Family farming business thriving in lockdown
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STARTING a business at any time is a brave step; starting a business in a pandemic even more courageous.
Alan Gaul (50) has been part of his family’s 200-year-old Little Whiterashes farming business all his working life, but saw the need to diversify and adapt for the future.
That’s why last January, with the support of his parents Pat and Aileen, sister Gill and part-time employee Clare Scott, he launched an offshoot family business, drawing on his past experience in the agriculture plant and machinery industry.
What he hadn’t reckoned on when setting up PJ Gaul and Co, was a pandemic hitting the entire country within three months.
However, the pandemic, far from hindering the new business, has given it a boost, with more people working from home and looking to Mr Gaul and his niche products and expertise.
The company also supplies a range of forestry products, firewood processing equipment and offers managed services.
“Lockdown has probably helped us to a degree with the fact people are spending more time at home and looking to do their own projects,” he said.
The family farm is a 120 acre arable set up, predominantly for malting barley, so Alan saw the need to diversify to ensure it remains sustainable in the future.
His dad Pat is 86 so is largely retired but remains on hand to offer advice and support to his son.
With the help of his sister Gill on the admin side and Clare marketing the new business through social media, Mr Gaul has been able to build up a diverse client base in the last 12 months.
The biggest challenge to the fledgling business has been Brexit, with a lot of their products coming from Italy and Sweden.
“A lack of containers on the continent is a problem and transport companies are finding it difficult to collect goods,” said Alan.
Aside from dealing in new machinery, Mr Gaul will also try to source specialist second hand equipment for customers.
That gave rise to a slogan which he has adopted as the company motto, which came from a customer in Shetland.
“He came in for one thing and I ended up supplying him with several things. He said we really are the ‘can-do company’.
“I sourced one machine for a customer in southern Ireland when he was looking for something a little bit unusual.”
He has had enquiries from all over the UK and further afield, including Kent, Orkney, Shetland, and even Canada.
“All of this from a business in central Aberdeenshire, and that is thanks to the power of social media,” he added.
The initial success of the business has seen it named as the fastest growing dealership in the UK by leading brand Kellfri.
“They told me that my target I had with them when I started last year, I exceeded in six months,” said Alan.
Mr Gaul is able to source a wide range of forestry equipment, including Balfor log splitters, equestrian equipment, and also offers a firewood processing service.
Customer experience and service are key to the success of the business so far, and feedback has been positive through social media.
Mr Gaul is president of Turriff Show, which has sadly had to be cancelled for a second consecutive year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On the flip side, that will give him more time to focus on his new business as he heads further into 2021 and continues to deal with the twin challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit, while looking to grow the business and maintain the malting barley operation too.