In 2018, RDO Equipment Co. is celebrating 50 years of partnerships, gratitude, and vision in the equipment industry. But RDO Equipment Co. didn’t become the company it is overnight. It began with one store and one man, Ron Offutt, who took a chance,
then another, all in the name of entrepreneurial spirit. That’s what created the RDO Equipment Co. we know today.
One of the most significant ventures in recent years was the company’s expansion into international markets. While Ron was at the forefront of the idea of global expansion, his son, Ryan Offutt, has played an integral role in launching and expanding RDO Equipment Co.’s international business.
Finding His Role
Ryan grew up around RDO Equipment Co. and the family farming operation. He recalls various jobs, from sweeping the store floor at the age of 10 to working on trucks in the farm shop throughout high school. While he had plenty of exposure to the business, he admits he wasn’t sure where his career path would take him after high school.
“I was thinking about doing a lot of things but not really in our equipment or farming business” he said. “It wasn’t until I spent a couple years in Washington DC, during and after college, that I realized the best place for me to learn about business was back home in Fargo.”
Ryan joined RDO Equipment Co. in 2003 and spent his early days in communications and human resources. But there was always a part of him that was better suited for international business.
“I wanted to create opportunities and find something I could call my own,” he explained. “I’ve always loved to travel.”
While the company wasn’t yet doing formal business internationally, it was being considered and seemed like a good place for Ryan to focus his energy. But he never expected two of the first places his new role in the company would take him.
To Russia and Ukraine
Ron first began exploring international opportunities in the early 90s but nothing serious panned out. Even as RDO Equipment Co. was enjoying success in the U.S., international expansion was still on the table in the late 90s and early 2000s.
One of the company’s directors was encouraging Ron to continue looking at opportunities in Russia, mostly for used equipment sales. In 2003, Andrey Rybalkin – a contact in Krasnodar, Russia – suggested the team visit and further look at that potential. Mark Kreps, Vice President of Agricultural Sales, made an initial trip.
“I was overwhelmed by the opportunities,” Mark recalls of that first visit. At the time, farming was beginning to boom in Russia. The area’s climate and land, both of which Mark compares to the Red River Valley, was (and still is) ideal for farming. To further explore the opportunity, Mark and Ryan made a follow-up trip six months later.
“When I saw the potential, too, it got me fired up and excited to see if we could expand business internationally,” Ryan said.
While there were indeed possibilities for used equipment, Ryan and Mark recognized a bigger opportunity in having a full-service dealership setting like they did in the U.S., and set out to work with John Deere to make it happen. In 2005, RDO Equipment Co. created a partnership with Andrey, Agro-Construction Technology, LLC (ACT), and signed an agreement with John Deere to be an agriculture equipment dealer in the South Federal District of Russia. RDO International was official.
The Krasnodar store opened over Labor Day weekend in 2005. To say the business took off quickly is putting it mildly.
“We far surpassed our budget expectation that first year, doing $18 million in sales,” Ryan said. That first year was followed by even more impressive numbers in the second and third, with $80 million and $180 million in sales.
To support the growth, Ryan moved to Russia in 2007. Then came the Great Recession in 2008, which Ryan recalls as “tougher over there (in Russia) than it was here (in the U.S.).” However, the Russia business survived the economic challenges and continued to flourish.
Mark recalls how exciting it was when the ACT partnership came together after those initial trips he took to Russia. Now, he says it’s equally exciting to see how much the business has grown throughout the years. There are now 14 stores, with construction and Vermeer equipment sales, parts and service added to the mix, and the team has grown to more than 600 members.
Next door came the next significant opportunity for RDO International. With the Russian business stabilized after the Great Recession, the team began to explore Ukraine. In 2010, Ryan met Volodymyr Kovalinsky who worked for the existing Ukrainian John Deere dealer. In 2012, John Deere was appointing new dealers in Ukraine, and RDO International formed a partnership with Volodymyr. Today, more than 150 team members work at five locations in Ukraine.
While thoughtful and strategic, RDO International’s next expansion, into Australia, began in a unique and unexpected way.
Bruce Vandersee and his family owned Vanderfield Pty, Ltd., a large Australia-based dealership network. While reading a farm equipment magazine, Bruce came across an article featuring RDO Equipment Co. Executive Vice President of Agriculture, Keith Kreps. After reading about RDO Equipment Co., he approached the Offutt family about creating a partnership to sell John Deere agriculture equipment in Australia.
“Bruce was looking to better-position the family business for the future,” Ryan explained.
After meeting with Bruce, the company Leadership was very interested in the partnership and spent the next two years getting to know the Vandersee family and their company. Today, there are 11 Vanderfield agriculture stores in Australia.
After a few years doing business in Australia, Ryan got to know Peter Pullan and Ian Jensen, two local Vermeer dealers. Ryan was interested in expanding the Australia business to include Vermeer and entered into a partnership with Peter and Ian, which today includes five stores.
Within the past few years, the company’s international presence has continued to expand, including three RDO de Mexico stores with Rudy Cabanas Sr. and Rudy Cabanas Jr., a partnership in local agriculture equipment offerings and irrigation solutions.
In 2017 and in partnership with a local entrepreneur, Andrew Mower, RDO Equipment Co. added a new continent to its global presence with the official opening of RDO Equipment Africa, a store in Zambia selling and supporting agriculture and construction equipment from John Deere and other manufacturer partners.
With everything that has happened in a relatively short amount of time, it makes one wonder: What’s next? While Ryan says he doesn’t know what – or where – is next, he’s confident the company’s international presence
will remain strong.
“We have been successful because of values and dedication to the long-term success of our customers,” he said.
While there are bound to be changes to the company’s international business, those are two things that won’t change.