88 years old - but still strong

John Oncken

It was just a month short of 20 years ago when I asked Ron Statz, then president of Carl F. Statz & Sons Implement of Waunakee, what his company and Wisconsin farming would be like 20 years from then. Those 20 years have now almost passed and we know the answers. First some history.

It was 1930

The Waunakee based implement company dates to 1930 when farmer Carl F. (Carley) Statz decided to start selling farm equipment. Strangely enough, Carl and his brother A.P (Tony) Statz both opened farm implement dealerships the same year (1930), Tony selling John Deere, Carley International Harvester, thus were competitors. 

Carl F. Statz and Sons, at Waunakee since 1930.

Tony Statz died at a young age and his dealership closed but the IH dealership owned by Carley exists today — 88 years later.  After Carl F. Statz died in 1991, his sons Ron, Ken and Dave took over the business with Ron and Ken working in sales and David the parts specialist. The business thrived and remained well-known throughout southern Wisconsin for many lines of farm equipment, parts availability and service.

Changes? Yes

Since my conversation with Ron Statz during the last week of 1999, the company has indeed changed: Ron died in March of 2013 at age 77 and his brother Dave died last January at age 73, leaving Ken as the only surviving brother in the business. However there are five third generation sons: Mike and Mark (Ron’s sons); Dean (Ken’s son) and Brad and Bob ( Dave's sons) working in the business.

Instead of selling International Harvester tractors, the company now is a New Holland dealer.

Ken Statz and a 1970s Farmall that is in three pieces while being repaired.

“After the mergers of recent years, they are both owned by the same company and made in the same plant,” Ken says. “But, we still feature IH parts and service. Farmers come from many miles away to buy parts from us. They know that we’ll know what part or parts they need and that we have them on hand or can get them very fast.”

“Our commitment to quality service and personalized attention has remained unchanged since we opened our doors in 1930,” company president Mike Statz adds. 

Slim farm sales

Ken and Mike Statz point out another economic fact, that dairy farmers are in the midst of an economic depression with the low milk price. “I don’t think any farm equipment dealer in Wisconsin is selling much these days,” Ken says. “Farmers just don’t have the money.”

Bob, (Dave's son) Mike, (Ron's son) Ken and Dean (Ken's son) Statz are part of the Statz family still in the business. Mark (Ron's son) and Brad (Dave's son) were missing.

Another major change impacting the Carl F. Statz & Sons business is the increasing move to consumer products sales and service, Mike Statz points out.  

“Look  at the surrounding towns, Sun Prairie, Madison, Middleton, Cross Plains and our own Waunakee, they are all fast growing and are moving farmland out of production — that means less need for tractors and farm equipment,” he says. “But, they all have big lawns and driveways so they need lawn mowers, snow blowers and a wide assortment of other equipment that we’ve always carried.”

Service and fix

“And,” Ken adds, “people often buy equipment at stores like Farm & Fleet, Target, Sears and other places that do not provide service and parts to fix things when they go wrong. We have a new, big service building just for consumer products. Then there are the Polaris ATVs that have become so popular in recent years and snowmobiles that we sell and repair."  

”Our business has changed from almost all farm equipment to now where our consumer products makeup half our sales,” Mike adds.

Ken Davidson and Steve Wambold working on a tractor.

One of the challenges in any mechanical type business is the shortage of qualified mechanics. Statz Implement has a foundation of long time, super qualified mechanics but on occasion must add technicians to the repair force. 

“We like to hire those with farm experience,” Mike says. “But most of the experienced people will have worked in car or truck situations where the parts of each make are about the same. But, in farm equipment, every implement is different and if you are not familiar with them, it takes some learning to be knowledgeable.”

Big and bigger

The Carl F. Statz & Sons is a bit unusual in the world of farm equipment sales in that they remain a one-store operation in an age of consolidation. Consider: Titan Machinery, a Case IH dealer at Fargo ND, has 75 stores in 11 states; RDO Equipment, also based in Fargo, has 75 locations in  10 states, and Sloan Implement, at Assumption, Illinois owns 7 Wisconsin locations and 13 in Illinois.

But, as Statz Implement has proved over 88 years, you don’t have to be super big to be super good.   

There was a time, not so long ago (at least in my experience) when most every town had one or sometimes two or three farm implement dealerships. For sure a John Deere store or a IH dealer and maybe an Allis Chalmers location.  Sometimes JI Case would be in the area and maybe even a small Oliver dealership.

As history shows, Case and IH are now one, Allis Chalmers is long gone as is Oliver and dozens of others before them. 

If he can't fix it, it can't be fixed, Ken Statz says of 38 year employee John Lomasney, who lives in Plain.

They are gone

Where did they all go? They went out of business for one reason or another: Even the biggest of the big, International Harvester had financial problems and was sold and combined with Case and Allis Chalmers, although big couldn’t make it. 

Same on the local level, dealerships did not have enough sales, had outdated facilities or like many farms, no next generation to buy out dad who built the business.

Consider also that tractors, combines and all farm implements got bigger in size with more complicated technology meaning the dealers needed bigger repair shops, more skilled mechanics and a big supply of parts. If a machine breaks down in the field farmers (naturally) want fast and efficient service. Add it up and one can see why here are fewer but bigger farm equipment dealerships.  

Kept up

However Statz Brothers Implement has kept up with the times in terms of sales, parts and service. From that little lot on Main Street in Waunakee, right behind my uncle Harry Koltes’ house from where they moved in 1975 to 20 acres off Highway 19 on the east edge of Waunakee, the name Carl F. Statz & Sons remains an icon in the world of farm equipment and now consumer products. 

Yes, Ron, it’s 20 years later and things have changed but probably not as much as they will in the next 20 years. 

But, that’s life - and it will change with or without us.

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-572-0747, or email him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.