It's big, 43,500 square feet. It has a special floral display unit out front courtesy of the employees and the general contractor. You walk into an 'eye catching' 100' x 160' 'Consumer Display' section complete with a 10' high shelf showcasing various John Deere 'consumer goods'. And greeting you at the retail counter is a colorful prairie scene with an old country barn, woodlots, fields of corn and wheat plus a depiction of the original 1-bottom plow that launched the John Deere machinery company. A show place of sorts? Yes, indeed.
Located at Sauk Rapids and scheduled for a December 3 & 4 'grand opening'
this is the newest facility of Midwest Machinery Company. Explained Gene
Seipel, General Manager, "This is the start of the Christmas shopping season
so our consumer goods section will be full of John Deere toys, clothing,
bikes, backyard barbeque tools, lawn and garden items, even Gators. We're
making our grand opening a public event for both farmers and non-farmers."
Being next door to St. Cloud, this newest store touts lots of consumer goods such as small tractors, mowers, and garden tillage equipment. However, Seipel knows it's the farmtrade that pays most of the bills, so catering to both groups is key.
Headquartered in Glencoe, Midwest Machinery now has store locations in Howard Lake, Glenwood, Alexandria, Sauk Center, Paynesville, St. Cloud, Stewart and Princeton. Designing a new John Deere store sounds like a big challenge. Not so after you've done a few. Seipel did his Howard Lake store in 2006. The Glencoe store was built in 2007. However he scouted other John Deere stores four years prior to the Howard Lake store. "The layout of those two stores worked well so we're pretty much a repeat up here," he confided.
Starting in 1976, Seipel, age 60, is now a 34-year veteran of the farm machinery world. Before that he did a stint as an over-the-road semi driver, then on the road again this time selling fertilizer. His route included frequent passes by a John Deere dealership in Lincoln, NE.
"I grew up on a farm near Maryville, MO. I liked farming and always wanted to farm but our farm wasn't big enough for us boys to get into farming with Dad," explained Seipel. So one day on the fertilizer sales route he swung into that John Deere dealership at Lincoln. "I talked with the owner and simply asked if he needed someone in parts, sales, or whatever."
The owner said he needed a parts guy, which seemed strange to Seipel since the store already had two guys working in parts. "We talked a bit more. He hired me right then and there," he chuckled. Two weeks later he reported for work, but he worked alone. The two previous employees had been fired.
"I liked the work. I had already decided I wanted to eventually have my own store. But I didn't have any money so I worked three years at this Lincoln store. Then I switched to McKee Industries in Lincoln which manufactured John Deere snow blowers and hay stackers. But the hard times of the early 80's caught up with them.
"Next I worked for a John Deere dealership in Wayne, NE as a salesman thinking I could buy into that business eventually. But that wasn't working out so I talked with the area John Deere rep telling him I wanted to buy a John Deere store somewhere. That was 1981 and he started looking. In 1982 he told me he had a guy in Minnesota looking for a partner to run a John Deere store that he was about to buy.
"At that time John Deere didn't want him to run a John Deere store because he was still farming. So I got hooked up with him and we started looking for a store. Our first look was in Buffalo Center, IA but we didn't get that one. Later he called me on a Sunday morning asking me to drive to Tracy, MN because the John Deere store there was for sale. That was 1983.
"We made the deal on that Tracy store with my farmer friend becoming my 'silent partner.' He continued to farm. He had money and was a good silent partner. In 1987 we bought our second store in Slayton and that worked good too."
But Seipel got the itch once again and in 1994 he decided to sell out to his partner. Next calling was doing inventory control work for various John Deere stores, plus back to the semi-driving routine one weekend each month, plus getting into restoration of old John Deere tractors. "Life was good," he chuckled.
However in 2001, his current partners in Midwest Machinery, Charlie Swenson and Curt Weber, bought stores in Glencoe and Cokato, MN from a dealer going out of business. Related Seipel, "Charlie was a neighboring dealer to me in Tyler at that time so I knew Charlie quite well. He asked if I wanted to be a John Deere dealer again?"
