Deere Camp

by Holly Hungerford

The farmer’s iconic green and yellow is thriving in the Green Mountains

photoIn 1968, Richard Yandow bought his father’s John Deere dealership, Yandow Sales & Service, in North Ferrisburgh, but he’d had to prove himself first.

If it’s green and yellow and has an engine, chances are you can find it at Yandow Sales & Service, the John Deere dealership on U.S. 7 in North Ferrisburgh.

Owner Richard Yandow runs the business, which was started by his father, Harris, in the mid 1920s with the purchase of a single John Deere tractor, some assembly required. Today, the company offers a wide variety of products, ranging from small tractors to lawn mowers, weed-whackers to chainsaws, and a line of John Deere toys.

Yandow bought the business from his father in 1968 and moved it from its original location on Old Hollow Road in North Ferrisburgh to U.S. 7. Even though he’d worked for his father since he was a boy, Yandow says, his dad didn’t think he could run the family business because he hadn’t finished high school.

“I was always interested in doing business,” he recalls. To prove himself, in his early 20s, he opened his own shop — Yandow Lawn & Garden Equipment — just down the road. In addition to Simplicity lawn and garden tractors, the shop sold guns.

When he eventually took over his father’s business, the dealership sold mostly agricultural equipment, because John Deere’s line of consumer products — lawn and garden equipment — was still in its infancy and quite limited.

photoAlthough Yandow sells only John Deere equipment, the shop can service any brand. Chris Gibson is service manager.

Times changed, however, and about 25 years ago Yandow Sales & Service left the ag side of the business. “The number of farmers was shrinking,” says Yandow, “and I saw more potential in residential and commercial equipment.”

Today, the company’s primary customers are homeowners and hobby farmers, commercial operators such as landscapers and residential maintenance companies, the National Guard, municipalities, and the state. His best-selling products are lawn and garden tractors and the compact tractors used by many small farmers.

Sales generate service, and service is a big part of the business. “Yandow’s has the best service,” says Tom Clark of Shelburne, a customer of over 30 years. “They go above and beyond what is expected.”

Although the store sells only John Deere equipment, the shop can service any brand. “Our employees are all factory-trained, both in the parts and service departments and the sales staff,” says Yandow.

The shop business has grown dramatically in the last couple of years, Yandow adds, crediting increased sales, repeat customers, and referrals. He’s noticed that people are choosing to fix equipment before buying new, and when they’re buying new, taking the time to really check out a product to make sure it is the best available. “People are sick of throw-away stuff,” he says.

Yandow employs 13 full-timers and one part-timer. Most of his employees have been with him for a long time, he says, leaving only to start businesses of their own. “We’ve never laid a man off ... never,” says Yandow. “All I’ve ever asked of my men is to work with us in good times and bad, when the business is there, and I’ll take care of them when the business isn’t there.”

photoAbout 25 years ago, Yandow Sales & Service left the ag side of the business to better serve its primary customers: homeowners and hobby farmers, commercial operators, the National Guard, municipalities, and the state. John DeGraaf (left) is parts manager; Terry Barrows is a sales associate.

Patricia, Yandow’s wife of 25 years, is the controller. “I hired her in 1971,” he says with a chuckle. It was the first job she found after she moved to Vermont from her home state of Massachusetts, and she’s never left. The couple married in 1984.

Tim, one of Yandow’s four children from an earlier marriage, is also on the payroll. He’s been with the company for at least 25 years and is in charge of sales. People have been known to come from quite a distance to purchase product from him, says Yandow. “Tim has a real following. He’s a fabulous salesman. Everyone who buys from him loves him.”

Rick, another son, who worked in the parts department for many years, is now an interior designer, but returns to do all the display redesigns and show setups. Yandow’s third son, Mark, is in the construction business; his daughter, Beth, retired a couple of years ago after 21 years in the U.S. Air Force.

Yandow admits that working with family and being the business owner can be stressful. “It creates pressure when times are good because you’re very busy; it creates pressure when times are bad because you’re not busy,” he says. “The main thing is that it’s difficult to have a normal life. We have very little social life because Trish’s work in accounting has to be done when everyone else is off the computer. That means Saturday afternoons and Sundays.”

photoTim Yandow, in charge of sales, has been with his father’s company 25 years. Patricia Yandow, the controller and Dick’s wife of 25 years, has been with the company since 1971.

When they do make plans to get together with friends, he says, invariably something comes up related to business that changes those plans, so they’ve stopped trying to make them altogether.

As with most companies, Yandow has seen a change in his business over the last two years as the economy has shrunk. He micromanages more, he says, making sure customers are waited on in a timely fashion and know that their business is appreciated.

“I think catering to the customer is what’s allowed us to grow or at least sustain the business.” He prides himself on always being available to the customer. “My card has my cell phone and home phone on it. If you have any issues with a tractor you’ve bought here, you come to me if you can’t resolve them.”

The biggest challenge over the last several years has been recognizing and getting used to a new way of doing business, not only in his shop but also at the level of the John Deere company. “They want fewer dealers that own more dealerships,” says Yandow, who is an independent dealer. His biggest concern is that personal contact with the customer will be lost, at both the dealership and supplier levels.

“I used to be able to call up the supplier and say, ‘Hey, Bob, how the hell are you?’ Now they just want my account number. That personal touch is gone. It used to be fun to be in business. Now there’s more tension in business. You have to be on your toes. It’s situational awareness: what’s happening now, what’s happening in the market, what’s happening in the weather, what’s happening in markets that drive our markets,” he says.

Looking to the future, Yandow expects to expand — in terms of both product and employees — to take care of the growing customer base. He’s reached the point. he says, where he could use another two people in the shop and anticipates that need will grow.

The decision to expand will be based on the demands of the customer, he adds, asking rhetorically, “Why should I take on more when there’s already enough to worry about? Because the customer wants it. It’s important to him and it helps create the floor traffic.”

On those infrequent occasions when Yandow has time away from work, he’s most likely to be found outdoors. An avid deer hunter, he has a camp in Forest Dale, and travels north to the island of Anticosti in eastern Quebec. “I love nature,” he says. “And I do love hunting, but I don’t love killing.”

This approach to hunting echoes his approach to business. “I love the pursuit,” he says. “I love the challenge.” •