- Douglas Towne
Farm-Bred Determination: RDO Equipment Co.’s Ron Offutt
How does a farm kid from Minnesota grow a single agricultural equipment store into a company with more than 75 stores in nine states and partnerships around the globe? There is no fancy formula or secret sauce for success, just a simple and powerful vision.
“We know as owners that you’ve got to have happy people that you employ, where they feel part of the organization,” says Ronald D. Offutt Jr., RDO Equipment Co. founder and chairman emeritus. “They have to understand that the real paycheck comes from happy customers. Customer service, customer satisfaction, and satisfied employees are the key. It’s not the quick sale but rather the lifelong relationships that are so important.”
RDO dealership in Chandler, Arizona, 2016.
That’s astute insight from a guy who seems like he would have been happy planting potatoes for a living in the Red River Valley of Minnesota, instead of creating a multi-million-dollar company. Offutt fondly recalls driving a farm truck at six years old with workers walking alongside with potato sacks. The Offutt family farm had “pretty antiquated equipment, including John Deere and International machines,” he says. Offutt was active in FFA in high school, as well as being a standout athlete in football and wrestling.
Despite Offutt’s lifelong love of farming, he also was an entrepreneur at heart. He studied Business Administration at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. After Offutt graduated from college, he spent four years farming, in partnership with his father, Ronald Offutt Sr. The Offutts were customers of the John Deere dealership in nearby Casselton, North Dakota, which was owned and operated by Grant Mattson.
Ron Offutt Sr. and Ron Offutt Jr. (l-r in foreground) in their potato field, the late 1960s.
In 1968, Offutt got the opportunity to enter the agricultural equipment business. “Grant was planning to retire and worked with me to buy the dealership, and as part of the deal, he stayed on board for a year teaching me the business,” Offutt says. Through a combination of selling assets and obtaining loans, Offutt managed to secure the finances to buy the dealership, which was the first in the country to rent farm equipment. After a pause, he modestly adds, “It’s been a good run.”
In the early days, Offutt admitted he didn’t believe managing the dealership was his strength. He hired a manager to run the day-to-day, which allowed him time to focus on his passion – farming – as well as planning and making strategic moves that led to a tremendous expansion in products, manufacturers, and geography. By 1987, he owned five more dealerships. Two years later, Offutt opened his first four construction equipment stores. The company's construction division expanded into Arizona in 1992, with stores in Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Tucson. By 1997, RDO had 11 farm dealership stores and 21 construction equipment stores.
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, July/Aug 2020 issue, Vol. 9, No.4.