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John Deere dealer to close Albert Lea, Kiester buildings

Published 9:49am Monday, June 16, 2014

John Deere dealer Kibble Equipment will shutter its locations in Albert Lea and Kiester and consolidate operations to Blue Earth and Minnesota Lake.

The Albert Lea location is slated to close Aug. 1, and the Kiester one is set for Nov. 1, said Kibble Equipment General Manager Butch Kibble.

Kibble Equipment is based in Montevideo and has plans to build a 48,000-square-foot dealership on the north side of Blue Earth. Work likely will begin later this month or early next month.

Kibble said the consolidation has less to do with sales and is more about being prepared for the long term, as farm implement dealers must get larger to deal with changes in agriculture technology and service.

“You are either going to be a dealer of the future or not,” Kibble said.

Dealer consolidation has been steady in the ag world for the past decade, and John Deere, according to the Wall Street Journal and the trade publication Farm Equipment, has been a pioneer in the trend, urging dealers to bulk up or cash out. Among the farm brands, Deere has the most dealers in North America, though there are fewer and fewer small owners.

A clear driver, the media stories note, is that as farms get bigger there are fewer farmers on the land, so the implement dealers have followed suit. They also say, as farms specialize, it has created the need for dealers to specialize, and that’s easier for dealers with greater inventory to accomplish.

Influencing the decision, Kibble said, was that other John Deere dealers were in close proximity. Ag Power operates one in Hollandale and another in Northwood. Not far away in Austin is Sema Equipment.

“Our goal is not to abandon the customers in Albert Lea, but it is to provide a higher level of service,” Kibble said.

The company hopes to retain 85 to 90 percent of its employees, Kibble said. Exactly what will happen, he said, is undetermined.

“The decision is not taken lightly,” he said. “We care about employees.”

Albert Lea has had a John Deere dealer for 75 years.

Mankato Implement purchased the Albert Lea and Kiester dealers from Erlandson’s Inc. in December 2008. In May 2013, Mankato Implement merged with Kibble Equipment.

The Albert Lea location is on Freeborn County Road 46 near the east edge of the city, and the Kiester location is on East State Street. Before the 2008 sale, the dealerships were called Erlandson Implement and were owned by Kent and Scott Erlandson and by Arlen O’Brien.

Kent Erlandson, at the time, said he sold because he was approaching retirement age and because Deere was encouraging consolidation. At the time, he said there were 25 employees.

Oscar and Ralph Erlandson opened the doors of their dealership on Jan. 1, 1939. Oscar is Kent’s grandfather, and Ralph is his father. Kent entered the family business in 1973, and Scott began 17 years ago. After the 2008 sale, Scott remained employed at the Albert Lea location.

Freeborn County property records show Kent Erlandson remains the owner of the property at the Albert Lea location. Kibble rents the location.

Kibble said the Blue Earth location will have capacity to show and repair more equipment, as uptime is key for farmers. It will have 20,000 square feet for the shop, 20,000 square feet for the showroom, office and parts area and 8,000 square feet for the wash bay, tool room and cold storage. It will be near the junction of Interstate 90 and U.S. Highway 169.

He said Kibble Equipment has plans to upgrade the Minnesota Lake dealership.

Kibble Equipment also has locations in Mankato, Bird Island, Montevideo, New Ulm, Nicollet, Redwood Falls, Sleepy Eye and Wabasso.

Besides John Deere, other farm implement dealers in or near Albert Lea are Titan Machinery on East Main Street offering New Holland products and Arnold’s Case-International Harvester in Alden.