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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 Thursday, July 31, the 212th day of 2014. There are 153 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: A corps of surgeons now occupies the new hospital quarters at the Garrison Hospital on the Rock Island Arsenal. A fence has been installed to enclose the prison hospital.
1889 -- 125 years ago: B. Winter has let a contract to Christ Schreiner for a two story brick building with a double store front on the south side of 3rd Avenue just west of 17th Street. The estimated cost was $4,500.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Germany sent simultaneous ultimatums to Russia and France, demanding that Russia suspend mobilization within 12 hours and demanding that France inform Germany within 18 hours. In the case of war between Germany and Russia, France would remain neutral.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Civil service offices at the post office and the Rock Island Arsenal were swamped as more than 700 youths sought 15 machinist apprenticeships at the Arsenal.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Last night, American Legion Post 246 in Moline figuratively handed over the trousers to a female ex-Marine and petticoat rule began. Olga Swanson, of Moline, was installed as the first woman commander of the post .
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Illinois Quad City Civic Center captured the excitement and interest of a convention of auditorium managers this weekend in Reno, Nev. Bill Adams, civic center authority chairman, said the 10,000-seat arena planned for downtown Moline has caught the eye of construction firms, suppliers, management teams and concession groups.

(More History)