All in the family at Katanning

27 Jul, 1999 10:56 PM

IN an uncertain business climate, Katanning machinery dealer Ian Bolto is certain of one thing: "Things are going to get tougher from now on". His remark is an insightful appraisal of the big picture being painted by big business. A big part of the picture concerns current acquisitions, the most recent of which includes two of the so-called "big three" < New Holland and Case-IH < now merged as one company. And as a New Holland dealer, one could empathise with Ian feeling a little uncertain about the future of a family business that started in 1951 with a staff of three and now boasts 26. But there remains hope that his family-owned business represents somewhat of a bulwark against the rising tide of business opportunism. He can still offer service which could perceptively be a missing component of new-age business rationalisation. "The human element remains a cornerstone of business," Ian said. "It's about honesty, integrity and customers knowing you're going to be there when they want you." As a licensed real estate agent and land valuer, he recently made moves to expand the real estate side of PL Bolto and Co. It is an astute move, particularly as he foresees a similar trend to that happening in the mechanisation industry. But uncertainty is probably the wrong word to describe the business climate. Ian would probably prefer "opportunity", which gives rise to new challenges and trend setting, more in line with his way of thinking. In recent years, Ian has pioneered the introduction of JCB Fastrac tractors and MacDon draper fronts, which have been trendsetters in modern farming practices. The next trend, he says, is survival. "We're fortunate our son Cameron is entrenched in the business, so I have no succession worries, but the business side does present some problems with margins getting tighter for both farmers and dealers," Ian said. And there was almost an inevitability that the "big will get bigger". Forecasts suggest that, within the next 20 years, there would be 25 per cent less farming land because of degradation problems. And farming communities would be on a diminishing scale. "But there is a positive side, particularly for graingrowers," Ian said. "I think Australian farmers are well placed for the inevitable change in grain trading, which will see their overseas counterparts coming off the bottle of subsidies. "It will certainly place Australian farmers on a more competitive footing." For machinery dealers, however, it's not the grain trading that's the worry, more the horse trading. According to Ian, dealers cannot continue to operate on tight margins. "Dealers are going to have to stop doing the deals that are pushing the prices of used equipment closer to new equipment," he said. "It's an industry problem that has to be addressed. "A lot of changeover prices on combine harvesters, for example, are certainly attractive for farmers, but if dealers persist with low changeover prices, they could find themselves buried in a mountain of high-priced trades that an astute price conscious market will not accept. "Current mentality has to change for dealer survival, which in many cases, also means survival of communities." ÿ


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