Premier Equipment bringing 90 years of history, expertise into expanded facility
A memory wall photo outside of Henk Scholten’s office features an array of four-row John Deere Maxemerge 7000 corn planters and 30 series tractors.
“My father and his four brothers founded Scholten’s Farm Equipment in 1974 and sold 80 tractors and 44 of these planters in 1977,” smiled Norwich’s Premier Equipment Store Manager, noting one was recently seen operating outside of Elmira behind a four-horse team.
A quick check with Sales Manager Mark Burden revealed a 48-row John Deere DB model is currently available, capable of covering the same number of rows as 12 of its earlier compatriots in a single pass. The disparity between the two pieces of equipment illustrates the massive transformation farmers and the farm equipment dealerships which serve them have undergone in Scholten’s 39-year career.
“But our customers are still the same. They want a friendly atmosphere with good service - that goes a long way.”
Premier Equipment celebrated the grand opening of its brand-new Norwich location Friday, June 17th, two miles south of the village on the west side of Oxford Road 59. The location is the result of exhaustive research beginning in 2016 with the concept of combining existing facilities in Simcoe and Courtland with a 90-year-history between them into one, expanded unit. South of Norwich in order to provide better access to producers hailing from Lake Erie’s northern shore, its geographical position is centrally located within the ‘four corners’ bordering its targeted service area: Port Rowan, Simcoe, Woodstock and Brantford.
“If you look at a map, we’re smack dab in the middle,” says Scholten.
Construction began on the 38-acre property May 13, 2021 with pouring of the footings, and despite a three-month delay in the arrival of some steel components, was completed April 1, 2022. “Stubbe’s Property Development gave it all they had,” Scholten credited.
Ten acres of the property are dedicated to the dealership, with the balance cropped by Stubbe’s and Premier and ensuing profits donated to community organizations. There are two main structures, a 17,000-square-foot storage facility featuring a 30-foot overhang for customer units and storage; and the main 62,500-square-foot dealership, the largest of eight Premier Equipment locations.
It features 7,000-square-feet of bright, airy showroom, three times the combined area available in former Simcoe and Courtland locations filled with everything John Deere from farm equipment through branded apparel to scale model replica toys; 15,000-square-feet for an expanded parts selection (mainly John Deere but also some short lines), 150 per cent of the previous combined total; and close to 31,000-square-feet of overhead-crane-serviced shop space, representing one-and-a-half times the amount of both previous facilities. Door construction allows Service Manager Jeff Van Wyk close to 48-feet of opening in order to bring large, modern equipment inside to work on.
The structure is as functionally operational as it is visually impressive, offering a larger critical mass in terms of service and opportunity for both customers and its 60 employees. There are 25 techs among that total says Scholten including six mobile technicians who take the Premier Equipment show on the road.
“They are able to repair customer’s equipment on the farm or at their business,” said Scholten.
Employees were excited about moving into the new facility he continued, which has met near-universal approval from customers, despite the spring rush coinciding with its doors opening, and the occasional early glitch.
“Honestly, I have not heard one negative,” said Scholten. “And from here on in, it’s only going to get better.”
His own career began at age 17, transferring from the 10 p.m. Friday night to 6 a.m. Saturday morning shift in the family bakery, to set up (assembling machinery) and driving truck out of the Simcoe dealership - heavier things to work with, but better hours.
“They were a lot better,” Scholten laughed.
Over the years he has done virtually everything at the business, down to cash reconciliation, spending the last 17 as store manager.
“As you go, you learn it all.”
Perhaps the biggest lesson Scholten has learned however, is the importance of a quality team. “It’s the people around you that make the business successful,” he credited.
Scholten mentioned other long-serving members, John Byl who began his 48-year career right out of high school at the Courtland location; and Ben Vandebrink who joined in 1978. In a nutshell, Scholten’s approach moving forward is to combine their and other team members’ years of experience, expertise and commitment to build on 90 years of shared history within a brand new, expanded facility. That building is important he concluded, however continuing to have the right people in place is also crucial to continuing to serve customers for whom he remains genuinely grateful and appreciative.
“They’ve fed a lot of families in this business.”