How Does a Farmstead Dealer Take a Vacation?

Beverly Written by Beverly Leavitt September 5, 2023 Member Updates

Kim and Ben Willemse of Dortmans Bros standing between two trees.

“Your message will be AUTO DELETED...

If you need me, please send a new email when I return,” read Kim Willemse’s out-of-office reply.  

This is an uncommon answer for a work email, especially in the agricultural industry, where we all tend to be workaholics. We come by it honestly, with our passion and dedication to serving our customers and communities, but what does it look like to truly disconnect?

We’ll find out, but first, what are Kim and her husband, Ben, working so hard towards.

Dortmans Bros 

Ben Willemse grew up on a dairy farm. As soon as he got his licence, he took odd jobs as a farm hand, hoof trimmer, relief milker for farmers on holiday, selling additives for forages, etc.

Kim, on the other hand, “had nothing to do with the industry until Ben dragged her in,” she shares with a laugh. 

However, they had two goals: raising a family and running their own business.

Kim remembers, “Both of us grew up in homes where our parents owned their own companies, and as teenagers, we owned our own. It’s always been a part of our life–we understood the pursuit of that.”

Ben credits his success to forcing himself into a business minor at the University of Guelph to accompany his animal science major. “It wasn’t a passion, but it helped me understand the business. I was always more about tractors and cows than numbers and return on investments,” he recalls.

“We got married young and shortly thereafter had our oldest son. I needed to work. My first job was in Woodstock, which was a long drive. So I either needed to find something closer or move.”

As luck had it, Ben ended up a little closer to home than expected. At a family Christmas party, his cousin John Dortmans offered him a job.

John had just expanded his equipment line and needed someone to run it. Ben expressed his interest in owning his own business, and John and Ben made a deal to transfer ownership in the future. And so he started with the dealership in 2001. 

The Willemse Era 

In 2010, Ben and Kim took over 49% ownership, which wrangled Kim deeper into the business.

At the same time, they expanded to Salford and Jarvis. 

In 2017, the pair added “back barn” equipment to the lineup, including feed and manure handling, ventilation, and stabling.In 2020, they became 90% owners and quickly expanded again by adding the Elmira location in 2021 and the Wellesley location in 2022. 

Now, they’re building a new dealership for the Strathroy location. “We expanded faster than we thought we would. But we like to think of it like farmland–when the neighbour’s farmland comes up for sale, you grab it!” exclaims Ben.

“We are now in the process of training and developing our leadership team. Going through a guided series of meetings on structuring Dortmans Bros. Rather than having locations function as their own, we want to function as one supportive team. Part of our planning includes our succession as we prep our two oldest children and the two children of one of our co-owners.”

He continues, “As we’ve gotten bigger, we’ve been able to specialize certain people within the company. When we were smaller, people had to wear many hats, and you can get by, but now that our team is more specialized, we can get into complicated situations and deal with them efficiently.”

Next, Ben and Kim will look at the upcoming 5, 10, 15 years. What will that bring for technology, international trade regulations, consumer demand, carbon footprint, and of course, future leadership of the dealership? There are many scenarios to play out, and that doesn’t leave much time to unplug.

Turning Off

When we asked Ben and Kim why they decided to share their intentions in their out-of-office reply clearly,

Ben said: “Owning your own business isn’t for everyone because you’re always on. When someone sends me an unimportant text at 11 p.m. at night, it’s on my mind. I don’t leave my phone in the kitchen or off because if something hits the fan with an employee or customer, you have to be available. 
Our personal and work life is one big bundle.”

Kim continues, “It’s the first time we have ever done this with our out-of-office. We made the decision for our own health and rest. We have worked on every vacation and have always answered emails and calls and told our staff we’re available.

We took 2.5 weeks–the longest and most disconnected we’ve been. It was a success!  Our employees and fellow owners took care of things while we were away, and we returned to a peaceful work environment.

When asked if they would do it again, it was a resounding “Yes!”

Have you ever disconnected from your dealership? Did it turn out how you expected? Or are you inspired to try it yourself on your next holiday (given you take one to begin with!)?