Whelan’s Garage is celebrating 50 years in business this weekend with an open day to mark this major milestone for the family run business.
Operating from three depots in Ennis, Loughrea and their main branch in Kilrush, Co Clare, Whelan’s are extending an open invitation to the public. It will be a family outing for customers with a bouncy castle and pig-on-the-spit among just some of the entertainment laid on for the day.
There will also be competitions throughout the day for €5,000 worth of prizes. Some of these prizes include a Husqvarna robotic lawnmower, a Honda walk-behind lawnmower, 200l of Ultrafarm 10W/30 oil and an MF branded children’s go-kart.
You might fancy your chances to win some smaller prizes in the mini-digger skills competition and tractor reversing competition. For the younger farmers, there will be a bouncy castle and Clare FM will broadcast from Whelan’s premises on the day. The day is intended to give the public an opportunity to see the investment the family run business has made to their premises.
For prospective customers, there will be special offers on lawnmowers to kick off the gardening season along with special offers on tools, spare parts and all branded merchandise.
The Whelan family and their staff are extending an open invitation to everyone to come along and enjoy a day out.
Joe Whelan originally set up his business in 1968 in the old Kilrush railway station. He worked from this premises for 10 years building his business before relocating to the current site on the Ennis road. From here, the business has thrived and prospered over the years thanks to loyal customers, hard-working staff and a huge family effort.
Whelan’s employ eight mechanics in the Kilrush premises who are expertly trained in all aspects of service and maintenance for the extensive list of brands they sell. Across its area, the company runs a number of service vans to make sure they can service and support the extensive range of equipment operating on the various farms.
Over the years, Whelan’s sold different machinery brands. These included some popular makes such as Zetor, Ford and Renault tractors, which have since been replaced by Massey Ferguson and Fendt. Today, they have focused their energies on a range of products that their customers want.
As Joseph Whelan put it, “we have a great mix of premium brands with products we can rely on. We have been selling some of these products for years and their brand names are widely recognised across the area we sell into.
These brands include: Massey Ferguson, Fendt, Kverneland, McConnel, Vicon, Jarmet, Grasstec, Strauttmann, Rabe, Lely, Hi-Spec, Honda ATVs, Fleming, Tanco, NC, Hardi, Rossmore, Quickie, Kubota Lawn and Garden, Husqvarna, Major, GrassTec Grazers and Wilson bale trailers.
Across the three premises, Whelan’s employ a total of 35 staff to serve the needs of their customers in counties Clare, Galway, Tipperary, Limerick and Kerry. This staff includes sales, spare parts, accounting and managerial team members.
Surrounded by a mixture of dairy, beef, tillage and sheep farmers, Whelan’s specialise in farm and grass machinery, with tractors accounting for approximately 60% of their business. Tractors in the 90 to 110hp power range are most popular with local farmers. Models such as the Massey Ferguson 110hp 5610 are very popular as they are easy to operate, reliable and the right size for a lot of farms in the area. The wide range and specification level of Massey Ferguson tractors means there is a specification and size to meet most customers’ requirements. Both Massey Ferguson and Fendt are popular in the area.
Whelan’s garage has a long association with the Massey Ferguson brand. In the town of Kilrush, Joe Whelan has a range of beautifully presented examples in the museum of Irish Rural life. This museum has a wide variety of vintage tools and tractors representing early farm mechanisation in Ireland. Among them is a rare Ferguson-Brown tractor on steel wheels which was originally sold in the 1930s. This tractor was the first tractor to have an OEM three-point linkage fitted. Alongside this tractor is an unusual yellow Massey Ferguson 135 painted yellow. This tractor was used by the county council. It was one of the most popular models sold by Whelan’s at the time and still commands a premium price among vintage collectors.
Aside from tractors, round balers and grass machinery are second in popularity, with great support from farmers and contractors for the Lely and Kverneland range. Kverneland mowers are popular with local customers. A very strong relationship has been built up over the years between the Whelans and what was then Tarrup now Kverneland.
Joe Whelan said: “We have great service from the brand over the years and a lot of our customers wouldn’t mow with anything else. The mowers are reliable, really well built and designed for tough conditions. Grass crops here in the west can be very heavy but these mowers can handle them with ease. Lely balers are also popular with customers for their reliability, ease of use and low cost of ownership. The Lely Tornado baler-wrapper combination has been a very good seller. The single-axle machine has a short wheel base which allows for brilliant manoeuvrability in small fields which there are plenty of in this part of Ireland. The bale transfer design on this machine means wrapped bales are dropped gently to the ground with minimal damage.
Lawn and garden equipment
Aside from grass and silage machinery, lawn and garden equipment is an equally important part of the Whelan’s business. The Husqvarna range of chainsaws, hand tools and lawnmowers are sought after by customers for their reliability and durability.
Kevin Whelan, parts manager and director of Whelan’s, said: “The Husqvarna brand is a very strong brand. People immediately recognise it and know it is a quality brand. The chainsaws are market leaders and new products like the Husqvarna Automower robotic lawn mowers are becoming more popular all the time. The advantage of this lawnmower is the homeowner’s lawn is continually mowed with little or no input from the owner. Once a simple perimeter cable has been installed along with a charging point, the robot will keep a lawn neatly cut with minimal input. Whelan’s took on the Honda lawn and garden equipment franchise in 2017 to add to the Honda ATVs they have been selling since 2016.
