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14 December, 2015 - 10:59 By Tony Quested

Nunn better – Thurlow Nunn Group eyes £250m turnover

John Thurlow

Thurlow Nunn Group, the East Anglian agricultural machinery and car dealer, enters its 141st year of  business in family ownership in 2016. While honouring its rich heritage, this is not a business that cares to stand still.

Founder George Thurlow, who established the company in Stowmarket in 1875 as an oil merchant and engineer, would have been proud of the continued ambition of the board, which has helped to underpin considerable expansion in what is getting close to a century and a half of trading.

The Sunday Times, itself founded in 1821, recognises an accomplished veteran when it sees one. Its recent Top Track 250 league tables included the Thurlow Nunn Group, now headquartered in Littleport, on the back of  a 12 per cent increase in sales to £158 million in 2014. It was one of only 10 East of England businesses to make the grade and now employs close on  600 people across 20 operations.

Group managing director, Simon Bottomley, who oversees the strategic direction of the group, says “the business is on course for even bigger growth this year.”

The group expanded its footprint into Bedfordshire via acquisition and also built a new facility in Milton Keynes – an investment of £6.5m. “We have grown quite significantly since 2008,” says Bottomley. “We are not in the business for vanity but to continue to drive the business forward. 

“Generations of executives have created a business that you need to work  at; building assets rather than spending millions in terms of  goodwill. To  some extent we are entering a period of consolidation rather than actively pursuing more acquisitions but we can foresee the possibility of turnover close to £250m in the not-too-distant future.”

The company has an attractive property portfolio underpinning its asset base, says Bottomley. “We want our  growth to be affordable,” he adds. John Thurlow, the current chairman, together with his son and daughter, James and Sally, remain heavily involved in the running of the group,  but Simon says he certainly doesn’t feel like an outsider having been brought into the business in 2002.

Simon who formerly worked for  Schindler plc, explains that the company is first and foremost a family business with inherent family values but also has the foresight to recognise that external industry knowledge is essential to maintain its growth. Before becoming Group MD in 2008, he ran the Thurlow Nunn engineering businesses for six years.

He is also proud of the cultural barometer John Thurlow and his family have maintained throughout the group. The company’s mission statement says: “We at the Thurlow Nunn Group strive, through applying our family values, to be the organisation of  choice for our customers, employees and stakeholders. In so doing, we will provide a sustainable future for all.” 

These aren’t empty words, says Simon. “John, along with James and Sally still go round at Christmas and endeavour to meet every single member of  staff – across 23 operations. They are utterly sincere in their belief that the company is nothing without loyal employees – a large number of whom have themselves been with the business for a good many years.”

Looking to the future, Simon pays homage to the innovation in automotive and agricultural technology that have driven up  the standards of the vehicles it sells and the company has ensured that its employees’ skill sets have kept pace.

With a strong sense of community, the group has excellent links with local schools and colleges and has a vigorous apprenticeship policy to ensure it maintains its talent pool.

Simon says: “The management team cares very deeply about this business. There is pressure when you are running someone else’s company but the family have been very understanding from the outset. I worry all the time about getting it right, but if we maintain our focus and the family values, we will be heading in the right direction.”

Thurlow Nunn – The Foundations and the Future

From its humble beginnings in 1875, the company moved into the supply of steam engines and threshing tackle to become one of  the country’s leading distributors. From steam the company moved into agricultural machinery and is now one of the leading Massey-Ferguson distributors in Europe.

In 1968 the current chairman, John Thurlow, took over the running of the business when his father died and shortly after in 1970 George Thurlow & Sons Ltd merged with their neighbouring Massey-Ferguson dealer to create Thurlow Nunn  Ltd.

In 1982, Thurlow Nunn  bought a small interest in a Vauxhall garage in Stowmarket which became the starting point for Thurlow Nunn car dealerships. 1985 saw the merger with F A Standen Ltd and the company became known as Thurlow Nunn  Standen Ltd.

2007 was an exciting year for  the Agricultural Division with the purchase by the group of eight acres of commercial land just outside of Ely in Cambridgeshire. On two acres of this site it built a new depot to house the head office and the Littleport depot. Its two depots, previously situated at Ely and Downham Market, were amalgamated into one to form the Littleport hub.

The group built a hi-tech workshop which includes computerised oil supply, fume extraction system, internet access points on  technicians benches and automated waste oil disposal. The branch also boasts a superb retail showroom and the benefits of modern office accommodation.

2012 was another year of expansion for  the Agricultural Division, with the successful merger of the Norfolk franchises of Randell Norfolk Farm Machinery. This grew the group’s agricultural branch network with the integration of these new branches in Norfolk. The network of  six branches, located in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, offer a complete package of sales, servicing and parts.

A comprehensive offering of both new and used tractors from key brands Massey Ferguson, Fendt and Challenger, plus agricultural machinery from quality brands including Kverneland, SUMO and HE-VA, give the business a strong supply hand with machinery to fit every requirement.

The Thurlow Nunn Group includes Thurlow Nunn car dealership with franchises in Vauxhall, Saab and Chevrolet. Thurlow Nunn is East Anglia’s largest Vauxhall dealer group.

Following the acquisition of the Warwick Shubrook operation in July 2005 it now  operates from 14 Vauxhall sites across East Anglia including Luton, Dunstable and Milton Keynes. It also offers a full body repair service from two body shops based in Holt and Great Yarmouth.

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: John Thurlow (above right) receiving an award at the Suffolk Show

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