Marketing of the Ferguson-Brown/’A’, David Markham
The following article has been reproduced from The Ferguson Club Journal, volume 4. No.1, 1990.
1935 was the year in which Harry Ferguson and David Brown reached agreement to manufacture and market the first Ferguson System tractor. The Model ‘A’. Two companies were formed, one with responsibility for engineering and marketing, Harry Ferguson Ltd., the other, David Brown Tractors Ltd., (a subsidiary of David Brown and Sons) with responsibility for the manufacturing side.
Because the new tractor was so revolutionary, and so small, it was vital to convince both farmers and dealers that the System worked and could be of benefit to them. Ferguson therefore embarked on an extensive marketing campaign. This took a variety of forms.
The first public outing for the Ferguson ‘A’ in England took place on Dormington Court Farm near Hereford in May 1936. Here the tractor is performing the classic Ferguson demonstration of tilling a small fenced compound. Not the hop yards at the rear. Does anyone know which field this was in and anyone who was there? Copyright photo courtesy, Institute of Ag. History and Museum of Rural Life, Reading University
The first public demonstration took place near Hereford at Dormington Court Farm in May, 1936, when Ferguson described his new tractor as being “a revolution in tractor designing”. Other demonstrations followed in Ulster, Eire and Derbyshire. One of the Ulster demonstrations led to the first tractor being sold, No.12 off the production line. This was bought in June, 1936, by Mr R.D. Chambers of Tullynaskeagh, Down-patrick, County Down, on whose farm the demonstration had taken place. Coincidentally, Mr Chamber’s son, John, was a member of Ferguson’s design team!
The new tractor, known simply as ‘the Ferguson’, attracted considerable interest wherever it was shown. The demonstrations were arranged with Ferguson’s usual concern for detail and flair from showmanship (plug leads were taken off and planks thrown under the tractor wheels when ploughing). A common feature of the demonstrations was the cultivation of a roped-off enclosure measuring 6 yards by 4 yards in order to show that every square foot of land could be tilled. This was possible because the unit principle design enabled the tractor and implement to be reversed like a car, making it possible to cultivate the whole of such a small plot without even leaving a wheel mark. The farmer’s response was excellent, and the little tractor proved to onlookers the advantages of the Ferguson System by out-performing heavier, more ¬powerful rivals, especially in difficult conditions. This was the case at a
demonstration at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen; the Institute subsequently placed an order.
On the left – 16cwt and 20hp. On the right 34cwt and 20hp (manufacturers rating).
Little wonder many did not believe!
One aspect of the marketing programme was that Harry Ferguson realised the value of giving demonstrations to well-known personalities in return for the publicity that could be obtained for his machinery. Ferguson himself took charge of these imp0l1ant demonstrations. Demonstrations were given to Lloyd George on his estate at Churt, near Haslemere, Surrey, and to the author, Henry Williamson, on his farm at Stiffkey on the North Norfolk coast. The latter wrote frequently about his tractor in his books (such as ‘The Story of a Norfolk Farm’ and ‘Lucifer before Sunrise’), and his countryside articles for the Daily Express. Despite this publicity, and the fact that ‘free demonstrations without obligation’ were offered, sales were slow.
From late 1938, in an effort to improve sales, some considerable effort was put into building up an export business. Export enquiries were invited, and during 1938 demonstrations took place in Norway which was believed to be a promising market, because in many ways it was ideal terrain for the Model’ A’. Small, very steep fields with many obstructions made it seem uniquely suitable for what the Ferguson System had to offer.
John Chambers on an ‘A’ making a good job of an opening ridge or ‘cop’. Demonstrations like this one in Norway on April 8th 1938 never failed to attract great interest and many, intending to scoff; came away convinced that they had seen the future.
Like other manufacturers, Ferguson realised that agricultural shows provided a valuable opportunity to attract buyers. An early consignment was sent to the 1936 Balmoral Show in Northern Ireland. Ferguson Farm Machinery was subsequently exhibited throughout England, Scotland and Wales at all the main shows (the Royal; Smithfield; Highland; Peterborough; Great Yorkshire).
At these shows a number of Medals were awarded to Ferguson-Brown Ltd. for their power farming machinery, and this of course was ideal publicity. In 1938 a gold medal was won at the Isle of Man Show and silver medals at both the Highland Show in Dumfries, and the Peterborough Show.
Ferguson’s marketing company spent liberally on promotion and advertising. Advertisements aimed at both farmers and dealers were regularly placed in Implement and Machinery Review, Fanner’s Weekly, and Farmer and Stockbreeder, with slogans such as ‘Handsome profits at last’, ‘Monopoly for the distributor’, and ‘It’s easy with the unit principle’. It was stressed that the machinery was all British. Much use was also made of testimonials from satisfied owners, and these appeared both in advertisements and ‘Contact’, the David Brown in-house magazine. A great deal of descriptive literature was produced and made freely available. The main object of the literature was to show that all farm work, whatever the size of the farm, could be carried out by one or more Fergusons as their versatility enabled them to entirely supersede horses.
