Trade focus: Talking shop with Healion Tractors in Co. Offaly

Tractor enthusiasts were given a rare treat at the recent Tullamore Show, in which a Massey Ferguson 9240 (pictured below) was on display.

Boasting 251hp from a ‘straight’ six-cylinder Cummins engine, these were hardly ‘everyday tractors’ in Ireland during their period of manufacture in the mid-1990s.

They were determinedly big animals for the North American prairies; they offered plenty of ‘horses’ and the apparent solidity of a medieval cathedral.

Nothing short of a hurricane was going to disturb their passage across such plains, thanks largely to the 9t of steel and glass that went into their construction.

Some did escape and make it across the water, including this example. It belongs to Healion Tractors of Arden, Tullamore (Co. Offaly).

Also Read: Rare, monstrous MF perplexes the punters at Tullamore

It was, as Michael Healion (see main/featured picture) explained, purchased mainly as an eye-catcher – a tractor that would stand out from the crowd and draw the attention of the potential customers and passers-by. It certainly did that at the show.

“You could tell by the grass,” said Michael. “It was flattened in a circle around the 7715 [which stood alongside it], but there was almost a trench encircling the 9240, created by the sheer number of people wanting to get up close.”

It will not just serve as a static display either. The plan is to use it for rallies and tractor runs, although there are “a couple of faults with the transmission” to be sorted out first.

The clutch action, for instance, is “in” or “out”, rather than being progressive. As well, there’s a problem deep within the Funk powershift box – causing the engine to cut out at inopportune times.

Yet, these issues did not deter Michael who is a fully-trained fitter – brought up in his father’s tractor business. That business started off in the early-1970s, when John Joe Healion began selling tractors (imported from the UK).

John Joe had originally served an apprenticeship with Tullamore Motor Works, the local Massey Ferguson dealer, before gaining experience with Bord na Mona and then in the truck business. He had always focused on supplying Massey Ferguson tractors; yet he took on a Deutz-Fahr dealership in 1979.

In 1983 Tullamore Motor Works shut its doors, opening up the opportunity to take on the Massey Ferguson franchise which JJ (as he was universally known) gladly accepted.

This arrangement continued until Massey Ferguson once again came along and insisted that, should he want to retain the dealership, then some large investments would be needed.

This was a turning point and, after discussing it with Michael, it was decided to officially part ways with the manufacturer and revert back to dealing in used machines only.

Michael, meanwhile, took a year out in Australia before returning to take up the reigns in 2009.

Servicing and repairs became the larger part of the business. Michael had always had an affection for the workshop and he put his knowledge and abilities to good use, until the firm suffered a rather poor year in 2015. It was, as he explained, something of a “turning point”.

“I was presented with a note from the accountant asking if we had lost stock, as the trading figures were awful. We hadn’t, but it was a wake-up call. Ever since then, tractor sales have taken on a new importance.”

The firm is still a family business. JJ is the “fount of wisdom” in the parts department; Michael sells and services the machines passing through the door, while JJ’s wife keeps the books.

Although they are prepared to trade-in machines of any age, from even the MF 35 onwards, it is the later tractors where Michael sees most potential.

“There has to be a big enough window to make it worthwhile; that typically occurs at around three to four years-of-age.”

Tractor sales are not just about matching a machine to a customer; financing the purchase plays a huge role in making the deal.

There are two banks in particular that Michael uses that not only have attractive interest rates but are also very attentive to the customers’ situations and individual needs.

Financing a deal

“80% of the tractors we sell involve additional finance,” he said, pointing to a couple of tractors in the yard that are awaiting the ‘green light’ on finance packages.

For the future, he sees continued growth in turnover coming from tractor sales. He is well on course to meet this year’s target; yet, he worries that farm incomes may not be sustainable.

Dairy is one sector that he fears is over-heating; he is concerned about the fall-out should the ‘bubble’ burst.

In the meanwhile, he will continue to promote the business via all means possible; that’s where the likes of the aforementioned 9240 plays a role.

“There is always tremendous interest in it; it keeps our name out there in front of the customers.”