February 27, 2021

Prairie State Tractor looks to an autonomous future

MENDOTA, Ill. — What customers of Kelly Sauder Rupiper Equipment and Holland & Sons can expect to see once the two firms officially merge at the end of January is more going forward — literally.

“When we look at the products coming, a lot of the talk in the ag community is automation and autonomy. That move that’s starting to occur within the ag community, that’s going to take a higher level of specialist. We are already looking at that and we are already looking at how we are going to take care of those customers far in the future for whatever products they want to leverage on their farms,” said Chris Rupiper, CEO of Prairie State Tractor.

The merger of the two established northern Illinois John Deere dealerships — Kelly Sauder Rupiper Equipment LLC, based in Pontiac, with locations in Lacon and Streator; and Holland & Sons, based in Mendota, with locations in Dixon, Freeport, Geneseo and Princeton, as Prairie State Tractor — doesn’t become official until Jan. 25.

It’s been in the works for a year.

“Both owner groups said how are we going to better our business and that’s what this is all about. We felt that coming together and being able to handle the combined area together, we’d be able to really take care of our customers better and that’s really the big thing,” Rupiper said.

Keeping the customer-facing part of the businesses much the same played an important part.

“What customers are used to is what they will still see. It’s still the same parts people they will be talking with, it’s going to still be the same service managers that they will be calling at all the different locations,” Rupiper said.

Looking into the future, Prairie State Tractor will be able to take on the challenges of new ag technology.

“That’s probably where customers will see the biggest changes is in the number of specialists we can now bring to the table, the higher focus on making sure, if customers want to leverage this new and leading-edge technology, we’re going to be there with them to help them do it,” Rupiper said.

With changes in the world of agriculture happening at a faster and faster rate, the new company will be able to flex more quickly to deal with those changes.

“When we look at what we are going to have to do to take care of our area, we are going to have to make sure that we are planning a little further out. We are going to have to be a little quicker to make decisions. We are going to have to react to the market. The market changes a ton and very quickly anymore, so making sure we have the governance in place and the management structure in place to say, OK, if we have to shift or pivot because of something going on in our area, how do we do it? How do we get it planned and get it executed?” Rupiper said.

Another focus in the merger was on employees.

“As we were going through bringing this together, a focus was on what is the employee and customer impact as we make decisions. In a lot of the decisions we’ve been making, we’ve said let’s make sure we can communicate this to employees, to ensure they are taking it the correct way. Whenever we look at whatever change we are going to do, let’s make sure it is going to be something that is positive for employees,” Rupiper said.

The main corporate office of Prairie State Tractor will be located in Mendota at the existing Holland & Sons corporate office.

In addition to Rupiper as CEO, the management team includes Todd Holland, board chairman and inventory manager; Tony Morrow, chief financial officer; Zack Sauder, eastern region sales manager; Ty Holland, western region sales manager; Matt Aeschleman, used equipment manager; Paul Kelly, human resources manager; Matt Holland, marketing manager; Klint Rice, small tractor/turf manager; Brett Dewey, aftermarket manager; and Jonathan Koch, integrated solutions manager.

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor