29 September 2023
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Every successful business must evolve and develop continuously to keep up with the pace of change, and nowhere is this principle better demonstrated than by the UK’s Leading Auctioneers & Valuers, Harrison & Hetherington.
The buying and selling of livestock is one of the longest established forms of human economic activity, and H&H’s principal Borderway mart near Carlisle is one of the busiest in the country. Ahead of its 50th anniversary at Borderway, H&H is committed to investing in continuous improvements in numerous facilities and in digital processes around the marts and in rings to keep customers up to date with all relevant information in real time and ultimately improve their experience with us. H&H are looking to invest a significant sum on improvements to the site, infrastructure, and systems, all commissioned to improve efficiencies, animal welfare, and of course the health and safety of staff, visitors, and livestock.
But beyond the traditional and familiar sales ring environment, Harrison & Hetherington Managing Director Scott Donaldson explains how the firm is pushing the boundaries of technology to make their service fit for farmers and agri-businesses in a digital future and the virtual world we now live in.
“The heart of our business remains rooted in the old ethos of the auction mart. Our sales rings at Borderway and at our other marts from St Boswells to Kirkby Stephen, all provide a focus and a hub for their local farming communities which has a value for farmers that goes far beyond the function of our marketplaces. Yes, farmers rely on the mart to give them a platform they can trust for selling and buying livestock, but for many, a visit to the mart is the only regular time they leave their farms and meet like-minded people who share their concerns and challenges.
“The mart has always played this vital role and it always will, but during Covid we discovered we could use new technology to maintain this community role and extend it virtually. So today the Borderway Facebook page has almost 60,000 followers and it has become a forum for the UK-wide-farming community and a digital window for broadcasting sales all over the world.”
Throughout nearly 100 years of livestock auctioneering, H&H has led the way in embracing new opportunities to extend, improve and enhance the process of buying and selling. Digital technology has radically accelerated the pace of change and created unimaginable possibilities the company has put to the best possible use. And Laura Millar Head of Strategic Projects & Communications
for Harrison & Hetherington has been one of those instrumental in driving this forward.
“We were one of the initial adopters of the MartEye bidding system and we’ve been integral in
driving its development through the sheer volume of users and working closely with its developers. MartEye evolved during the Covid lockdown from a basic online bidding platform that allows customers to watch and bid in real time from anywhere in the world; it opens up markets for our Pedigree and specialist sales to buyers across Europe and beyond. It also enables us to conduct online timed auctions to ease the export regulations; it allows us to continue trading with those customers and reduces livestock movement.
“The farming community itself has also been quick to embrace new digital opportunities to trade livestock,” says Scott Donaldson, “sellers have fully accepted it as a positive part of livestock trading life, and they take great pride in presenting their stock online to the best advantage either with imagery or videos pre-sale.”
In 2020, Harrison & Hetherington used their online sales technology and expertise to hold the first of its kind - Online Genetics sale. “There had never been a marketplace for farmers to trade this type of product other than via private deals, and we now hold two sales every year for sheep and cattle, with entries upwards of 500 lots for sale from semen to embryo packages, both commercial and pedigree. The sales attract noted breeders from across the UK, and we see this becoming a standard method of trading for this specialist product going forward.”
They’re also leading the way again in offering the UK’s only ‘Export Status Sales’ from Borderway. Working with APHA to meet the requirements of direct export from a market into Europe and Northern Ireland and subject to the health status of vendors’ livestock these sales allow buyers to transport their purchases home on the day of sale.
Another area of the business where Harrison & Hetherington has also embraced the potential of using digital outreach are its sales of farm machinery and equipment. In the past, machinery sales would take place at Borderway every three weeks, and on-farm dispersal sales of machinery tools and equipment happened as and when they arose. Since COVID-19, H&H has sales online and the benefits have been remarkable, says Scott, “The online sales of machinery are clearly much easier and more efficient for buyers and sellers, totally transparent, they allow far more buyers access from distant locations, thus saving time, travel, cost and trouble. We have seen a seven or eight fold increase in sales, raised our clearance rates to an average of 90% and increased the prices by 25%.”
These benefits have been generated further by the application of online sales technology to Harrison & Hetherington’s, off-site, on-farm sales service covering machinery, livestock, and pedigree genes. “By adding digital sales exposure to our on-farm sales package, we can bring all the glamour and excitement of a mart sale to the farm. W e can offer online bidding via a purpose-built rostrum with flat screen TVs all linked to Mart Eye, and so far, have held noted sales across the South of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.
“It makes perfect practical and business sense for buyers and sellers alike. It has Increased our geographical reach throughout the UK and Ireland, it has opened up the market and sales, and it enables us to travel our staff to the sale as opposed to bringing hundreds of lots of tools and machinery, or sheep and cattle to the mart.”
The possibilities of digital or virtual technology for increasing the effectiveness and reach of sales events are still expanding, and they’re opening up an unexpected and hugely significant bonus, says Laura Millar
“Our Agri Expo Shows are a perfect example – thousands of local visitors attend these showcases of breed excellence every year, but since taking the decision to invest in livestreaming them they reach many thousands more remotely, watching onscreen as far away as New Zealand.”
Concluding, Scott was keen to point out that:
“The most rewarding aspect of this trend is that it attracts the younger generation who take digital communication for granted. I think the best thing we can achieve – we must achieve – is to engage the young who represent the future of our industry. We are not abandoning tradition, we’re building on it, and the farmers of the present and future are with us all the way.”