OPICO Forty Five Years On - INNOVATION THE KEY

Forty five years on from its establishment OPICO maintains its policy of innovation but has expanded from a purely niche market supplier to a significant player in a number of mainstream sectors

OPICO prides itself in being one of the UK’s largest independent distributor of agricultural machinery. The recent announcement that it has taken on the UK distribution of the Maschio range of products, which includes rotavators, to an extent brings the company full circle. The origin of the firm was in the mid-1960s when Nigel Coleclough, then managing director of Howard Rotavator, met James Oppenheimer an American agricultural machinery exporter. The long-term outcome of the meeting was the formation, by Nigel Coleclough’s son Jeremy of OPICO (Oppenheimer Intercontinental Corporation) in 1966.

“The key was to be different and it chose products that were not manufactured in the UK but were new to the market and new concepts,” explains James Woolway, OPICO’s present managing director. He joined the company as a territory manager in 1994 having graduated from Silsoe College with a BSc in Agricultural Technology and Management. He laughs: “Two subjects that have stood me well”. Three years later he moved to Amazone UK for four years - a period he says has held him in good stead gaining experience with products such as power harrows and drills – before coming back to OPICO in 2000 as sales manager. In May 2007 he bought the company, which began trading in January 2008.

He continues: “The first successful item was the Hesston sicklebar swather which was used for cutting vining peas. This was one of several  products with which the company was ahead of the times; Danuser pto drive post-hole borers, retro-fit turbochargers for tractors, which manufacturers were strongly against at the time, and in 1967, the GT range of gas-fired “mobile” grain driers, strictly speaking recirculating batch driers.
By the mid-1970s the effectiveness of the Hesston swather saw it firmly established with pea growers (it later proved to be efficient in oilseed rape) and OPICO moved from its Essex base in Billericay to spalding in Lincolnshire -  in order to service the machines. This period also saw an increase in the sales of recirculating batch driers. “OPICO was the first company to establish the concept of the mobile drier and by the mid 1980s they were the mainstay of the company; 250 a year were being assembled, spray painted and tested,” Mr Woolway recalls.

The 1980s saw a number of changes. Jeremy Coleclough bought out his partners and the company moved to purpose-built premises at South Road, Bourne, then at the start of the 1990’s it turned to Europe to expand its range with the Evers Vari-Disc  and Hatzenbichler Grass Harrows and seeders.

Out of the niche
Today OPICO is still based in Bourne, but in a 5000m2 facility on the Cherry Holt Road Industrial Estate where it employs 28 people, the majority of which are involved with sales and marketing, assembly, service and parts. The company’s ethos has not changed but its product lines have expanded and it is no longer a niche market specialist. “Our policy is not one of just selling metal, but offering contractors and farmers something new to enable them to do their job better,” Mr Woolway says.

To achieve that objective the company now has three main product streams: OPICO, HE-VA and the most recent Maschio. “OPICO still specialises in niche, innovative products that meet a need; it also introduces new concepts or options with which to do the job,” Mr Woolway explains. In addition to gas-fired GT and diesel-fuelled Magna driers, which now include sizes up to 48t to cater for the mid-size farm sector, market-leading product introductions under this logo also reflect Mr Woolway’s interest in agronomy. The VarioCast system and the concept of Till-Seeding to reduce oilseed rape establishment costs and the Nitro-Jet liquid fertiliser applicator introduced two years ago to reduce the autumn workload by allowing operators to apply liquid nitrogen while drilling rape.

“We sold five to six units in the first year and sales have doubled each year since,” Mr Woolway says.  “It is now selling in sensible numbers and building momentum. I’m sure we will do more this season, especially with the current price of rape.”

Another first on the UK market was the Vari Disc introduced in 1991. A short-coupled disc harrow it uses a large number of smaller discs. “As they are tilted at an angle they pull themselves into the ground so there is no need for weight to drive them in and it can be used on a lower horsepower tractor,” Mr Woolway explains. The implement now has a bank of leading tines to allow cultivating and discing in one pass.

The HE-VA range of cultivations and drilling equipment, launched as a separate brand in 2004, took OPICO in a different direction and gave it more of a presence in the arable sector with a premium quality range of products. “We now have as many HE-VA as OPICO lines and they are positioned as products which add technology to improve on an already existing concept,” Mr Woolway explains.

“ An example is the King Roller range of horizontal folding rolls, whose development was driven from the UK and is going from strength to strength. They have a centre pivot on each section and a pressurised weight transfer system ensures contour following and even consolidation across the working width of the implement.”

Into the mainstream
Earlier this year OPICO announced it was to take over the UK distribution of the Maschio range in November. “We wanted to increase turnover and had grown as far as we could through taking on product from our existing suppliers,” Mr Woolway explains. “RECO has established a good reputation for the brand in the UK and the take overgives us the chance to get involved with a major European supplier with a mainstream range of quality, volume machines that do not clash with our HE-VA lines.

“Power harrows and rotavators are established products but for next season we will add a range of Suffolk or Disc coulteredpower harrow-drill combinations, and mounted and trailed tine drills. The Maschio standard and offset flail mowers will also be added to the range immediately and OPICO will take on distribution of the Gaspardo precision drills from July 2012, this will give us the opportunity to expand into new markets. We have a five year agreement, so we have time to build.”

Crucially each of the brands is sold through a dedicated nationwide dealer network in the majority of areas  the HE-VA and the Maschio marques with the tag line ‘distributed by OPICO’. Mr Woolway explains: “It’s important customers appreciate OPICO is behind the brands and backing them up; we are investing heavily at Bourne in whole goods and parts storage for the Maschio machines.” Staff numbers are also to be increased by two, with a dedicated sales person and a service engineer/demonstrator.

OPICO’s success is reflected by the company’s turnover, which has risen from £3m in 2000 to £9,750,000 for this year. Mr Woolway laughs: “This years figure is a year end forecast but we know that it is accurate as we are a relatively small business and we keep a close eye on it. Further expansion will come from new launches across all the brands and we will continue to introduce innovative, competitively priced products.

“A major strength is that we are independent. We have to be careful with the finances but we can react quickly to changes in the market. The growth would not have been possible without the staff, their attitude towards customers and their loyalty; some have been with the company for 30 years. They are not ‘just in it for the money’ this makes it very easy for me to manage.”

(Farm Contractor & Large Scale Farmer - November 2011 Page 25-26)