Ferguson also placed exaggerated claims with the farming press such as ‘extensive demands for Ferguson machinery are being made’. He informed Implement and Machinery Review in May, 1936, that “over a thousand have already been sold”. Consignment photos showing train and shiploads of tractors and implements were sent in to the press. These gave the impression that the tractors and their equipment were selling welI. In truth the machinery was slow to selI, and stocks of unsold tractors were beginning to accumulate. When the inevitable amalgamation of the manufacturing and sales companies took place in June, 1937, it was described in the press an being “a result of the immediate success of the Ferguson hydraulic farm machinery, coupled with the difficulty of meeting demand”.
The training school
In order to encourage sales, and to overcome sales resistance, a special, fully equipped training school was set up by Ferguson at the Huddersfield works in 1936. This was run by Bob Annat, a local farmer’s son. The aim was to improve the standards of servicing, and operation of the tractor, to ensure that their performance was up to scratch. Two week courses were arranged free of charge for. farmers, operators and dealers to learn how to handle, operate and maintain the equipment. Originally the site covered just one acre, but this was eventually enlarged to a 50 acre experimental farm.
From late 1939 onwards, a special effort was made to make known the facilities and the school was widely advertised. Over 400 benefited from the instruction during 1938 alone.
The idea of the training school later became an important part of Massey-Ferguson’s thinking with the present school being set up at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, in the 1940s.
Every tractor was sold with a six month warranty, covering all defects except those relating to tyres (supplied by Dunlop), and electrical equipment (supplied by British Thomson-Houston). A record card was then kept on every tractor sold. Any problems were noted with urgent service needs receiving the promptest attention. Even if there had been no problems with the equipment, this was still noted on the record card.
In order to give speedy and economic service as welI as demonstrations to their customers (both farmer and trade), Ferguson-Brown Ltd. fitted out a number of Austin 10 vans to serve both these purposes. These were fully equipped inside and even included a whole engine which could be pulIed to the back of the van for inspection.
In spite of the determined marketing efforts, and the superiority of the design, demand for the Model ‘A’ developed slowly. This was partly because many farmers remained doubtful of the virtues of such an unconventional, small tractor, and partly because of the cost of changing to the Ferguson System. The new tractor cost £224, almost twice the price of a Fordson, and to buy a Ferguson meant additional expense for the special implements required (at £26 each) whereas a Fordson would probably suit the existing equipment on the farm (it was possible however to buy the tractor on hire purchase, the first payment being £69, with the balance being paid over 12, 18, or 24 months). A major factor why the market was slow to respond was the mid-thirties was an unfavourable period for the economy, and agriculture in particular.
Harry Ferguson and David Brown could not agree on a solution, and decided to go their own separate ways, Ferguson to join forces with Ford in America, Brown to produce his own tractor. Brown agreed to honour all Ferguson-Brown Ltd. engagements in the way of after-sales service, and David Brown Tractors Ltd. were given a license to selI the remaining tractors in stock.
The partnership ended in January 1939, after only 1350 had been bui1t (compared to some 43,000 Fordsons over the same period). In strictly commercial terms the first Ferguson production tractor had achieved little success, but it did sell welI in parts of Scandinavia, Scotland and the Channel Isles, where its special advantages were most useful. Its importance, however, was twofold: firstly, it has gone down in history as the first production tractor in the world to incorporate 3 point linkage, and hydraulic lift with draft control system; secondly, it put David Brown Tractors Ltd. on the road to becoming a major British manufacturer for agricultural machinery, although they now sadly have become part of the Case-International conglomerate.
One of the last ‘A’s, No.1259, owned by the Ferguson Club’s Executive Officer, at a farm sale in Worcestershire, September 1988. Note the original drawbar stays and original 9¬22 Dunlop rear tyres. This tractor has a very detailed history and will be the subject of a future article in the Ferguson Journal. Photograph by George Field
Originall published in Vol. 4. No.1, 1990, Reprinted in Club Journal No.56 Summer 2007
Footnote: The author asks in the first image caption, ‘Does anyone know which field this was in and anyone who was there?” There was a reply in the following Journal, issue 57, Winter 2007/2008:
“Re: the question in Journal No.56, ‘does anybody know the demonstration field in which the first public outing in England of the Ferguson ‘A’ took place’? Yes! I, Ian Ferguson, with the owner’s permission, stood in the exact spot. That information was known to me when it was first published in The Ferguson Club Journal, volume 4. No.1, 1990. Having joined the Ferguson Club in 1987 I thought it my duty to make some enquires, which I did at Hereford library where – upon a small inclusion appeared in a 1936 copy of the Hereford Times which read, a meal was held in the Boothhal! auspice of Imperial Motor Co. for some 40-50 influential farmers, where Harry Ferguson gave a speech before proceeding about five miles east of Hereford on the A348 to the demonstration field at Dormington Court, where about 400 people attended. During my enquires by chance I spoke with one of the three boys in the photograph, he remembered the event hut couldn’t remember where. The man with his hand on the post to the left of Harry Fergusons hat, I believe is a Mr Tom Bradstock who farmed with his father at Freetown, which is about three miles east of Dormington Court, well respected breeder of Hereford cattle, still going strong today. This area was good for growing hops and rearing cattle.”