Volume 126, Number 8
No federal bailout for growing Maddock business
BY SARA J. PLUM The headlines today talk of big businesses that are failing and need help from the government so our whole economic system doesn’t collapse. You know, the ones run by people more interested in getting their bonuses than properly running a multi-million dollar company?
They should come to Maddock and meet someone who started with "less than nothing" in 2003 and grossed $10 million in 2008. All without the help of government money of any kind — ever.
"The Dryer Guy" is what he’s known as, but most of us call him Mike, as in Mike Jelle.
Mike sells grain dryers and bins for Farm Fans, Inc., a division of the GSI Group, and grain conveying air systems (pneumatic conveying systems) from David Manufacturing Co., another division of the GSI Group. He’s been selling and servicing grain dryers on a part-time basis since 1977 — mostly servicing while pursuing other careers.
In 1996 Mike and his wife, Cindy Jelle-Ray and her three children moved to Maddock when he was hired at Benson County Co-op Credit Union (now North Star Community Credit Union) to work in the insurance and investments department.
Late summer would find him spending weekends at the farms of former clients, servicing dryers before harvest began.
Even when Mike was heavily into guiding out-of-state hunters and fishermen, he was still servicing dryers part-time. The peak fishing and hunting seasons fall nicely before and after harvest season.
But in 2003 things changed. Mike decided to run a small ad for servicing and selling Farm Fan grain dryers. He got a loan for a pickup and worked out of his home. Using his experience repairing and servicing Farm Fan dryers, Mike began buying used dryers that needed work. He’d get them running properly, make them "pretty" with a new coat of paint, and sell them at a nice profit.
Business steadily grew and Mike purchased the former car wash in Maddock so he’d have a place to work on the dryers. He hired seasonal help, kept buying used dryers to refurbish and also continued servicing those he’d sold, as well as dryers sold by other dealers.
The big break came in 2007 when Mike was able to purchase 47 used dryers from a pistachio farm in Southern California at a very reasonable price. He started bringing them back to Maddock where permanent help was hired to refurbish and sell the dryers. All 47 of them sold that year, mainly to larger farming operations in southeastern North Dakota.
And that, Mike says, is what put The Dryer Guy on the map.
Realizing the downturn in the economy was going to make his customers rethink purchasing new dryers, Mike continued his focus on buying and refurbishing used ones.
His method worked. Selling almost 90 dryers in 2008 made The Dryer Guy the largest GSI grain dryer seller in the country and sixth largest in GSI’s world-wide market.
To keep the pace going, The Dryer Guy currently employs 11 people full-time. Sales manager Dave Glomstad is based in Montevideo, Minn. and works in the company’s market area of western Minnesota, northern South Dakota and North Dakota. Alton Abrahamson of Maddock is foreman/yard man in Maddock and Perry King of Leeds is the parts man.
Jeremey Henderson of Leeds is a truck driver, parts man, service man, basically an all-around hand. Mike Thayne of Leeds does service work and Paul Cook of Esmond is a truck driver. Rounding out the Maddock employees are Kaaren Swanson Duren, administrative assistant; Todd Armentrout of Maddock, yard man and mechanic; Austin King of Leeds, all-around hand; and Andrew Rieger of Maddock, service and "The Insulation Guy."
Joel Podoll of Aberdeen, SD recently started with the company as a salesman for that area. He is also learning how to service the dryers.
During the peak of the season the workforce increases to include part-time, seasonal workers.
Besides the full- and part-time employees, Mike works with local contractors for the concrete slabs needed and for bin erection. Just last year contractors received over $350,000 of work through The Dryer Guy.
Mike isn’t done in the employee department though. He is actively looking for a sales/service man based in southeastern North Dakota in order to cut down the time it takes for someone to come service a dryer during the peak of harvest. He also wants to have more people "in territory," i.e., the areas where a majority of dryers are installed.
There are plans to hire at least two people with a higher degree of aptitude in electronics so he has service people who can work on the microprocessor-based controls on the dryers. A knack for sales wouldn’t hurt, either.
Currently there are 17 dryers sold this year. Mike says purchases are increasing among the smaller farming operations who are finding systems that fit their needs.
The Farm Fans can be purchased as a single, double or triple unit with several different models to handle any type of drying operation.
There are also tower dryers that range in height from 45 feet to almost 86 feet. These are billed as more fuel efficient for mid-sized to large farm operations. The Dryer Guy has tower dryers installed at Mooreton, Larimore, Hatton and Honeyford.
Farmers aren’t the only customers in Mike’s business. A number of grain elevators in his market area have purchased the dryers and he hopes to see that number grow.
But farming, like everyone knows, is a risky business. What will happen to The Dryer Guy when farmers aren’t buying anymore?
Simple, Mike says. He’s going to start building up the service part of his business now so if sales slow down there is still work for the employees. Mike already knows of a couple dealers who don’t follow up a sale with service work and he’s in the process of putting together a service contract with them.
Oops. Let’s not forget "The Insulation Guy." That’s another business Mike has that he hopes to expand this year. Andrew Rieger is a certified operator of the system and got lots of on-the-job training insulating the company buildings in Maddock.
