The business has come a long way since a group of Devonshire farmers got together more than 50 years ago to create a buying group. It now has 55 agricultural and rural stores across the UK, 2,100 staff and carries out a range of activities aside from its retail arm including the manufacture of animal feeds, fertilisers and farm buildings.
Yet its impressive growth has been a real challenge. Throughout, it has had to balance the need to create a viable business with a commitment to maintaining low profit margins and supporting UK agriculture.
As Ockenden explains; “It’s been a time of great change in the farming industry with input prices rising because of consolidation and monopolisation of suppliers, and farm gate prices being driven down by supermarkets. Yet, over the past 15 years we’ve been through acquisitions, geographical growth and a subsequent increase in market share.”
He says that the company’s growth has brought practical problems of its own: “Our expansion means we have acquired a number of legacy IT systems, legacy cultures and a number of different brands. Our IT systems were all bespoke, so that created a problem when we acquired other systems. It was all a bit ‘Heath Robinson’ behind the scenes as we tried to link them all together – all rather clumsy.”
Basically, Mole Valley Farmers suffered from a classic lack of joined up information; in fact, the company had more silos than the farms it served.
It owns several different brands, each with its own customer-facing front, but behind the scenes it needed one integrated back office and a single view of both its customers and its stock profile. In short it needed one fully integrated system.
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