For the past 40 years Lisburn man Robbie Hewitt has thoroughly enjoyed a passionate career working on and selling John Deere tractors and machinery but has now decided to call it a day.
Robbie, 63, has just retired as sales director with Johnston Gilpin and Co Ltd, the John Deere dealership based on the Lisnoe Road outside Lisburn.
His career has been an enjoyable one but Robbie has witnessed many changes over his four decades in the business, with technology being the major player.
“I started off with Johnston Gilpin and Co way back on January 1, 1976 as a mechanic under the watchful eye of Donn McConnell who was the managing director at that time,” said Robbie.
“I had previously spent seven years working with Stevenson Brothers as a mechanic straight after leaving school.
“Stevensons sold Nuffield and Leyland tractors and there were not too many green John Deere tractors around at that time.
“I worked as a mechanic, and subsequently foreman mechanic, in Gilpins until 1985 when I moved into sales and I stayed in that department until Christmas just past when I retired.
“Around eight years ago I was made sales director and worked closely with Donn’s son Randal, the current managing director.”
When Robbie started selling tractors John Deere units were much more popular with the 40 Series high in demand closely followed by the 50 Series.
However, in the last five years Robbie has witnessed a massive change in technology used in tractors as well as self-propelled forage harvesters.
Robbie was responsible for selling the majority of John Deere self-propelled foragers in Northern Ireland for many years.
“Having a mechanical background helped me sell tractors as I could explain everything about the machine to the customer,” said Robbie.
“I travelled all over County Armagh and parts of counties Down and Tyrone selling John Deere.
“During my 40 years I gained many loyal customers who continued to purchase machinery off me right down through their family generations.
“When customers are investing a great deal of money into a tractor or machine, they like to buy off someone they know and that is what I found over my time selling.
“I started selling in 1985 which was a rather wet year and farmers were spending money buying tractors with four wheel drive. It was a good year for sales.
“However, the next two were difficult as most of the purchasing had been completed in 1985.
“Sales experience is gained and based on good relationships with customers and that’s what helped me over the four decades.
“During the past five years I have noticed the most changes in tractors and machinery with technology coming leaps and bounds.
“With GPS, telematics and emission controls technology has increased dramatically from the simple tractors in the 80s,” he said.
Robbie is very passionate about John Deere and understandably feels it strange not to be going into the dealership on a daily basis.
“People keep asking me what I am going to do now in my retirement,” said Robbie. “My simple response to them is that I have never retired before so I am not too sure what I will do,” he laughed.
Randal McConnell, managing director at Johnston Gilpin and Co Ltd, said: “Robbie Hewitt has had a long and productive career with Johnston Gilpin and Co Ltd. Throughout his time here, he must have sold at least 1,000 new tractors and the same number of second hand and upwards of 60 new self-propelled forage harvesters, plus combines, mowers and all types of agricultural machinery.
“When Robbie started with the company it had only been going for just over seven years and I was only 10 years old! Hence he has been here my whole working life.
“As a young mechanic Robbie was well known for single handily lifting six cylinder heads and setting them onto engines during rebuilds which is no mean feat and one that health and safety wouldn’t allow you to do nowadays!
“As a salesman he was dependable, honest and well liked, normally very cool but could put you down with a few well-chosen words.
“Robbie will be missed by all at Johnston Gilpin and Co Ltd but before he left he spent many hours quietly training our sales staff imparting his 40 years of combined knowledge.
“He has worked hard all his life and we thank him wholeheartedly for all those years and wish him a long, restful and happy retirement.”