Seipel said he held off, for a while. But finally in January 2002, he and his wife agreed to get back into the business as general manager and part owner with Swenson in the Glencoe and Cokato stores.
"We moved from Tracy to Glencoe which is where we now live. The third partner in Midwest Machinery, Curt Weber, was running the Glenwood, Sauk Centre, and Alexandria stores at that time. Later he and Charlie bought Paynesville. Next we had the opportunity to buy the McCormick Bros. operation at Stewart. Then in "05 the St. Cloud dealer retired so we bought that store." In 2007 this three-man cadre formed up as Midwest Machinery Company, the corporate structure today.
Seipel said when he first announced plans to build a new store in Sauk Rapids, he got flooded with contractors wanting to bid on the project. "I whittled it down to five general contractors bidding this project," said Seipel with his final choice being a Lakeville, MN construction firm because of the siding material he proposed.
Marty Kiehm, Kiehm Construction, was an experienced builder using a pressed steel/foam panel product that presented a very attractive 'finished' look to the entire facility. Plus this material speeded construction and the Kiehm bid was low dollar. Kiehm Construction finished the project a month early and under its initial bid. Included in this new building is an 18' x 30' Schweiss Hydraulic door at the south end of the 100' x 200' shop.
Related Seipel, "We knew about Schweiss. I had lived and worked 20 some years in southwest Minnesota so the Schweiss name was nothing new. So I suggested to Marty Kiehm that he get a price from Schweiss because I wanted to try something different. I'm totally satisfied with the results. We haven't had any issue with the Schweiss door."
The big 30' Schweiss hydraulic simply makes it easier to get big equipment, tractors with duals, combines, field cultivators, etc., in and out of the shop. Most combine headers come in a platform trailer so a wider door wasn't necessary. Seipel preferred the big hydraulic doors at both ends but his employees said 'no' because 'smaller lawn-mower and shop work' is done at just one end of the big shop. Big doors on both ends might create 'equipment congestion' they reasoned.
Midwest Machinery now has about 175 employees totally with 22 at the new Sauk Rapids store. "You can stick all sorts of money into a building, and have lots of different ideas on how to make the business go. But it always boils down to the quality of your people that are doing the work and meeting the people. We've got some great employees. You can't do anything without good people. We've got the best! That's what we hang our hat on," summed up Seipel.
There's lots of longevity in these Midwest employees also. Alvin Rechow, 73, is a tech mechanic at the Stewart store. Vern Hahn, 73, works sales at the Glencoe store. Plus there are several more in their 60's.
The Seipel family includes wife Barb, Leah, 30, Charlie, 28, Paul, 25, and John, 16. All three owners of Midwest Machinery have sons in the business, Andrew and Ben Swenson, Corey and Brian Weber, and Paul Seipel.
His take on the fall harvest and the 2010 year for farmers? "Better than average. We've had good growing conditions up here. Corn and soybean markets are surprisingly strong. I know that makes it tougher for the livestock guys. But I think farmers will be buying iron this winter partly to ease their tax situations. And I know our shops will be busy all winter getting their equipment repaired and ready for spring," concluded Seipel.
Midwest Machinery employs two full-time AMS (Agricultural Management Systems) technicians traveling all nine stores assisting with any GPS guidance issues, auto mapping, yield tracking, etc. Each store also has an AMS tech specialist to do 'on site' repairs as needed. Virtually all new John Deere tractors and combines are shipped with the electronic harnesses already in place but choice of adding a GPS system is still a customer's option. "About 90 percent of new rigs however now get equipped with a GPS system," said Seipel. His stores also provide 'add on' units that can be wired into any brand of equipment, and just about any age of equipment also.
A 70' x 100' aircraft hangar was Marty Kiehm's start in the construction world 32 years ago. Today Kiehm Construction Inc., Lakeville, MN, continues to do hangar and also office buildings, warehouses, industrial projects and specially designed environmentally controlled storage facilities. One of his nicest projects this season was the 43,500 square foot building which now houses Midwest Machinery Company's newest John Deere store at Sauk Rapids.
Growing up on a farm, Kiehm said he learned his work ethic from his father and grandfather. But getting into the construction world didn't happen until after earning a business degree in college.
