Farm Progress

New kids on the Block

Harlen Persinger

April 1, 2008

10 Min Read

Settling for Average just doesn't fit in the farm equipment business anymore. As state-of-the-art facilities pop up in the countryside these days, companies are not only renovating floor plans, but are revitalizing their role in retail friendliness.

Peaking inside these walls may surprise you. There is now something for everyone, every day of the year.


Visionary digs

When this $2.2 million, 35,000-sq.-ft., 73-acre John Deere dealership opened in November 2006, visitors were awed.

“The footprint for this store began five years ago with a fact-finding tour of eight other dealerships within 50 miles of Kansas City,” says Richard Garber, store manager. “The stockholders saw potential here, had faith in the people and banked on a desirable customer base. Doug Neufeld, president and general manager, and Loren Balzer, building facilitator, then developed a game plan and stuck with it.”

First impression

Folks can enter the showroom from one of three doors. Flanking the showroom floor are the store manager's office, sales offices, ADA-compliant restrooms and coffee counter. There is also a desk area for Deere reps to use when visiting.

The parts counter is located next to the service writer and parts manager's office and adjacent to the tech service library. A plasma TV located behind the counter promotes specials, seasonal items and upcoming clinics to customers waiting their turn in line.

“In this area we wanted to keep techs out of the sight of the customer so they can do their business without interruption — which means looking up parts, getting their pick list, buzzing the parts department for parts and getting back on the shop floor,” Garber notes. “Here, a parts department staffer is designated to the service library area, ensuring expedited service to the tech — the most important customer the parts department has.”

Double dip

The location boasts two shops, one for grounds care equipment and one for traditional ag machines, both of which have outside doors. The area is separated by a wall with an overhead door that isolates the noise.

Three overhead bridge cranes (two-ton capacity, air-driven units) travel the entire length of the rectangular shop area. The toolroom, wash bay and utilities (consisting of water treatment system and waste oil burners) are in a dedicated space that juts out adjacent to the shop area.

A well-organized toolroom allows technicians to see what's checked out and being used. They know exactly where tools are and don't waste time looking for them. The shop is heated with an under-the-floor hot water system. In case of a fire, there's two hours of firewall protection. Should a metal link melt, the firewall door drops, protecting the showroom.

Perks, for sure

The fully carpeted, 900-sq.-ft. conference room can accommodate up to 50 individuals. With a wireless capability, staff can bring their laptops.

Garber notes that outside groups are encouraged to use the room. “This space has become an asset to the community and is a tremendous generator for the store,” he concludes. “Our stockholder group made a commitment to invest in the future of every facet of agriculture. They didn't cut corners and there is value here for everyone.”


Extensive reach

Martin Tractor Company has served Kansas since 1911. It grew to include a construction division, regional training center, and truck and engine division.

“In 2003, the enterprise created a new logo and division,” explains Brian Garrett, ag division manager. “Known as Martin Farm Power, this blueprint included a 16,000-sq.- ft. building that's now part of their 80-acre complex near I-470 and I-35, south of Topeka, KS. The overall mind-set behind this expansion was to make a commitment to serve our customers in all agricultural markets. That growth now includes new stores in Chanute and Colby.”

Well prepared

Logistics play a paramount role in this dealership's capability. The plan includes:

  • 13 dedicated field trucks dispatched out of three locations,

  • Four sites that stock parts,

  • A stock parts inventory totaling nearly $2.5 million, and

  • Four locations with 24/7 parts and service support.

“Having ties with a larger company that can run a shuttle parts service every night between stores allows us to avoid any speed bumps in assisting our customers,” Garrett says. “We feel we're unique because this division is able to access a paint, welding, hydraulics, fabrication and machine shop next door. There's also a dedicated training center in the complex.”

Extra mile

The latest inventory item to fill out Martin Farm Power's resume is its Rogator/Terrogator application equipment line.

“We begin selling and servicing these machines the first of the year,” says Marvin Lamb, general ag service manager. “This particular item is a good fit and further opens up our customer base because there are now numerous commercial applicators across the area. What was a long-range vision has become reality.”

A separate service manager and staff of five technicians, along with a $1.5 million parts inventory, are available to handle this diverse trade area.

High expectations

Martin Farm Power follows strict service goals. The dealership provides:

  • Initial callback within one hour,

  • On-location service within 18 hours for idle machines,

  • Repairs in a 24-hour period for down equipment, and

  • Next day parts if possible for repairs.

“Our goal is to fix any problems on the first trip,” Garrett states. “This organization…has set high standards for service and reliability.”


Red revitalization

This state-of-the-art facility, situated in the heart of the Corn Belt, is part of the Titan Machinery network. It opened for business in August 2007 and features a full line of Case IH products.

“This enterprise is the combination of two other business outlets that were merged into a centralized location,” says Troy Price, store manager. “The dealership offers a win-win situation for the area because the topography of Grundy County has excellent land with a high-profile, established customer base.”

The primary building is located on 10 acres just east of town. It has 25,000 sq. ft. and was designed for efficiency, organization, customer and employee flow, and a sharp image. This space is strategically organized, and there's ample capacity to service and repair large tractors and combines.

Bonanza time

The overall floor plan includes a climate-controlled area where engines can be retooled in a clean environment. An indoor display room bridges off the main show area and has enough capacity to display the largest combine currently manufactured.

Individuals or groups can retreat to a conference room with wireless capability and overhead projection. The room will accommodate 150 people for training and planning sessions. A full-service kitchen area doubles as a break room for mechanics.

