When the recession hit in 2008, farm and construction equipment mechanic, Rob Meranda, did what many of his contemporaries could not – survive. Meranda is the owner of Ag Equipment Co. in Clayton and known as a do-it-all mechanic to local farmers. Strewn across his lot are tractors of every make and model queued for repair.
But prior to 2008, his lot looked different than it does today. It was still full of tractors but they were new machines waiting to be sold.
Meranda opened the lot in 1994, carrying compact tractors, utility tractors, lawn mowers, and bush hogs. He said the business ran strong for the first 14 years. He had two permanent employees and a steady supply of buyers. “At one point, I kept about 22 tractors on the lot,” he said. “It added up to a half-a-million dollars in stock.” However, the state of his business changed drastically in 2008.
“It seemed to shut down overnight,” he said. “When the housing industry fell apart, it really affected us.”
In the same year, his longtime friend and company truck-driver became terminally ill with cancer. Meranda was also forced to lay off his other full-time employee. If that wasn’t enough, the state began a three year-long tax audit on his business.
“I remember coming in here day after day and asking myself, what’s the point?” he said. “I knew we couldn’t make it selling equipment, and we couldn’t go out and find any other lines to sell because there just wasn’t anything in economy.”
But rather than give up the business, Meranda focused on keeping Ag Equipment Co. afloat.
“We buckled down and looked at our numbers,” he said. “I found that we were making the most money on repairing larger, heavier equipment.”
The business scraped by for the next three years. Meranda took on a variety of repair jobs, including on-site field repairs. His knowledge of tractors broadened, and he established a good rapport with local farmers.
“I don’t consider my labor rate cheap, but in the field it was a lot cheaper than the major brands,” he said. “I eventually became the only mechanic in the county that offers field tire service for farmers, and one of the last that works on square bailers. You can go to a dealership, but I am the only a small independent.” Meranda also is also known to leave his shop on a moment’s notice to fix a downed tractor.
“During the season, I could have the whole day planned out, and never hit a lick of it,” he said. “I will change my plans immediately for a downed operation; the customer who makes his living in the field is the priority.”
By 2011, Meranda’s business was once again going strong. He said his success, however, stems not from his labor rates or skill as a mechanic.
“This business is about relationships,” Meranda said. “I don’t care what anybody says. If you are in the farm equipment business, it’s about relationships with the customer. You can be the best mechanic or salesman in the world, but if you don’t share personality with the customer, and build a trusting relationship, you are not going to last.”