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Richmond’s John Deere dealership is 25 years old, but owner Gregg Steele isn’t celebrating the milestone.
He’s too busy working.
“We never got to it,” he said. “We’ve been so busy.”
That may seem a strange thing to say, given the nation’s general economic situation over the past several years.
The ag economy, however, is a different matter, especially here in Ray County, Steele said.
“The ag economy has been extremely good for the last five years,” Steele said. “We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to sell just about everything new (in stock) in the last five years.”
Steele attributes that success in part to Ray County’s “forgiving” nature. If, for example, ag conditions are generally dry, Ray County’s bottomland is often productive, and, by contrast, if conditions are overly wet, the hill land usually fares well.
“We always have a crop somewhere,” Steele said of the county’s varied landscape.
Further, Steele adds that his customer base is diverse. He now serves farmers who manage more acres than they did in the past, but he also serves a lot of small farmers along his territory’s western edge. Those customers may farm 10 or 20 acres, Steele said, and they buy equipment regardless of commodity prices because those small farmers have jobs in Kansas City, and their income isn’t solely dependent on their farms.
Conditions haven’t always been so favorable. Before Steele opened his doors in 1987, the ag economy had been severely distressed. Richmond, in fact, hadn’t had a John Deere dealership for four years.
“I came through Richmond and saw it was a closed territory,” Steele said.
Then 27 years old, Steele already had 10 year’s experience with John Deere. When he was still in high school, Steele began working part-time as a custodian at the Deere dealership in Kirksville. During his tenure there, he also worked in the parts, service and sales departments.