For RDO Equipment Co., partnership is about people. And it’s more than a definition, more than words, and more than an approach at RDO. It’s part of RDO’s DNA and history, a history that goes as far back as the company does, beginning with the story of how Ron Offutt founded RDO Equipment Co. – and it may never have happened without the role of partnership.
A First Story of Partnership
As a 26-year-old farmer and father, Ron didn’t have any intention of buying his first John Deere dealership in 1968. In fact, when he was offered the opportunity to buy the Casselton, ND dealership, the same one where he was renting equipment for his own farming operation, his initial response was no. But that store would soon become the first of several dozen RDO Equipment Co. locations.
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Ron chose to take a chance on the business opportunity – on a condition. He didn’t want to go it alone, at least, not right away. The previous owner, Grant Mattson, agreed to partner with Ron for the first year to help him learn the business, get to know the customers, and find his rhythm of operating an equipment dealership.
That first partnership set the stage for the next 50-plus years, as RDO would grow and build a business.
Expanding with Partnership
As RDO grew, so too did the opportunity to diversify beyond agriculture. In the late 80s, the business expanded into a new industry: construction.
Lon Kindseth, Director of CE Inventory, has worked for RDO since the company entered the construction industry. His father owned the business that Ron purchased in 1989, the four stores that became the very first RDO construction stores: Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, and Minot, ND.
At the time, Lon was the Bismarck and Minot Store Manager, and chose to stay with the company as it transitioned to RDO. His role proved to be a valuable partnership with the new team, as Lon helped RDO overcome a large obstacle that it faced early-on.
While RDO’s success as an ag equipment dealership was great in the farming world, it actually posed a disadvantage in the construction industry.
“In those early years, we got pushback from customers who knew RDO as an ag dealer,” Lon recalls. “We had to convince those customers that we were just as focused on construction. We proved it to them then and we continue to prove it to our customers now.”
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In addition to the early days of agriculture and construction, RDO’s approach to partnership extended even further than one might realize – literally.
Since the early 90s, Ron explored opportunities to expand RDO internationally. It wasn’t without a partnership approach that RDO successfully entered into its first international venture in 2005, in Krasnodar, Russia.
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Like Ron’s first partnership with Grant, RDO’s international business partnership model goes all the way back to the earliest days, according to Executive Vice President, Ryan Offutt.
“When we started exploring business in Russia and Ukraine, it was absolutely imperative to have a partnership,” Ryan said. At that point, RDO had never built or opened a store outside of the United States, so, it wasn’t just about finding a partner, it was about finding the right one.
“We teamed up with a contact there we’d had for a few years, Andrey Rybalkin,” Ryan said. That first partnership led to RDO International and modeled similar ones the company would develop in all its international businesses, including Africa, Australia, Mexico, Russia, and Ukraine.
RDO saw the value of expanding its business internationally, opening up opportunities to reach a new set of customers. Its next move followed a similar vision.
Recognizing the success of machine guidance technology in the ag industry in the late 90s and early 2000s, RDO believed technology would soon have the same impact in the construction industry – and the team needed to be ready.
Because it needed a new, specialized level of expertise, RDO looked outside the company and its current team members, and partnered with Jay Mercer, today RDO’s General Manager of Technology Support, but who, at the time, was working for another company.
Jay had spent much of the 2000s developing a machine control branch within his company. When that company was acquired, RDO’s Leadership saw the opportunity they needed, in Jay, with his established presence, experience, and relationships in the technology space.
Combining the company’s partnership and entrepreneurial approaches, RDO brought in Jay and empowered him and a small team to chart the course for technology. In 2009, RDO Integrated Controls was officially established, based in the Billings, MT store. Early on, the business exceeded expectations.
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“My five-year goal when starting with RDO was to do amazing things in Montana,” Jay said. “We hit that goal in about four months. That’s what really helped slingshot us to the rest of it.”
It was more than a partnership between RDO and its team members that led to the opportunity and success of RDO Integrated Controls. The real root of the expansion – the real reason for creating the opportunity – was driven by a key partnership piece in the complete RDO Equipment Co. puzzle.
Adding New Value
One of the reasons partnerships are among the highest priorities for RDO Equipment Co. – even baked into its Core Values – is to provide the best service possible to customers.
Much like the entry into machine control and technology was born out of desire to partner with customers on the construction side, it also led to RDO’s most recent diversification move, creating RDO Water to better serve agriculture customers with a focused effort on irrigation.
Similar to what happened upon entering the construction industry, when RDO had to shift away from what it knew and learn something new, the RDO Water business hasn’t been without its bumps, learnings, and changes along the way.
“RDO has been great at selling equipment; we have that down to a science,” Bruce Daughters, Vice President of RDO Water said. “But we weren’t able to take that approach and apply it directly to irrigation. We tried, but realized irrigation was only part of the solution.”
The full solution included working towards a more unified approach between RDO Equipment Co. and RDO Water, and it’s because of these closer partnerships between the entire team – from sales to engineering to credit – RDO Water has earned business and continues to build relationships with several customers in this industry.
Those relationships between RDO and customers are perhaps the best summary of the company’s unique take on partnership. RDO doesn’t approach customers in terms of selling a machine or even after-sale support. It’s a holistic process, one that begins with getting to know every customer, their business, their challenges, and their opportunities – then partnering to ensure every customer is successful, by any means necessary.
“Our people go through hell and high water to take care of customers,” Ron once said, with a grin on his face. And just as he recognized the value of partnering with Grant more than 50 years ago, he realized the importance of viewing customers through more than a sales lens, but through a partnership one.
It’s partly why Ron hired his first manager soon after he purchased the Casselton store. In addition to discovering managing others was not his biggest strength – “Early I realized I was not going to be very good at it,” he recalled, with a laugh – he felt he was missing opportunities to connect with customers, to identify what was important to them and what they needed to run their businesses.
Starting and Ending with Partnership
For Ron, it was never just about him and RDO becoming a success. It was about the success of everyone else involved – manufacturing partners, team members, communities, and, of course, customers – everyone else that was a partner in the business.
But it’s the success of customers that stands out, that became the driving force – and continues to be today. And, still today, it’s one of the things that makes Ron proudest.
“When I hear of great stories of our employees solving a special problem for a customer, I take a great sense of pride in that,” he said.
Partnership isn’t only a piece of RDO Equipment Co.’s past – it’s part of the present and future. Stay tuned all year, as we highlight stories of partnership across the RDO footprint, from the Midwest to Texas, from our Vermeer experts to our Topcon technology specialists, and showcasing all of our stakeholders: employees, customers, manufacturing partners, owners, and communities.
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