Belle Mead Garage, Longtime Area Business, Adds Massey Ferguson Tractors to Its Inventory
QUALITY AND SERVICE: “The tractors have brought us new customers and a whole different business opportunity. We’re enjoying this new adventure, and offering the best service for all our customers is always our priority.” Belle Mead Garage owners (from left) Kip Higgins and Chris Carnevale, and former owner Roy (Murph) Higgins, are shown by the Massey Ferguson GC sub-compact tractor. The most popular seller, it is very versatile, and not only cuts grass, but can include the addition of a back hoe and front loader, among many other features.
By Jean Stratton
A lot of changes have occurred since Leroy Higgins opened Belle Mead Garage in 1927. The location at Route 206 and Station Square in Belle Mead was then surrounded by farmland, and Higgins first lived in the attic of the original building. No SUVs, minivans, or Jeeps were in evidence in those days, nor were seat belts and airbags. There was not even a glimpse on the American horizon of Hondas, Toyotas, or Kias.
The longtime family business, now owned by Higgins’ grandson, Christopher (Kip) Higgins and Chris Carnevale, has built an outstanding reputation and is known for exceptional customer loyalty. As one longtime customer put it: “Their word is their bond, and a handshake is their guarantee of dealings that are honorable throughout. They are outstanding people.”
Three generations of Higgins men have seen to it that their reputation has remained intact through all the ups and downs of the automobile industry.
Following in his father Roy (Murph) Higgins’ footsteps, who owned the garage from 1959 to 1995, Kip Higgins began working in the garage as a boy, pumping gas, washing cars, and then working on them. Being a part of Belle Mead Garage is all he ever wanted to do, he says. He came on board full-time in 1982, and then became owner when his dad semi-retired in 1995. Murph Higgins is still very much on the scene, sharing his knowledge and experience every day.
A Chrysler dealership for 74 years, Belle Mead Garage was one of nearly 800 dealers across the country to lose their franchise in 2009, during the severe economic downturn of that time.
However, it continued to be successful as it focused on pre-owned cars, service, and rentals, and it has served as an important automotive resource for its many longtime customers, as well as new ones.
And now, Belle Mead Garage has turned another corner. In 2019, it added Massey Ferguson tractors to its inventory of vehicles, and this has been a big success.
“Initially, our forecast was to sell 25 tractors the first year, and we actually sold 87,” says co-owner Chris Carnevale, who brought the idea of the tractors to Kip Higgins.
Carnevale, a longtime friend of the Higgins family, had originally worked at the Garage when he was in high school. He later moved to Wisconsin, where he became general manager of a Massey Ferguson tractor dealership. Massey-Ferguson is known for high quality tractors and farm machinery.
Returning to New Jersey and knowing the long and respected history and reputation of Belle Mead Garage, he thought the tractors would be a perfect fit. He was exactly right!
“Massey Ferguson wanted to open in the east, and this was a good opportunity,” he explains. “We are the only Massey Ferguson dealership in New Jersey.
“More tractors are sold in the state today than was the case 50 years ago. Then, there were many more larger farms, and they would have two or three tractors. Today, there are fewer big farms, but many more smaller farms, and so more tractors are needed.”
“There are not as many professional farmers now, but there are hobby farmers, who do it for their enjoyment,” continues Carnevale. “Some have cows, vineyards, produce, etc. They all need tractors.
“Then, there are boutique farmers, who earn their living farming, and custom grow their crops. For example, they might custom-grow certain vegetables for chefs. And they also need tractors.”
In addition, as he notes, a number of individuals like to have tractors for assorted purposes, such as clearing the land, cutting the grass, plowing, and even using them as snow blowers.
“Also, a lot of nurseries and vineyards in the area are our customers since they need tractors. And, many people in the region have horses, and they’ll need tractors for hay, clearing the land, and other purposes.”
The majority of tractors at Belle Mead Garage are Massey Ferguson, but recently SCAG commercial zero-turn models for cutting grass have been introduced to the inventory.
The tractors have proved so popular that the business has gone beyond Mercer, Somerset, and Hunterdon counties, and expanded statewide, as well as into parts of New York and Pennsylvania.
“It has definitely exceeded our expectations,” says Carnevale. “Also, sometimes customers will come in for service or to buy a car, and they may not know we have tractors. Then they may become interested in getting a tractor. Or it can be the other way. They’ll come in for a tractor, and maybe see a car they like, or then bring in their own car for service.
“We also service tractors, including repair and maintenance. It’s good for a tractor to be checked once a year. We will pick up and deliver, and in some cases, we make house calls if the tractor is very large. In addition, we have parts for the tractors.
“Also, if people are new to tractors, we will provide instruction and information.”
Noting how life not only takes interesting turns, but sometimes comes full circle, Carnevale points out that Kip Higgins’ grandfather, Leroy Higgins worked for VanZandt Tractors in the 1920s before he opened Belle Mead Garage.
Of course, customers still count on the company for its large selection of pre-owned cars, and all have a warranty unless specifically marked, notes Kips Higgins. “Service is our specialty. We have different generations of customers from the same family, who appreciate our personal attention, which include service reminders and free loaner cars, when needed.
“We have stayed small so that we can do everything ourselves, and our customers know that they can depend on us. Now, we are excited about the introduction of tractors, something new that we can offer our customers. We’re very optimistic about the tractors’ future at Belle Mead Garage.”
Belle Mead Garage is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 pm., Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (908) 359-8131. Website: www.bellemeadgarage.com.