For almost 140-years, the sixth-generation family business Halse South West, has been supplying farm machinery to Westcountry farmers.
The family’s fourth generation member, Peter Halse is looking forward to his son and grandsons continuing the legacy of their forebears.
For Peter Halse, the great grandson of the founder of one of the Westcountry’s longest standing farm machinery suppliers and grandfather to the company’s sixth generation members, the secret to his family’s enduring success is the forging of trusted, grassroots relationships.
“When I started taking on more responsibility from my father in the 1950s, I used to take a map and drive across Devon and knock on doors – I wanted to know where every farm was and why they didn’t do business with us!” recalls the 78-year-old, whose son Philip is now at the helm of the family business. I used to love going from farm to farm.
We have served many generations of family farms – some of which go back to Norman Conquest. Our business was built on personal contact and recommendation, so I wanted that to continue. Our business is not just about selling and repairing machines, it’s all about those long standing, trusted relationships within the farming community, helping to keep their farms thriving.
The business, which has around 3,000 customers from Swindon to Penzance and employs more than 30 people, started out as Corn and Seed Merchants. In the mid to late 1800s Peter’s great grandfather, John White Halse farmed in the Roncombe Valley near Sidbury, diversifying into grain trading to supplement farming.
At the turn of the 19th century, Peter’s grandfather John, known as George, developed the corn merchants’ business, establishing premises at Honiton New Street and Sidmouth Railway station. Committed to the community he lived in, George was a local politician, leading Sidmouth Borough Council, serving as a Devon county councillor and running as a Liberal Parliamentary candidate three times.
George’s son, John Bernard, joined the business aged 14, not long after the Great War and the Great Depression had completely changed the social fabric of farming in Britain. He devoted 70-years to the business; as the Second World War raged, even during the Blitz, John would take the train up to London every Monday for business.
The effect of the war nearly destroyed the business. Hitler and his U-boats didn’t much like import-export businesses, so Dad would buy grain coming down by boat from Aberdeen and then transport it to the South West for onward sale.
In these difficult times, John decided to diversify into selling farm machinery and acquired Michelburghs foundry in 1942 which had an all-important machinery franchise.
Dad’s company slogan was ‘Everything for the farm’. He sold coal, provided a travelling farrier’s service, thatching, and he even bought and harvested whole fields of turnips.
John started printing the firm’s pocket-sized catalogue, Halservice, which he sent to over 20,000 farmers. The catalogues’ front covers have recently been reproduced and adorn the walls of the firm’s new headquarters. Today’s catalogue is sent to over 10,000 farmers.
The move to state-of-the-art new buildings near Daisy Mount junction at the beginning of 2017, represents a historic moment for the family enterprise, which had been located just off Honiton High Street for 75 years.
Peter’s son Philip, who joined his father in the business in 1986, has been integral in driving the business forward with voracious enthusiasm, not unlike his grandfather’s. Peter entrusted the running of the company’s sales department to Philip before he turned 20, and over the ensuing decade, working closely together, the father-son team dramatically increased sales.
In 1996, we took the momentous decision to quit the tractor market and the result was an almost immediate and substantial increase in trade,” Peter said. “The foundations of today’s new premises were laid on that day.
Today, with 15 mechanics, 12 service vans and four delivery vehicles, Halse South West sell, assemble, deliver and maintain over 50 machines a week.
The family’s legacy is set to continue into its sixth generation with Peter’s grandsons Ed, 19, who joined the company this spring, and George, 17, who will join after completing his A-levels at Exeter School next summer.
Each member of the family brings something new and valuable to the business. With such strong and stable foundations and fantastic new headquarters, we can only begin to imagine what our sixth generation might achieve!