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Selling Deere: Family finds success with dealerships
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Paul Seyller sits on one of the many riding lawnmowers which are sold and serviced at River Valley Turf, which has outlets in Davenport and Silvis.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood
In this file photo, River Valley Turf senior technician Kent Etzel assembles the bed on a new John Deere Gator 825 in the company's Davenport facility.
DAVENPORT AND SILVIS -- Deere & Co.'s influence on the Quad-Cities area includes its part in many local family histories.

"My grandfather retired from John Deere, so I want to buy John Deere," said Paul Seyller, owner/manager of River Valley Turf, explaining the thinking of many customers who come to his store.

He and his employees at the Deere dealership often hear stories from customers about a family member and what part of Deere they worked for. Often, a Deere paycheck is what supported their families.

"I think they're proud to buy a John Deere product because of that heritage," he said.

Deere has been a major influence in Mr. Seyller's life as well. He has worked for Deere dealerships since he was 15, he said.

His brother, four years older, started with a dealer in the Chicago area. When Mr. Seyller turned 15, his brother got him on at the same store, and Mr. Seyller has been in the dealership business ever since.

During this time, he has helped assemble products, sold them, repaired them, driven a truck -- essentially every aspect of the business, he has done, Mr. Seyller said.

He thinks that might be one of the reasons for River Valley's success.

"I came from the ground up," he said.

When the Seyllers established themselves 12 years ago in the Quad-Cities, the dealership they took over was doing about $600,000 in business a year. The two River Valley stores, one in Davenport and another in Silvis, now do about $7 million between them.

Besides the Quad-Cities stores, his brother runs four more in the Chicago area, said Mr. Seyller, who is now 44.

River Valley's Davenport store is on a windswept patch of ground near U.S. 61, north of Davenport proper. The parking lot is tight, perhaps 20 spaces framed on either side by phalanxes of green and yellow machines -- tractors, utility vehicles and other mechanical beasts of burden.

The front room is much the same but for the walls, roof and plate glass: ranks of machines formed up as if on parade. On shelves around the walls are parts, hand-held tools, toys and memorabilia. Here and there is some red, or some orange, but, again, green and yellow dominates.

Farther back in the building, shelving about 12 feet high fills another room. The shelves are packed with boxes, spare parts and other odds and ends from the various machines sold at River Valley.

Beyond that is the repair shop. Here mechanics and technicians tear the various vehicles apart, find the bad, replace it with the good, then put everything back together. Here the machines are jumbled together a bit more, and the various workers wend their way through narrow paths as they go about their business.

Nearby is another large room also filled with boxes and bits and pieces needed for conducting business.

River Valley Turf sells everything from light hand-operated lawn tools to small farm tractors, Mr. Seyller said. Between the two stores, there are about 17 employees, including six technicians who work on the machines.

Mr. Seyller said his staff has to be knowledgeable about many different brands because they also repair them if a customer brings them in. That knowledge also helps them when employees take a competitor's product in trade on a sale.

The months of April through July are the biggest part of the year for River Valley Turf. In those months, the company does about 60 percent of its business, he said.

He said good employees can go elsewhere if he doesn't keep them on hand, so he finds ways to keep them working through the rest of the year when business is much slower.

"You can't lay your employees off when it's slow," Mr. Seyller said. "You've gotta keep them."

So they catch up on repairing or working on the company's buildings, getting displays and other things ready for the rush period and on preparing used stock for sale.

Used stock has become a much bigger part of River Valley's business over the years and now makes up about $1 million of the yearly total, Mr. Seyller said.

People are not hanging on to their tractors and other vehicles as long as they used to, he said. Before, they might hang on to a tractor for 20 years, and he still has some customers that do so, but most go for something new every five or so years, using the older equipment for trades.

"They want something new on a continuous basis," he said.

He said not knowing how to deal with the swelling used-merchandise market can sink a dealership.

"You've got to take it in right and sell it," Mr. Seyller said.

River Valley Turf is building an addition dedicated to showing and selling used lawn and landscaping equipment, he said.

In addition to encountering the personal stories of Deere's influence on Quad-Cities residents, Mr. Seyller said that being so close to Deere's heartland does cause some other interesting effects for River Valley.

Many of the ranking Deere executives, including chairman and CEO Samuel R. Allen, are customers.

"I guess we're sort of in the spotlight because of the territory we cover," he said.

Local events heading

  Today is Wednesday, April 23, the 113th day of 2014. There are 252 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: Some persons are negotiating for 80 feet of ground on Illinois Street with a view of erecting four stores thereon. It would serve a better purpose if the money was invested in neat tenement houses.
1889 — 125 years ago: The Central station, car house and stables of the Moline-Rock Island Horse Railway line of the Holmes syndicate, together with 15 cars and 42 head of horses, were destroyed by fire. The loss was at $15,000.
1914 — 100 years ago: Vera Cruz, Mexico, after a day and night of resistance to American forces, gradually ceased opposition. The American forces took complete control of the city.
1939 — 75 years ago: Dr. R. Bruce Collins was reelected for a second term as president of the Lower Rock Island County Tuberculosis Association.
1964 — 50 years ago: Work is scheduled to begin this summer on construction of a new men's residence complex and an addition to the dining facilities at Westerlin Hall at Augustana College.
1989 — 25 years ago: Special Olympics competitors were triple winners at Rock Island High School Saturday. The participants vanquished the rain that fell during the competition, and some won their events; but most important, they triumphed over their own disabilities.

(More History)