This year, to complete their lawnmower equipment offering, Whelan’s have taken on the commercial range of Kubota lawnmowers for Clare and Galway.
Investing in people and premises
Whelan’s are not afraid to invest in their future, with a large development of their premises nearing completion to cope with the current and future demands. The reason behind this is twofold. Space in the current premises is at capacity and secondly the family business wants to ensure it can meet the future demands of farmers and contractors in the area.
The Ennis road site has been developed in three stages. The first stage was to extend and resurface the yard to the rear of the premises. Here, both new and secondhand machinery is available to customers to view and inspect in comfort with plenty of concrete and tarmac to walk on. Whelan’s are not afraid to keep a healthy stock of machinery either, with a broad range of both new and secondhand tractors and implements on hand at any time.
They supply spare parts all across Ireland with a small percentage for the export market. A new car park also means parking will not be an issue with plenty of space to the left of the premises.
Behind the existing workshop which has served the family business very well for the past few years, the second stage in the development is a new 7,000ft2 workshop. This large modern building has been built with space for at least 13 tractors at one time with safety and comfort in mind.
A painted floor is designed to minimise slip and easily cleaned. Numerous power outlets are located around the perimeter of the workshop to power hand tools. A high-pressure air-line supplies the various pneumatic tools that technicians will use along with an oil supply line for the oil demands of the tractors being serviced. Technicians can work safely and in comfort to get new tractors ready for delivery and owners’ tractors serviced as quickly as possible.
An overhead remotely operated crane means large items such as cabs and engines can be easily and safely removed when needed. This was a large investment but Joseph Whelan said that “we had to install it if we want to provide an efficient service facility to our customers. It also means we are future-proofing our business as we can lift large items with ease and manoeuvre them around the workshop to be worked on”.
Safety and the environment is high on the Whelan’s agenda, with oil tanks stored in a bunded area of the workshop to prevent any accidents. Any waste oil is safely collected and stored in special tanks to minimise any risk to the environment. The bund also ensures no oil is spilled on the workshop floor, making it a safer place for everyone to work.
To ensure enough spare parts are available for all this work and to meet customer demand, the third stage in the development is in a new spare parts store. Whelan’s carry approximately €1.3m worth of spare parts between their three stores. The range of spares is extensive, but as Kevin Whelan says: “If you sell it you have to be able to stand over it. Whether the machine breaks down or parts wear out we try to ensure we have most of the spare parts in stock. We see stocking spare parts as an investment in our business and providing support for our customers. We want to be able to stand over the products we sell”. It is safe to say that they have one of the best range of spare parts in the west. They not only stock parts for the numerous products they sell but also stock a wide range of other spare parts for most farm machinery in operation in their sales area. In total across all parts of their business, Whelan’s estimate they have approximately 5,000 customers.
Whelan’s are always investing in new technology by making sure whatever they sell, they can stand over it should it break down or need to be serviced. Their technicians regularly attend product training courses with manufacturers both here and abroad to make sure the service they provide is the most up-to-date possible.
“It can be hard to justify sending one of our team to Italy for a week, for example, for a training course but without the proper training we can’t support our customers when they buy a new machine. We need to be able to diagnose and fix a problem as quickly as possible when it arises. We want to make sure the service we provide ensures the least amount of down time for any of our customers. In our business, this is especially important as rain is never too far away.”
Kverneland Fastbale demonstration
This summer, Whelan’s are planning to demonstrate a range of equipment to promote the benefits of the brands they sell. Among the machines for demonstration is the Kverneland FastBale continuous round baler. This unique machine was launched last year with huge interest across Europe for its ability to make round bales without stopping. For those unfamiliar with how this machine works, the FastBale starts in the conventional manner with the main chamber producing the first bale. When the bale is fully formed, instead of having to stop to apply the net (or film), crop flow is diverted to the pre-chamber which essentially acts as a holding bay for the main chamber. This allows the net or film to be applied to the bale in the main chamber and for the completed bale to be transferred to the wrapper. When the pre-chamber is full, the incoming crop flow together with the partially made bale from the pre-chamber are both then transferred into the main bale chamber. In here, the bale is formed to its final size and density.
Simultaneously, another bale has begun its formation in the pre-chamber. So far, they have received some very positive enquiries and want to push the machine as contractors in their area have been asking about it.
“Baled silage is very popular in our sales area. If we can sell a machine with greater output than what is already on the market then it will definitely be interesting to the contractors and farmers in the locality.”
In conjunction with this, Whelan’s are enjoying great success with the Lely Tornado baler wrapper combination. The baler-wrapper combination is well built and customers are happy with the machine. As Joseph Whelan said: “If a machine can perform in Irish conditions, it will perform well anywhere. Lely balers and tedders are brilliant machines and we are really happy with them – as are our customers, which makes life a lot easier for us. We have been selling Lely products for years and our customers will continue to do so for as long as they are available”.
Aside from machinery sales and service, Whelan’s operate a successful fuel station in combination with a busy Mace supermarket. This adds greatly to the footfall of the business.
“We get a lot of people stopping for fuel and picking up their groceries. This site has huge potential and we are planning on expanding it more. This won’t happen immediately but we hope to have an exciting announcement very soon.