A family business that got its start recycling good used tractor and combine parts is observing its 40th anniversary.
Abilene Machine, located at 407 Old Highway 40, is still operating after four decades thanks to its ability to adapt.
The autumn of 1980 found 29-year-old Randy Roelofsen and his friend Loren Engel solving problems for the ever-changing agriculture industry. In the early 1980s, farmers were facing lean times, as many factors were driving the prices of commodities as well as land value down.
But despite these challenges — as any farmer knows — harvest must go on.
One of the many virtues that farmers are known for, especially during dark financial times, is thrift. Randy, who grew up on a farm and had also seen the inside of the salvage industry, had an idea that would connect old tractor parts with new users.
Recycling good used tractor and combine parts not only helped farmers stretch their budgets – it proved to be a business venture with legs.
Taking root along Old Highway 40 between Solomon and Abilene, Randy and Loren grew their endeavor with hard work, a bit of good luck and the kind of go-hard attitude that growing up as a farm boy instills.
Todd Roelofsen, Randy’s nephew, joined the salvage parts and equipment resale operation in 1981. Eight years later, the business officially became Abilene Machine.
By 1990, the team was 50-strong. As the company grew and more employees joined the team, many things changed. But one thing remained the same from day one.
“We think family all the way up and down the ranks. I preach that to my people,” Randy said. “I’m proud of our outstanding team. They work tirelessly to ensure that every time a customer interacts with Abilene Machine, they receive the highest level of service and satisfaction.”
In the early days, Todd saw opportunity to expand their operation.
“When I first started, I was the only parts guy,” he said. “We kept getting calls for the same used parts. At times, we would sell our entire supply of certain used parts.”
Rather than send customers away, the team found ways to rebuild old parts and even manufacture some new ones, leading to the company’s expansion into aftermarket agricultural machinery parts.
“Our main goal was to acquire the ability to provide the parts our customers needed. We’ve always been here to help farmers succeed,” Todd said.
Abilene Machine remanufactures hydraulic pumps, fuel injection pumps for diesel engines, final drives, and even complete engines and transmissions. Each is rebuilt to OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) specifications by team members who come from mostly agricultural backgrounds. The roots run deep here.
In 1992, Abilene Machine released its first parts catalog. With 72 pages featuring used and remanufactured parts, the company began to establish a national footprint in the ag parts industry.
Four decades later, the Roelofsens are still in the business of providing value to the agriculture industry with their family-owned and operated company. So what’s the secret to success in this industry?
In a word — innovation. Just like other sectors of the agriculture industry, these last 40 years have been about adapting to the ever-changing conditions to overcome each challenge.
Fire and recession
For example, a 2004 fire destroyed Abilene Machine’s main office and 15,000 square feet of warehouse and inventory. On the cusp of a worldwide economic recession, Randy and Todd faced the task of rebuilding their business to replace what was lost.
Adaptation is key, according to the Roelofsens. For decades, parts sales happened in person and over the phone. People ordered from catalogs, went to trade shows or learned about the company through word-of-mouth. Recent economic events have shown how important a strong digital presence is for a retail company’s continued success or survival, for that matter.
A newly-updated website enables a customer to sign into a personal account and add all of his or her equipment to a “shed.” Each personalized shed stores equipment information so the customer can easily look up and order parts in minutes. Once ordered, the parts are shipped right to their door.
“The new generation of farmers is adopting e-commerce for everything — from tractor parts to groceries,” said Kenny Roelofsen, Abilene Machine digital marketing manager.
“We’re meeting them there, in the digital marketplace, where we are continuing the spirit of innovation that has brought us this far. Even though we’re a large company, every customer – whether at the parts counter or on the internet — can still expect the same kind of honest, personal, service that Abilene Machine is known for.”
Abilene Machine is steadily growing to meet increasing demand and has evolved from that single-car garage to one of the largest single-site agricultural salvage yards in the U.S.
In addition to multiple manufacturing and remanufacturing facilities and a 39,000 square-foot new aftermarket parts warehouse at their Kansas headquarters, they have also built successful operations in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Bishopville, S.C.
“It’s an amazing business,” said Todd, who is now an owner and vice president. “We have a lot of great people working here, and each of them is just like family.”