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Working through supply challenges

Submitted photo Some local implement dealers say a shortage of technicians has made it harder to keep up with their workload. Here, Tim Coudron assembles a disc mower at Kesteloot Enterprises.

MARSHALL — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, problems like supply chain disruptions and labor shortages have had an impact on a wide range of businesses in southwest Minnesota. Farm and construction equipment dealers haven’t been spared those challenges either, local businesspeople said.

“It isn’t just us, it’s everything,” said Jake Gernentz, aftermarket manager at RDO Equipment Co. in Marshall.

Marshall area implement dealers say they’ve been working to serve customers through a variety of challenges, like longer waits for parts or deliveries, and trying to maintain inventory.

After seeing how the COVID pandemic affected supply chains last year, area implement dealers said they took steps to order ahead for vehicles, parts and equipment. Kibble Equipment, which has John Deere dealerships in area cities including Marshall, Tyler, Wabasso and Redwood Falls, was proactive in that process, said Ryan Hillesheim, with aftermarket support at Kibble Equipment. “We’re still focused on taking care of our customers at a high level,” he said.

Travis Kesteloot, co-owner of Kesteloot Enterprises, Inc., said he also worked to maintain inventory at the Kubota tractor dealership by buying ahead. However, they’ve been struggling to keep up with demand.

“We really have a unique situation because retail sales for our compact tractors and lawn mowers were up last year and are continuing to stay strong this year,” Kesteloot said. As people spent more time at home, they were investing in equipment for landscaping and snow removal, he said. The demand drove compact tractor sales up faster than they could be restocked.

“In our case, it’s not so much about product availability as it is about waiting longer for an order to be delivered,” Kesteloot said. “We have some inventory on hand, like tractors and skid loaders, but other items are on backorder, like RTVs.”

At RDO Equipment, “We were doing pretty good through winter and spring,” Gernentz said, but now they’re seeing longer wait times for construction equipment parts that would normally arrive in a couple of days.

Wayne Erbes, of Wayne’s Tractor Repair in Marshall, said one of the challenges his business faces is that they work on lots of different types of tractors and equipment, which require different parts. It’s not possible to stock up on everything, so that means they may end up waiting for a part to arrive. This year, that can take “days and days,” or even months, longer than normal, he said.

In addition to repairing equipment, Wayne’s Tractor Repair also is a dealer for Mahindra tractors and Bad Boy, Bush Hog and Hustler mowers.

There are a lot of factors that can lead to low inventory and delays for implement dealers, Erbes and Kesteloot said.

“Raw materials are hard to come by,” Erbes said, and he said he’s heard that some manufacturers are facing worker shortages. That can mean longer waits for parts or mower engines.

Kesteloot said Kubota builds almost all its own parts, so getting inventory for hasn’t been as much of an issue for his business. However, there are still some items like Kubota utility vehicles that have been on order since September, waiting at factories for single item parts.

Kesteloot said this year manufacturers are also struggling with steel prices and availability. When it comes to getting steel for tractor attachments like pallet forks, grapples and buckets, “Our manufacturer has less inventory in stock than we do,” Kesteloot said.

Labor is another area where local implement dealers may be facing shortages. Gernentz said there have been technician positions open at RDO Equipment in Marshall for the past few months, but they’ve received very few applications.

A lack of technicians and mechanics is part of a more long-term trend, too. Erbes said over the years, he’s seen a lot fewer mechanics coming into the job market in the Marshall area. Kesteloot Enterprises said labor shortages for mechanics have been a concern in the industry for a while, but the problem has been exacerbated over the past year.

Local implement dealers said customers have been patient with delays for parts or repairs, partly because so many businesses are experiencing them.

“Most people I think have been pretty understanding,” Erbes said. Dry weather this summer has also slowed the demand for equipment like mowers, he said. However, as the fall harvest gets closer, he said the pressure to finish needed repairs for customers will pick up. “We’ve got a lot of stuff to try and get through here.”

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