True North HQ: Every day is Ag Day for Red River Valley chain
GRAND FORKS — True North Equipment has moved into its new headquarters in Grand Forks on the east side of Interstate 29, south of the Alerus center.
John Oncken, the company’s vice president, recently gave the Herald a tour of the True North Resource Center, which serves as a headquarters for the company’s four-store John Deere dealership chain. It includes a high-tech training center — a gathering center for employees and customers.
The facility cost about $2 million. It is located just off 42nd Street at 4325 18th Ave. S. Black Gold Farms moved to the property in 2012, starting what is becoming something of an agricultural business park. True North purchased some of the land and built its resource center next to the Black Gold facility.
True North has John Deere dealerships in Kennedy, Minn., and Grand Forks, Grafton and Northwood, all in North Dakota. The company hasa customer base of thousands of operations.
The 7,000-square foot center features:
Ten offices for existing company executives —sales, after-market management, parts and service, human resources, complete goods (ordering machines, working with inventory control), central warranty processing and training.
A board room, which includes maple-wrapped furniture with table tops made from soybean straw material manufactured bya Mankato, Minn., company. Workspace accents include panels made from reclaimed, pressed sorghum straw. The board room can seat 16 people and can be used for training.
A first-floor seminar room with 500-pound sliding doors that resemble the sliding doors on most farm shops.
Oncken declined to speculate on whether the company will stay at four dealerships or explore the idea of expansion.
“Time will tell. We’re always looking at opportunities and looking at growth in our business that someday may entail something like that.”
Setting us apart
Travis Kiesel has been True North’s Integrated Solutions manager since August 2013. He is responsible for delivering classes from the new facility, among other things. The pre-wired classroom to help farmers and their field employees optimize their equipment includes an array of technology. The company is offering in-classroom teachings that range from basic to advanced, but also takes classes to the client at larger operations.
Kiesel offers four basic classes. The first customer training seminar was held in mid-February. Three are designed to help customers understand and be comfortable with the advanced technology available on equipment they already own.
Those classes will be offered through early April and will reach about 200 customers.
The company has four Integrated Solutions consultants who help teach the classes.
The classes include:
Basic Agricultural Management System — AMS is John Deere’s global positioning system.
“Some customers are learning it for the first time; for others it’sa refresher,” Kiesel says.
SeedStar XP — an advanced planter system that allows acustomer to finetune seed spacing and seed “singulation.”
Small group classes are available without extra charge to customers who have purchased large, model 2014 agricultural equipment — tractors, combines, sprayers, air seeders or planters. All other classes are available for $150 per four-hour session.
Customer-students are not always the farm managers, but typically the actual equipment operators.
“Our classes are focused on the person with their body in the machine,” Kiesel says.
It is set up to allow farmers arealistic simulation of real farming situations.
“We have the latest AMS technology in the facility, so when customers are sitting in our classroom, they are looking at the same display or monitor they would see in their own machines,” Kiesel says. “We’ve wired the facility for that, and more importantly, we have wired it for growth. As technology advances, and we know it will, we are prepared to grow with it.
“We keep class sizes to six to eight individuals,” Kiesel says. “We want to keepa very low instructor-to-attendee ratio. Every class is very customized to its student base.”
Kiesel saysa corresponding set of courses for harvest will be scheduled and announced this summer.
Minding the gap
Oncken notes that John Deere equipment comes loaded with technology that can help farmers. There is a tremendous amount of technology on the farm machinery, and a “gap” in its full usage, Kiesel acknowledges.
“A lot of our customers recognize that they are not fully utilizing it,” Kiesel says. “We’re trying to teach them the basics of what they’ve already paid for, and how it can positively help them.”
The basic classes help prepare customers for more advanced concepts such as “Field Connect,” an inground moisture sensing probe that can be monitored remotely.
“That givesa producer some eyes below the ground and allows them to geta better idea of what their roots are doing,” Kiesel says. “It makes the most sense for irrigated acres, but I also see benefits to customers with nonirrigated acres.” That is available on a limited basis in 2014.
Also, on a subscription basis, farmers can get remote display access.
“That gives the owner of the equipment— as well as us at True North — the ability to see the display in their piece of machinery, the exact thing the operator is seeing, remotely,” Kiesel says. “We can remotely assist in setting up the equipment, troubleshooting and monitoring proactively the machine health.”
The company has examples of where it has prevented costly down-time and service calls where a simple setting had been entered incorrectly.
“We were able to troubleshoot and diagnose that problem within minutes and were able to have the customer up and running,” he says. “That’s where all of this is headed.”