A Dying Breed 

Beverly Written by Beverly Leavitt January 25, 2023 Member Updates

The front a beige metal building with a sign reading "Arnott Farm Equipment - 324-4292."

This is a rarity. A story we haven’t told before. Because there aren’t many of them left. In fact, only two belong to CEDA’s membership. 

Single location, single family, never been merged or acquired, outdoor power equipment dealers. 

Enter Doug Arnott

Doug is the third generation owner of Arnott Farm Equipment, now on to its fourth generation. 

The dealership started with Alvin and Etta Arnott in 1948 at 6 Kent Street East in one of the two side-by-side buildings that still house the business today. 

At the time, Kent St E was the hub of Lindsay, Ontario. The blacksmith, grocery store, beer store, Masterfeeds, a trucking company, and the broker all dotted the street along with one other farm equipment dealership. 

Now, it’s adjacent to the town’s main street that’s a little less suited to today’s large tractors and combines. 

Following in Their Footsteps 

In 1959, Maurice, Alvin and Etta’s only child, joined the dealership after a few years of working on the railroad. It was the expectation that he take over the family business. 

In 1970, Doug started making wooden wheel barrels and wagon axles at the woodworking shop just behind the blacksmith shop in the building next door. Two to three years later, he started learning the mechanics side of the equipment. 

“I had two good teachers. Grappa and dad were good with wrenches, and I picked it up easily,” shares Doug. 

He continues, “In school, I thought I would be an architect, but being colourblind, that didn’t go well. So I got into learning how to run the business and make sales. I enjoyed working with people and having days where I would be fixing, buying, or selling.

It also allowed me to sit on the ORFEDA board from 1992 and 2002, getting to know the industry from a broader perspective.”

Good Product, but Not Long-Lasting Companies

As Doug says, “we chose good products, but not strong enough companies.” 

First, Cockshutt equipment changed to White farm equipment. At that time, tractors up to 70hp were built by Fiat. Then White became Agco farm equipment. Arnott Farm Equipment sold Hesston equipment from 1970, which was taken over by Fiat in 1984, when they added their tractor line, meaning they then sold Fiat tractors under the Hesston name.

Fiat then bought New Holland, which forced them to drop dealerships that weren’t big enough—leading Arnott Farm Equipment to Universal Tractors, which were Fiat design.

“We stuck with Fiat products because we knew the mechanics, and it was reliable,” explains Doug. 

But once the early 90s hit, there was a shift towards diversifying in the industry. Dealers started to get into lawn and garden, compact equipment, or industrial. Doug and Maurice chose lawn and garden. 

“We wanted more stability because the farm volume dropped–and we had to look at another avenue to keep the doors open,” he recalls. 

“We were too small to be looked at for mergers, and we didn’t have other dealers to merge with because everyone with the same brand was in the same situation.

Our downtown location didn’t help. Manufacturers wanted new dealerships on the outskirts of town, and we couldn’t justify the cost. We chose to remain self-financed and keep the business within the family.

We were self-controlled. We didn’t have to give products away to keep turning a dollar. And, most importantly, if we didn’t like it, we didn’t do it.” 

Fighting for Control 

Now, if you want to do business as a single dealer, you have to do it the manufacturer's way.

When that shift started, the equipment was getting bigger and leased at the dealer’s liability. The leases were getting larger in tandem with the size of the equipment, which made the risk that much higher. 

The advances in equipment also came with more technology.

Doug states, “even the guys who merged had to build bigger shops to handle the new models. That’s when we moved towards lawn and garden because they are smaller and easier to handle–and we weren’t carrying the farmer’s debt. At the same time, we decided to keep only short-line farm equipment.”

It also allowed Doug to control his level and quality of stock. 

“In the past, if we had a lemon model, we wouldn’t sell it because of the service that went along with it.

We could pick what to do and who to do it with, which meant choosing the right stock for our customer’s needs.

Because of that mentality and our level of service, we’ve kept a lot of die-hard customers who always buy through us. We’ve built a personal relationship with them and their family. We can still do that because we’re small.”

The Only Constant is Change 

Similar to when Arnott Farm Equipment exclusively sold farm equipment, the lawn and garden manufacturers continued to change. 

White started with garden tractors, which expanded to include snowblowers and rototillers, which were built by MTD. They then provided Yardman for ten years before going back to White, then Columbia, and then Troybuilt, which new owners have recently bought out. 

“We’re back in the same boat as when White went down, and Hesston went to Agco. It was another turning point.”

While the industry continues to change, one thing remains constant: their commitment to family. 

“Most businesses don’t last the third generation, but we proved them wrong! We didn’t grow partly because the companies we represented weren’t there to grow with us. Now, I don’t know if my son will take over the business, but he’ll have a choice in the matter,” ends Doug.