Red is alive and selling well for Canaseraga's Charles F. Oliver & Son tractor supply and repair business.
A year ago, Charles Oliver, 67, signed a contract with the agricultural manufacturer AGCO to sell the Massey Ferguson and Hesston line of tractors — after selling John Deere products since 1945. The business is now celebrating its 65th anniversary with a new line of products that gave the third-generation family business a new lease on life.
"It's been a good year for us with a new supplier," said Charles Oliver. "For a new supplier it's been a really good year."
"We probably sold more units than we thought we would," said son, Kevin Oliver, "quite a bit more, actually, especially with the economy the way it is."
The Olivers have sold about 70 Massey Ferguson tractors in 2009, 60 to 70 percent of what the business sold under the John Deere name, but a number that has allowed Oliver's to generate about $5 million in sales and turn a profit in a pivotal year.
John Deere pulled its contract with the business in October of 2008 after 63 years.
Charles Oliver said John Deere measures its stores by sales volume and is pushing for multiple-store dealerships — something with which he was unwilling to comply. He also said the John Deere company did not like his location.
Oliver was disgusted and angry over his contract termination, but willing to quickly turn over a new leaf when he signed another big tractor name less than two months later.
"Massey's quality is equal to Deere and I've noticed their compact units are better than Deere's. They have a better loader than Deere's and that's where business has been, with compacts and utility tractors, not large farming machinery," said Charles Oliver.
But that's what the Olivers had to get across to customers, and apparently they have.
"The acceptance of the brand has been excellent. I'd say we have kept about 90-percent of our customer base. People aren't going to drive an extra 50 miles to do business when we've got a good product here," said Kevin Oliver.
While the switch went over fairly smoothly, there was a bit of a learning curve, according to the Olivers. The store had to undergo an entire computer system change, send their mechanics back to mechanic school to learn more about the new line of tractors, and adapt to a new business model.
The business kept eight of its nine employees — having to part with a salesman — and recently renovated its showroom.
"We've pretty much worked out all the adjustments," said Charles Oliver. He said his business is planning on keeping the AGCO contract for a long period of time and maintains his supplier is thriving.
The store still services John Deere models and has parts on hand, but there is no hiding the family's bitter feelings towards its prior partner.
The Olivers said AGCO treats them better and has made operations involving advertising, warranty claims, and parts stocking a lot easier.
"(AGCO) appreciates your business and they tell you that ... We are treated like customers and not subordinates," said Charles Oliver.
Charles Oliver said after more than four decades in the business he has seen a lot of changes in the area and especially in his line of work. He said dairy farmers are no longer buying equipment because milk prices are so low and he has watched the beginning of the disappearance of the family farm.
"Going around the horn here you'd see eight-10 farms," he said, adding that now there is only about four.
Charles Oliver is close to retiring, but will "always play a role in business operations." He is in the process of turning many of this administrative tasks over to Kevin. Also involved in operating the business is another Oliver son, Kitrick.