Outside of the Norm

Beverly Written by Beverly Leavitt November 30, 2022 Member Updates

The outside of Embro Farm Systems with a sign reading "Sales and Service."

If there’s one thing CEEDA members have in common, it’s pride in their business! 

We spoke with John Van Ginkel of Embro Farm Systems, and he’s certainly no exception. 

However, unlike many owners, John didn’t grow up in a dealership. Instead, he started his own. 

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

When John was 23 and his brother, Tys, was 20, they approached the bank to buy an existing dealership, Thuss Farm Systems in Embro, Ontario. 

The widowed owner of Thuss Farm Systems agreed to the sale and shared her ambitions, stating, “all I wish is that you buy this, and one day, I’ll read about the big business.” 

The bank wasn’t as sure, and John recalls the lender saying, “don’t expect to make money in the first two years!”

But John’s ambitions were a little different. He shares, “our goal was to run an honest, thriving business for our families, employees, and customers. We obviously wanted to grow it, but we would never have dreamt that we would grow as fast as we did. 

It was busy, and we were never home except on Sundays, but we were blessed!” 

John credits much of his success to his wife, who played an active role in the dealership, and their eight children, who understood the commitment as he left for work at 4 am and sometimes didn’t return till 11 pm. 

“We built this on customer service.”

Instilling the Same Values

While John recognizes his commitment in the early days was extreme, he expects the same from his business partners, including the newly acquired Dunnville Agri Systems Inc. 

“It’s my model—I don’t expect you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself, even though it’s getting tougher at this age,” he laughs. 

“We helped Dunnville get started, and it didn’t grow the way I felt it should. It had grown stale, but within a month [of our new relationship], we started to see changes.” 

With John’s expertise, they’ve added a new salesman and started to implement some of the successful sales and accounting techniques that have worked wonders for Embro. 

Proof in the Pudding 

There are a few practices that John has put into place to help his business grow, and he’s replicating that success again. 

1. Reviewing his budget monthly 

“Years ago, we hired a fella from Manhattan who ran the New York City transit. He taught us a lot about business and made me implement a budget. 

We were two hard-working farm boys without a lot of education, and I couldn’t have gone to school for that anywhere. 

He came back a few years later and was grinning from ear to ear, seeing how much we had grown with the help of his advice.”

2. Working Neat and Tidy 

“I tell my employees, ‘whoever left the customer last left the last impression made of Embro Farm Systems. It’s either good or bad; there’s no in-between. And whether you’re a salesman or not, it’s all about how you dealt with them.

Make sure you work neat and tidy, and you do your best. We all make mistakes, but if you have enough time to do a job twice, you had enough time to do it right the first time.’”

3. Skipping the Farm Show

“When Covid hit, we stopped going to farm shows, and we haven’t missed them since. Instead, we invest in our customers who buy a lot from us and hand-deliver them custom, local gift boxes as well as Embro Farm Systems gift cards.”

In addition to local delicacies and gift cards, John also implemented a rental system in 1999 to help customers test new products, which has proved more lucrative than relying on them to request a demo. 

“These are big, high-ticket machines. Whether they need it for 1-2 days and it doesn’t make financial sense for them to own it, or they’re too shy to ask for a demo, they can rent the equipment.”

In true, honest fashion, John shares, “if they like the equipment after they’ve rented it, we give them a break in the price. It generates dollars for machines that would otherwise be eating interest and helps us keep our rental fleet new. It keeps the cost affordable for the customer, and they might end up with a new-ish machine that still has a warranty on it.” 

As John knows, “there’s a lot of competition–we have to be different.”

Familial Diversification 

John differentiates himself in many ways, including his definition of “keeping it all in the family.” While three of his children are actively involved in the business, and he started it with his own brother, he is working towards splitting the business between them. 

Six years ago, John and Tys split Embro Farm Systems and Performance Dairy.  This process was started in 1999 when they bought out a local dairy equipment dealer, founding Performance Dairy, with the intention of one day separating for succession.  

The separation was out of the purest intentions and without any hard feelings. In fact, there weren’t any problems in their working relationship, but they understood that it could happen with families that own businesses together, so they were proactive. 

And he wishes the same for his children now. “I believe they should each have their own–it’s the best and the healthiest. They can work for themselves, and it’s theirs.”

To learn more about your fellow dealer, we encourage you to reach out and get to know John! A previous CEEDA board member, and current farmstead dealer, he’s got a tale or two under his hat!