All areas of the dealership are geared toward efficient customer service. Technicians have their own reference library, plus a separate entrance to the parts storage area.

Personal touch

As folks enter off the highway, raised display pods, terraced into the hill in a stadium-like arrangement, showcase the latest Case IH products and other big-ticket items.

“Once inside, customers can check out items such as small tractors, skid steers, toys, store specials and various articles of clothing,” Price notes. “This area also features an expansive parts counter, plus individual support/sales staff offices.”

In the shop there's a bulk oil system that meters fluids to each service bay, enabling these spots to maintain maximum cleanliness and productivity. A waste oil burner heats water that supplies floor heating across the work area. There is also a high-pressure wash area, a critical component for getting combines and quad tracks out the door in a hurry. A separate building is used to set up new corn headers, along with augers, tires and other equipment.

“This facility was designed for today as well as for future generations,” Price says. “Every employee is committed to growing this main street business.”


Pure vision

Titanic, sophisticated equipment, consolidation, and streamlined advances in technology propelled Altorfer to open a 21st century agricultural center in 2002. Today, this facility, featuring ag products, serves as the central headquarters for 143 counties in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Indiana.

“During the past 30 years there hasn't been a great deal of money socked into new brick and mortar for ag equipment dealerships across this country,” states Pat Puntoni, general ag manager. “When you visit most of them, it's likely the main building has been added onto several times.”

To overcome an outdated infrastructure, Altorfer decided to build from the ground up just north of Clinton, IL.

The site, located just off Highway 51, has a show lot and 52,500 sq. ft. of space in three buildings. The main structure features a completely open shop area — with no posts or obstacles — which uses hot water in-floor heat. The medium-size parts warehouse, with internal wash bay, is heated by used oil. A third building serves as cold storage for combine headers, auger tubes, sprayer booms and other pieces.


“Maintaining an adequate lifeline into the country is paramount to success,” Puntoni says. “We have 21 field technicians who operate from their home. Our goal is to locate them within a 50-mile radius of our customers. Each one of these technicians is equipped with a 2½-ton truck.”

All the vehicles contain a welder, acetylene torch, an air compressor and a small crane that can lift up to 12,000 lbs. They're also outfitted with a GPS locator, laptop, cell phone and air card.

Extra touch

Another perk is the shuttle system that runs between seven stores located in the territory. Whether servicing Challenger equipment, Lexion combines, Ag-Chem application rigs or the full lineup of Caterpillar machines, customers can order and pick up parts at any location.

Although 90% of all service calls are completed at the customer's location, the 100- × 115-sq.-ft. shop receives plenty of use. Features include an automatic bulk metering system that's programmed to deliver exact amounts of antifreeze, engine oil, transmission oil, gear lube and automatic transmission fluid in a jiffy. And the indoor underground vehicle exhaust system has the capacity to handle five machines at one time.

There's also a conference room with adequate space for 100 individuals. This area doubles as a training center and can accommodate 24 people on computers during educational seminars.


Giant step

Business partners Mike Cripe, Don Clark and Dale Harris knew it was just a matter of time before their equipment dealership required more room.

“Expansion was a no-brainer,” Cripe says. “Besides revamping our parts department, we needed a larger showroom and a good set-up shop area to handle our customer base.”

The trio struck a deal with the city and, to paraphrase an old cliché, “the rest is history.”

Vandalia Tractor Sales has 16 employees. It has nearly doubled the amount of working space that was available at its old site. Located just off Routes 185 and 40W, the dealership covers 8.5 acres. The corner showroom features 7,000 sq. ft. There's also another outlet in Newton, 55 miles away.

Top-notch facilities

The farm store carries a complete line of New Holland tractors and equipment, lawn and garden power machines, plus Kinze and Bush Hog products.

Its streamlined facilities include:

  • A wash bay,

  • A 60- × 80-ft. outside storage building,

  • A 30- × 40-ft. cold storage area to house augers and other parts,

  • Sizeable bays for overhead storage,

  • Forced air furnace heat, and

  • An overhead tube heater.

“One of our most subtle, handiest features is the 70 Vidmar storage cabinets set directly in the wall behind the parts counter,” Cripe says. “This $10,000 investment allows personnel easy access to small part items like cotter keys, a variety of bolts, u-joints and other miscellaneous items.”

Another perk is the 16-ft. overhang that wraps 180 ft. around the main building. The dealership showcases lawn mowers and small tractors here.

Leaving adequate space for a showroom has paid dividends. For example, a producer from 130 miles away stopped in while his wife was shopping nearby. He chatted with one of the salesmen about a New Holland model T8030 tractor featured on the showroom floor. A week later he called and purchased the unit.

“Having top-notch facilities makes a difference with employees,” Cripe says. “There is very little turnover here. Our staff cares about the business and understands the needs of our customers. I definitely feel this is an intangible item that sets us apart from other dealerships.”

About the Author(s)

Harlen Persinger

Harlen Persinger is a photojournalist who lives in Milwaukee. Since 2004, he has freelanced for regional and national farm publications such as Wisconsin Agriculturist and Farm Industry News, plus many others.

Persinger grew up on a farm in Grundy County, Iowa. He received a degree in ag journalism from Iowa State University in 1972. He has traveled to more than 40 countries and has been a member of the American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 1976. In 2016, he was the first photojournalist/freelancer to receive the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2017, Persinger began providing college scholarships to 4-H’ers from his home county who have an interest in photography/journalism and agriculture. He was inducted into the Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame in 2023.

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