements. “Not only are farmers and contractors opting for large flotation tyres for particular jobs such as umbilical slurry spreading, but many are fitting wider tyres on tractors. The proper way of achieving this is by fitting wider rims as every tyre is designed for a particular rim width if it is to meet its load ratings and full capabilities.
“On the other hand, we get a lot of customers who are restoring a machine that may be fitted with old or unique wheels that need refurbished or a new set built. There are increasing numbers of customers that just want to freshen up their wheels with a straightforward respray. The modern farmer and contractor seems to take a lot more pride in the appearance of machinery”.
Building new wheel rims for any machine starts with taking measurements and getting its offsets, hub sizes, etc. Depending on the wheel, this may involve plasma-cutting rim centres from scratch ie adjustable row crop wheels or modifying cutomers’ existing rims. Once the required hub and stud holes are cut, the centre dishes are balanced on a lathe and are then matched with the correct size rims. The dish is then welded in to the rim. Adjustable rims with adapter plates to suit various different machines have become popular with frequent switching of machinery, especially when it comes to row crops wheels.
Once the rims are fabricated they move up the line to be shot-blasted, heated and then primed. Once primed, rims are placed back in the oven to cure. The final powder coat is then applied before being returned to the oven once again to cure.
The Cavan-based firm this year celebrates 41 years of business with a workforce now surpassing 60 employees.
Having spoken with Fred around the success of the company to date, he believes knowledgeable, experienced staff across the business is key. He noted that the arrangement with BKT has been also key to the company’s success so far.
“The success of the BKT range in Ireland is based on high quality at a competitive price. This coupled with the brand’s willingness to listen and develop for the future based on customer feedback is important. BKT understands Irish conditions. As tyre technology keeps advancing we see the focus to continue to be placed around IF and VF technology.
Now that such technology is available for tractor tyres we are beginning to see it being introduced into implement tyres with the addition of our V-Flexa range.