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RDO Equipment Co. – How it All Began

RDO Equipment Co. – How it All Began

16 Apr 2018 Read time: 6 min
The year is 1968. 26-year-old Ron Offutt, a husband and father of two, is farming alongside his father in Moorhead, Minnesota. Ron and his father, Ron Sr., are running John Deere equipment rented from the local dealership in nearby Casselton, North Dakota. This was a time before Ron owned a single dealership – and before RDO Equipment Co. existed. 

Before Ron became an entrepreneur, the owner of his first John Deere dealership, and the founder of the entire R.D. Offutt Company enterprise, he was a farmer. It’s something that has always been in his blood and makes up some of his earliest memories. 

“I would say, potato harvest in the fall with my father,” Ron said when asked his earliest memory of farming. “I was driving truck at six years old and people would walk alongside with potato sacks.”

Those early years set the stage for what would shape Ron’s life, with farming at the root of it all. 

The Farm Life
In 1942, Ronald D. Offutt Jr. was born into a family that had been farming since the late 1600s. Ron grew up on the farm and continued to show an interest in agriculture throughout high school, when, in addition to being a standout athlete in football and wrestling, he was involved in FFA. Ron attended Concordia College in Moorhead, MN where he studied Business Administration – and admits he wasn’t set on being a farmer.

“I was like all other college students, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Ron said. “But I always knew farming was a possibility and that I enjoyed it.”

Ron would indeed find his way back to farming. In 1964, he formed a partnership with his father, Ronald Offutt and Son partnership. They were customers of the John Deere dealership in Casselton, ND, which was owned and operated by Grant Mattson. And just four short years later, in 1968, Grant approached Ron with an unexpected opportunity that would alter the course of his life.

Building A New Legacy
No. That was Ron’s first response to Grant’s offer of buying the John Deere dealership. Showing his transparency, Ron explained, with a laugh, why he turned down the opportunity to purchase the Casselton store, “I had no money. All I had was debt.”

But Grant wasn’t ready to give up. He saw something in Ron that convinced him he’d be successful in the dealership world. After continued talks, offers from Grant to help in various ways, and a combination of selling assets and borrowing money, Ron agreed to take on this new challenge – and it didn’t come without some hiccups.

Many RDO Equipment Co. team members are familiar with the payroll story, when Ron asked customers to pre-pay their invoices so he’d have the money available to make payroll. Similar struggles were not uncommon when it came to finances. As Ron recalls, “In the early days, we were always short on money. But somehow, we made it.”

To say he “made it” may be a bit of an understatement, as that one John Deere agriculture equipment dealership would grow into a network of more than 80 stores in 10 states, and offerings including construction equipment, irrigation solutions, and technology opportunities – essentially, the diverse RDO Equipment Co. we know today. 

Personal and Professional Growth
Before any additional RDO Equipment Co. stores came along, Ron made some internal moves that would help encourage future growth and success. 

“After running the store for about two months, I realized I wasn’t going to be very good at it,” Ron said with a laugh. “I decided to hire a manager and found out very quickly it was easier for me to manage a manager than do it myself.”

Not only did this move give Ron time to get back to doing more of what he loved – farming – it also allowed him to step outside for a moment and put himself back in the customer’s shoes, identifying what was most important when it came to an equipment partner and what wasn’t.

That focus of being a partner with customers, employees, and manufacturers guided Ron in a series of strategic moves that led to tremendous expansion in both product, manufacturers, and geography.

First came the purchase and expansion of the Lisbon store in 1976, followed in 1979 by a store in LaMoure that Ron ended up selling. In 1983, Breckenridge was added, then Kindred in 1986, and a store in Fargo in 1987.

All Comes Back Home
RDO Equipment Co. would continue to experience growth, both in North Dakota and beyond, for the next couple decades. One of the most significant moments was the building and opening of a new store in Moorhead. What made this store special wasn’t its square footage, thoughtful design, or added space for meetings and trainings. This store is built on Offutt family land – the same land Ron’s father farmed decades ago.

When asked if building the store on his family land has special significance to Ron, he said with a smile, “It sure does. The fact that it was the old home place gives me a nice feeling.”

From his earliest memory on his family’s farm, Ron could have never anticipated that one day he’d build a dealership, one of dozens in a network bearing his initials, on that land. Another scenario he never could have predicted? Having all his children involved in his enterprise. 

“None of generation two appeared interested,” Ron remembers. In fact, he recalls it wasn’t until about 1986 any of them showed interest in joining the company. Today, all four of Ron’s children are involved in various roles. Ron’s two oldest daughters, Rondi and Shelly, are members of the Management Committee, as well as very involved in the Offutt Family Foundation. Rondi’s husband, Keith, serves as President of R.D. Offutt Farms, while Shelley’s husband, Scott, is President of the real estate division, PROffutt. Ryan Offutt is Executive Vice President of R.D. Offutt Company and the youngest Offutt daughter, Christi, serves as R.D. Offutt Company Chair of the Advisory Board. 

While there are many ways Ron could define success as an entrepreneur, it’s the opportunity to work with customers and be involved in their business that means the most to him.

“It’s satisfying to me to work with people, to solve their problems,” he said. 

A problem-solver. Three words that accurately describe virtually every farmer. It’s clear to see that farming is part of who Ron was, who he became, and who he is today. 
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