This was his first John Deere store though he had previous construction work on a Case-IH store in Fairmont. Reflecting on the two stores already done by Midwest Machinery, Kiehm stated, "We basically tried to improve on what they had already done."
He describes his firm as a 'value engineering company' meaning they don't seek sub-contractors just because they work cheaper. "We look for qualified people that will do the project at a fair price. The fact that we brought this project in under budget and ahead of schedule is a tribute to our sub contractors. You can do all the managing you want but if you don't have the right crews doing the right things, you simply don't have a good project," said Kiehm.
Unique at this new John Deere store are the special walls utilizing a composite polyisocyanrate panel with R25 insulation value and a steel 'skin' both outside and inside. Kiehm calls it a structural wall panel presenting a clean, attractive look with far more durability than your typical metal panels. Purchased precut in various lengths depending upon placement location, this material is quicker and more easily installed, thus cutting costs appreciably. "Your in-place cost is about one third of precast. It's just a fantastic product," he said. His firm has nine years experience working with this product.
Working with Schweiss doors, either bifold or hydraulic, is 'old hat' for Kiehm who has done many aircraft hangars where the Schweiss bifold is traditionally the first choice of aircraft owners.
"This building called for a 20' clear height plus a 30' width so a Schweiss hydraulic was a perfect application," commented Kiehm who has done business with Schweiss for several years. "Everything seems to be top notch in their products, and if any service is needed, they react quickly. They just make certain all the bugs are worked out and when you're dealing in doors, that's a must." The Kiehm crew fitted the Schweiss door with the same panel material used in the walls of the building.
He also commented that doors, regardless of usage, have become much more a central feature of an entire building. Architects and contractors realize that outfits like Schweiss can build doors with virtually any design feature thus making the door both more functional and more attractive. "In essence the Schweiss people will customize your door to exactly the dimensions and artistic appeal you want," summed up Kiehm.
He sees this foam panel material as being a convenient and highly effective way to build more insulation value and structural integrity into both bifold and hydraulic doors while also presenting a more attractive appearance to the entire structure.
He's a mechanic at John Deere, Stewart, MN. He's often fixing equipment for some third-generation John Deere customers. The good Lord willing, he intends to keep on being a John Deere mechanic. And when asked how he stays healthy, he simply responded, "I think that's the answer. If I had retired at 60 or 62 sitting around doing nothing, I maybe wouldn't even be around anymore. My job gets me lots of exercise. I'm moving around, up and down getting into combines and tractors. That I think is what's keeping me going." Talking is Alvin 'Alvie' Rechow, now a chipper 73 years old.
Alvie says his work history started his senior year in high school (1955) putting in his first 29 years at Johnson Hardware, Hector. "They closed in 1979 so I went out to the John Deere dealership at Stewart and I've been here ever since," he reflected noting that over the years John Deere has sent him to several 'training schools' to update on new mechanics, new diagnostic equipment and new procedures for getting the job done. "Plus you learn right here on the job too. There's lots more technology today but the John Deere equipment keeps getting better also. It's built stronger. It does so much more work for farmers."
Being a mechanic today means working on much heavier equipment. Chuckled Alvie, "When I first started it was setting up a 2-row planter, or fixing a 30 hp tractor. Now we're working on 35-foot headers, 16-row cornheads, 400 hp tractors, even 48-row planters. There's a world of bigness out there today."
Just maybe this generic fixture at the Stewart shop will get down to a five-day schedule this winter. But for now with harvest in high gear, it's six days a week for Rechow and his fellow mechanics. Alvie gets along well with the younger mechanics. They hired five new shop guys this year. They ask me some questions now and then. "They're a real good bunch of kids to work with," is his take on his younger colleagues. "I show them shortcuts on how to do certain jobs. Down the road they'll become real good John Deere mechanics."
And his advice to farmers? Stay on top of your maintenance and your equipment will keep on working said Alvie. "And each fall before that combine goes in the shed, clean out all the chaff. If you don't the mice will be in there chewing away on the electronic harnesses. That's a problem with more and more guys who don't blow out the chaff."