Aged just 25 and 21, Garry and Tanya Russell made the bold decision to set up their own company, GTR Contracts Ltd, in 2006.
Over the past nine years, the company has experienced substantial growth and now employs 50 members of staff, has a major regional business award to its name and more than 450 clients from national energy providers and forestry bodies to private estates and farms.
Operating from a 26acre site at Terraughtie Farm, Dumfries, GTR offers a diverse range of services construction projects, agricultural services including drainage works, soil aeration/subsoiling, fertiliser/lime, dung and slurry application (tankers and umbilical, with choice of disc injector or dribble bar) 3,500-gallon road tankers, hedge cutting, spraying and, new for this year, a complete silage package as well as small plant and machinery hire, winter maintenance and snow clearance, plant and machinery haulage and onsite maintenance and repairs.
In March 2014, GTR Contracts Ltd was named the Outstanding Performing Business with more than 25 employees at the Dumfries & Galloway Business Awards, judges describing the company as “demonstrating exceptional passion in identifying and growing its markets and customer base”.
They praised the Russells’ “hard work, knowledge and dedication” and their “strong commitment to investing in the skills of their workforce”.
Garry has a background in both farming and construction. On leaving school he worked as a general farm worker and later became increasingly involved in operating machinery. At 19 he became self-employed, getting work from an agricultural contractor, carrying out stock and tractor work as well as milking cows in the evenings and at weekends.
He went on to operate a grader for the Forestry Commission for four years, while still doing farm work, saving hard to get married and buy a house.
On leaving school, Tanya completed a degree in business information technology and management at the University of the West of Scotland in Dumfries and was working as an office manager.
‘We have a relationship with our clients, they know who they’re dealing with. They know we’ll do our best to provide good service’
The couple married in August 2006 and, on returning from their honeymoon, Garry announced he wanted to set up his own contracting business.
“I’d been helping with Garry’s invoicing etc for a while but I was understandably cautious at first as we were starting out in the midst of an economic downturn,” says Tanya. “However I gradually got more and more involved, at nights and weekends.”
Without any form of financial help, Garry hired a tractor and a grader and very quickly built up a steady workload from his existing contacts: “We had to work extremely hard,” says Tanya. “We had no grants or loans to start the business, we had to closely manage our cash flow. We were fortunate to have some really good clients, though we had to prove ourselves to them.”
In November 2006 GTR took on two staff members and Garry says: “Because things moved so quickly we didn’t realise what we had done. It was all a bit of a whirlwind,” Tanya adds.
When the couple’s first child, Harvey, was born six years ago, Tanya took nine months off work during which time she became even more deeply involved with GTR. When it was time to return to her job, she realised GTR would have to employ someone to do what she had been doing so she decided to work for the company exclusively, running the office taking care of tendering, health & safety, accounts…
The couple who had a daughter, Maisie, in 2013 have a perfect combination of practical and business expertise which seems to have been a magic formula for GTR.
“We are very different, our skills lie in completely different areas” admits Garry, “this is only a good thing to drive our business forward we need the combination of the two of us.”
The Russells now have two office staff Sara Reay and Gail Goldie as well as a plant manager, John Reid.
‘This business has become a way of life for us and our young family’
After the early days running GTR from a rented shed at Shawhead, Garry and Tanya came upon the perfect base for their growing business, Terraughtie Farm, in 2010. “We’d been looking for somewhere with a couple of acres and when this place came up it was much more than what we’d originally wanted but we both fell in love with it,” Tanya says. “It’s close to the town but near the A75 too and had the cottage, which is now the office, outbuildings, a large shed for a workshop and a family home for us.” Since moving to Terraughtie, GTR has doubled in size.
While still specialising in making and reinstating rock roads, with clients including forestry organisations and several new and operational wind farms, the company has gradually built up and expanded its agricultural services and, this year, is introducing a forage harvester to offer the complete silage operation. Garry will also be offering a Silapactor to aid compaction in the silage pit.
Although most of the company’s work is in Dumfries & Galloway and Ayrshire, GTR works nationally and has had contracts on Arran, Mull and in Wales.
“We provide a good service,” says Tanya. “We have a relationship with our clients, they know who they’re dealing with, and we don’t let them down. They know they can get us at any time and we’ll do our best to provide a good service.”
That philosophy was one of the qualities admired by the judges for the 2014 Dumfries & Galloway Business Awards.
“We didn’t think for one minute that we’d win that award,” says Tanya. “But it was so nice for us to receive that recognition because this business has become a way of life for us and our young family.”