What does it take to keep a family business open for 50 years?
Ed Krystowski, general manager of Krystowski Tractor Sales at 47117 Rt. 18 in Wellington, says one big factor is having an understanding spouse.
He and his wife, Linda, have been together for nearly as long — 45 years.
“Get ready for working long hours if you want to get a business started,” he said. “My wife is an angel. She’s put up with me coming in at one and two in the morning after fixing combines all day. It takes a strong marriage to own your own business. It really does.”
The business averages $16 million in sales annually, but is on pace for about $20 million this year. It employs 23 workers and has roughly $7 million worth of equipment on site at any given time, Ed said. His younger brother, Steve, works as sales manager.
Ed Krystowski Sr. was a customer for many years at the store while it was under previous ownership, which was eager to hand over the keys to the loyal patron when time came to sell in 1967. He retired in 1988 and passed away in 1996 on the same day as his wife, Agnes, who also worked in the store before stepping away a few years before her husband.
“My parents were never apart. They didn’t want to be,” said Krystowski. “They worked together. They farmed together. They were home together.”
Weather conditions always affect business, but the customer base, which extends across Ohio to the Indiana and Pennsylvania borders, has remained loyal and consistent, he said.
“It’s a seasonal market,” he said. “Anyone who’s in agriculture, lawn and garden, or landscaping is in a seasonal market. Right now it’s the slow season but it’s picking up as we get more sunshine again. You have spring, fall, and harvest season, but it slows down with the summer, especially a dry summer like the past two.”
The customer base has changed due to modern means of communication and the proliferation of large-scale farming.
“Our clientele has changed a lot,” he said. “Small farms are gone and dairy farms are pretty well gone. It’s moved into larger farms and larger equipment. A lot more dollars need to be spent now to farm. The Internet also makes things much more competitive now. It started with the trade magazines and the start of national advertising. That’s when it started where one day you’d be taking to a farmer in New Jersey then talking to one in Oregon the next day.”
A combine tractor with heads that cost $20,000 in 1974 now runs $500,000.
“We were selling those in the early 70s and I told my dad I didn’t know if people would keep buying them, because they’re getting too expensive,” said Ed. “It’s all driven by the market.”
Another big change he noted in the agriculture business are American corporate farms established overseas that compete with ones set up on U.S. soil.
“Our government went to other countries and established agricultural centers, especially in South America,” he said. “Now South America is the American farmer’s biggest competitor. It’s not mom and pop ones. It’s corporate farms, set up by our government, competing against the American farmer.”
Don’t mention retirement to Krystowski, who from all indications isn’t ready to kick back and relax anytime soon.
“You do this to make a living, but there’s a lot of personal satisfaction in it too,” he said. “I get joy driving down the road and seeing a product we sold out in a field working. My wife always asks me when I’m going to retire. I say I will never retire. I enjoy the customers. When you’re dealing with the farming community, to me, you’re dealing with the best people in the world. The relationships we’ve developed with customers over the years makes me look forward to going to work every day.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.