MANLIUS – Nobody knows a farmer’s needs like a farmer.
So when Kory Farm Equipment, a division of Korhumel Inc., was dwindling under owners from a Chicago suburb and in danger of closing its doors, a Walnut businessman formed a group of investors to buy it.
Mike Maynard, president of TCI Manufacturing in Walnut, decided to buy the company along with 12 other investors, including five farmers.
Now the new owners are revitalizing the company, hiring new employees and creating new product lines to keep up with farmers’ changing needs.
Newton Korhumel bought the company in 1971. Korhumel, whose family lived in Lake Forrest, died in 2000, and his wife, Irene, died in 2010. One of their children, Lee Korhumel, oversaw the company after his mother’s death, but the stockbroker was less than interested in the company, according to Larry Lauritzen, general manager of sales.
“The children didn’t want to put anything into it,” Lauritzen said. “They walked away from it and turned it over to the bank.”
That bank was Citizens Bank in Walnut, which took ownership in April 2011.
The company, which had 78 employees in its heyday in the 1970s, had laid off people in several rounds starting in the summer of 2008. By April 2011, it had decreased the workforce from about 20 to five or six employees.
Lauritzen talked to Maynard, who took a month to get other investors interested. They bought the company in January 2012 and named it Kory Farm Equipment LLC.
“I’ve always thought there was an opportunity in that little company, but they were short of some things we could bring to the table in engineering and marketing,” Maynard said. “They have some great staff, some long-term, dedicated employees.”
The business people and farmers provided “new ideas and fresh blood,” he said.
“Sometimes investors myself might know how to market but have no idea what to build,” he said. “The farmers brought ideas about what some of their needs are.”
Maynard said he and the other investors have a “hands-on” management style. “You have to know what’s going on,” he said.
And you have to be willing to change, he added.
“There is business out there, but you may have to change some techniques in getting that business,” he said. “What worked yesterday may not work today.”
The company has added about nine new products since the new ownership took over, and again has started making the 340-bushel gravity flow wagon, which is useful on large farms, Lauritzen said. Other items include a new seed tender, 550 gravity wagon, and new models of a 6-foot yard rake and a 6-foot heavy duty box blade.
“It’s the best thing that could have happened for everyone involved,” he said of the company’s survival. “We have aggressive ownership. They want to grow the company and allow new product lines.”
The company had not changed its products or its distribution in 30 years before the investors bought it, Maynard said.
Today’s farms are much larger and need much bigger equipment, Lauritzen explained. A farm of 1,000 acres, which used to be on the high end of average in the 1970s, would now be a part-time job, he said.
“You have to have bigger equipment and try to get away with less help,” he said. Kory’s new owners have also increased the staff to 18, Lauritzen said.
Steve Carrell, a welder at Kory, was laid off from the company in May 2011, and was rehired in January 2012.
“Everything’s going pretty well,” Carrell said. “When we had layoffs, we only made certain things. Now it’s anything we can get in the door.”
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