Last Friday 31 March, Templetuohy Farm Machinery (TFM) celebrated its 40th anniversary as a John Deere dealer. Today, TFM is a six-depot group spanning 13 counties from coast to coast, with 140 employees. The company put on a hugely impressive display of farm machinery, as good as you would see from any dealership across Europe.
This was echoed by John Deere representative Alejandro (Alex) Sayago, vice-president of ag and turf sales and marketing, who said not alone is TFM one of the leading John Deere dealers in Ireland, but it is one of its leading dealers across Europe.
The story of Templetuohy Farm Machinery, better known today as TFM, is one that started from very humble beginnings. To go right back to the start, Jimmy Butler completed his leaving certificate at the age of 17, and completed a one-year agricultural course at Rockwell agricultural college, with the intention of going home farming full-time.
“I had been driving for a contractor at silage for three summers, before going home full-time at the age of 18. I was at home three months and I came to the realisation that I was the oldest of a family who had yet to be educated, including my sister who was 10 years younger. So, I decided to go and get myself a job. I started out as a car salesman for the Thurles Motor Company. However, I was a tractor nut and this was where my passion lay.
“My father and his friend went to the Spring Farm Machinery Show at the RDS in Dublin to buy a hedge cutter. They got talking to a salesman who told them Sherards were looking for staff in a newly opened branch at Mountrath. Sherards were a big wholesale business with seven retail depots. They were John Deere dealers and sold many brands such as Overum ploughs.
“One day, I snuck off from work to go up and see them. I managed to secure a job and started with them in the summer of 1977, when I had just turned 19. That depot closed in 1980, and I was transferred to the Fethard depot. By this stage I had made up my mind that I wanted to do my own thing. I put an ad in the local newspaper looking for a site, but I got no response.
“My brother Joe had served his time as a tractor mechanic in Sherards and he was going to come on board with me. Our father offered me and Joe a site to get started. I remember being at a ploughing match in Rockwell College in 1980, and meeting the John Deere divisional manger Keith Clayphan to see exactly what we needed to have in place to become a dealer.
“While working with Sherards, we bought the steel for a shed in May 1981, and erected it that November.
“In January 1982, we left Sherards and TFM began trading. I was in sales, Joe was in the workshop and Mary, my wife, was looking after the administration.
“Sherards’ Fethard premises closed in the Autumn of 1982. I had been in contact with John Deere for a while and managed to officially secure the dealership on the 27th May 1983. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the divisional manager saw in two young lads. I was 24 and Joe was only 20 at the time. We weren’t financially very strong and had to rely on our father to sign a personal guarantee.”
From strength to strength
“In November 1988, we opened our second branch at Clonmel. This was on a rented premises. In 1991, we bought a site in Clonmel and opened a new premises there in 1992.
“In 1995, we did a deal for a premises in Portlaoise, but had to wait a little while for the existing business to build a new shop.
“In the meantime, the John Deere dealer in Wexford went belly up. John Deere approached us about setting up another depot there. We initially ruled it out, but John Deere persisted.
“My sister and her husband were coming home from America at the same time, and we decided to set up TFM Enniscorthy in a partnership.
“So, in 1995 we opened two new depots. This was a serious gamble for us, as the company was doubling in size in one year. I suppose we had no fear at that age.
“In 2012, John Deere was rolling out its dealer of tomorrow strategy. We sat down with Pat Comerford in Kilkenny and his business joined the TFM team. Pat continued to manage that business and it has worked out really well, we have a great understanding.
“In 2015, John Deere approached us about setting up a branch in Galway. I sat down with my son James and my daughter Kate who were both in the business at the time. I left the decision with them; I told them I didn’t need it and it was up to them. They decided to take it on and James moved up to Tuam. It gave him a chance to learn and make a name for himself.”
Today, TFM employs a total of 140 staff across its six depots. This breaks down to include 36 in Templetuohy, 26 in Enniscorthy, 21 in Clonmel, 21 in Laois, 18 in Ballycallan and 18 in Tuam. The lion’s share (82) are in service, followed by 25 in sales, 18 in parts, 12 in admin, two in marketing and one in HR.
“We built the business upon two quotes. The first from my father who always said to treat people the way you’d like to be treated yourself and you’ll never go too far astray. The second was from Richard Liffey, the original man behind Liffey Mills. He was a man ahead of his time. He said to me one day, ‘Young Butler, you’ll have no business unless your business can last without you.’ I often thought about it, and he was right. You have to learn to delegate and trust people to be successful in business.
“In 2006, I made the best business move to date on the back of this. I appointed Pat Costello as the group sales manager for all branches. I was trying to do too much myself up to this point, and I was getting burnt out.
“We’re all the time trying to hold on to and develop good young staff who want to develop a career in the farm machinery business. If you want to retain good people, you need to give them responsibility,” explained Jimmy.
TFM is today managed by a team of four. Francis McCormack was TFM’s first full-time employee outside the family, starting in June 1983. He looks after the parts and IT side of the business. Pat Costello, who started with TFM in 1993 in the workshop before moving into sales, is the general manager. Catherine O’Halloran is the financial controller and John Murray is the group service manager. Pat Delaney has also been with the business 40 years, while Mary Troy and Eugene Murray have been with us 37 years.
“We have big plans to build a storage building at the back of our home branch at Templetuohy. It’s going to be an acre in size, and will house our new machines and high value used equipment from all depots in a central location. In the next 10 years, I’d like to see TFM going from strength to strength. We want TFM to be the company to go to for young people who want to develop a career in the farm machinery business. I think that the farmer of tomorrow will need the contractor more and more, and in turn that contractor is going to need a dealer like us to supply them with good machinery and keep them on the road.”