When more room was needed, The Dryer Guy was able to purchase the original Summers Manufacturing plant and Andrew went to work cleaning the brick and spraying insulation over the entire outside. Once the insulation cured, steel siding was installed.
Even with the nasty winter this year, Mike’s heating costs for the business didn’t increase thanks to the spray foam insulation Andrew put on.
Now isn’t it nice to know that while big businesses are holding out their hands, Maddock and Benson County can say there’s a "big" business here that’s doing just fine.
The Dryer Guy, Mike Jelle, takes a quick phone call from a customer while manning the grill during his company’s open house.
(Photo courtesy of Debbie Tracy.)
This single unit Farm Fans grain dryer was on display at an open house held at The Dryer Guy in February. Double and triple units consist of these units stacked on top of each other. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Tracy.)
Andrew Rieger answers questions about the spray foam insulation service appropriately named The Insulation Guy. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Tracy.)
$1,000 gift to MMH
Beth Olson, left, administrator of the Maddock Memorial Home accepts a $1,000 donation presented by Kaaren Duren from the Active Women of Maddock. The donation will be used toward the jacuzzi tub project for Maddock Memorial Home residents.
In honor of ND Farm Bureau Week, March 9-12 the Benson County Farm Bureau held a "guess the grocery value" contest. A cart filled with food items was displayed in the grocery stores in Leeds, Maddock and Minnewaukan. Customers were asked to guess the value of the groceries and the person who came closest would win the groceries. The recipients went home with more than $100 worth of groceries. Jaden Lunde of Maddock.left, is pictured with his groceries won at Tracy’s Market in Maddock. The three stores cooperated with the Farm Bureau by giving space for the contest and encouraging customers to make a guess.
Dexter Lee of Leeds is pictured with his groceries at Tracy’s Market in Leeds. On the left is Renee Holmes and on the right is Pat Hjelden, employees at Tracy’s Market. Several people came very close to the correct amount in all three stores.
Kelly Wang of Minnewaukan, left, is pictured with the groceries she won at McQuoid’s Grocery in Minnewaukan. On the right is Janet Olson of Maddock, a representative of the Benson County Farm Bureau.
Attend FU convention
Delegates to the 107th Anniversary National Farmers Union Convention elected North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson to lead the organization.
"I grew up in Farmers Union and believe strongly in the positions NFU advocates," Johnson said. "I look forward to working with Farmers Union members, those both inside and outside of agriculture, and policy makers on both sides of the aisle to improve the quality of life for those who live, work and raise their families in rural America."
Johnson grew up in Farmers Union, participating in the organization’s youth programs, serving as a county president and chairman of the board of a local Farmers Union cooperative. A third-generation family farmer from Turtle Lake, Johnson was elected ND Agriculture Commissioner and recently served as president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, playing a key role in the crafting of the 2008 Farm Bill.
Joann Bergrud of Maddock and Janet Schill of Langdon were among 17 North Dakota Farmers Union members who served as delegates to the event. NDFU Director Terry Borstad of Cando, formerly of Fort Totten and Starkweather, also attended the convention.
During the convention, NFU delegates adopted the organization’s 2009 policy positions, including special orders of business on farm bill implementation, energy and the environment, rural health care, fair trade, competition and dairy. The special orders of business reflected members’ concerns on all aspects of the nation’s ailing economy.
Area Farmers Union members who earlier in March attended the National Farmers Union convention held in Washington, DC were, left to right, Janet Schill of Landon, Terry Borstad of Cando and Joann Bergrud of Maddock.
Leeds Elementary School students hold Iditarod event March 16
Thanks to the efforts of many community, parent and student volunteers, the Leeds Elementary School students enjoyed an afternoon of sled dog racing, simulating the Alaskan Iditarod, which they have been studying since it began on March 7. As each team raced, they stopped at eight different checkpoints in Leeds to perform various tasks, such as watering the teams, feeding the teams, checking their dogs’ paws, taking a rest, getting checked by a veterinarian, etc. City Auditor Tammy Urness reads a proclamation passed by the Leeds City Council declaring March 16, 2009 as Leeds Elementary Iditarod Day.
Mr. Swanson races to the finish line with his fifth grade team.
Volunteer Abbie Brossart offers a snack to Arnikka Thompson at one of the checkpoints.
High school volunteer Daniel Luhman leads his team of second graders as they take off from the starting line.
Students enjoy a cup of hot chocolate after their race. Left to right are Spencer Follman, Andrew Follman, Josh Bowman, Erin Jorgenson and Kaylee Lybeck.
One of the crossing signs posted throughout the town.
Riley Lawrence rides the scanda sled and Austin Blazer mushes as the sixth grade team prepares to take off for the race.
Volunteer Katrina Lybeck plays the role of a veterinarian and checks the dogs’ heart rate at a check point. Lybeck is pictured with third grader Rochelle Hansen.
Kindergarten twins Cody and Caleb Jorgenson wait patiently for their team to take off.
In state competition
Three Warwick School FCCLA members are headed for state competition in April. Left to right are Chassie Guthrie, Shayna Black and Samantha Joramo, who are holding the board for their Star Events Project, "Learning Healthy Habits."