on Friday, March 11, 2022
John Byl – A Cornerstone
Over 45 Years Helping Staff and Customers Succeed
The following is an excerpt from an article written in a Premier staff newsletter in 2018, featuring John Byl. As we near completion of our new Norwich facility, we want to acknowledge our history in Courtland and Simcoe. The article was written from a visit with John, meant to share some history with our staff and celebrate John who has a legacy with us back to the beginnings of the business at the Courtland store.
It was May of 1974 – on a Monday, actually – and a young John Byl, just wrapping up Grade 12, talked with Ernie Scholten about starting on as an apprentice technician with the newly formed Scholten’s Equipment bringing John Deere equipment to the Courtland area. John was hired on the Friday, and began a career of [now over] 45 years of serving customers and still going strong today.
John knew Ernie from church functions. Ernie shared that his brothers John and Dick Scholten had landed a contract to begin a John Deere dealership. John had worked for years at the local International Dealer – Tilsonburg Farm Equipment, Dick was the controller at Livingston’s, a local freight company.
In the fall of 1973, John literally helped build the dealership in Courtland – which began as a 50ft x 90ft building with a 50ft x 55ft shop. After working at the dealership, it was off to school as part of the first class of students in the fall of 1975 to the Ag Technician Course endorsed by John Deere at Fanshawe College in London. “The John Deere 55 was the first combine I worked on. I loved working on combines, hated harvesters, but I loved the combines,“ John reminisces with a smile and a distant look.
“In the early days it was Don Smith (head technician) and myself in the shop, John (Scholten) did Sales and Dick did the books and Parts.” A couple of years later brother Ernie Scholten came along as Service Manager, Henry (Sr) joined the sales department and brother George Scholten (Sr) came to run the parts department – making Scholten’s a true family business.
“John was the optimist, Dick was the pessimist – Ernie and George mediated. It was a good arrangement, they balanced each other out,” says John.
In 1978 John (Byl) earned his ticket, graduating from Fanshawe and shortly there-after took over as Service Manager and Ernie moved to sales to help continue to grow the business.
“It was busy times! We sold 80 tractors in 1977, and 44 corn planters – from 4 to 16 rows! Our biggest challenge back then was getting product out,” says John. “For every 4430 we had, there would be 3 guys interested.”
And grow the business did. The late 70’s saw additions to the building, plus the shed, the crew in the shop grew to 6 guys, and they added John Deere consumer products and snowmobiles to the line-up.
“This brought new challenges, with a new customer base, and new expectations,” says John. “We had the line that customers wanted, and tried to provide great parts and service support. Dick always said ‘If you treat the customer right, the business will come.’ ”
“I can remember doing after hours support in the 70’s,” says John. “We really tried to look after our customers. I remember working on a combine until 1:00 in the morning…then… I had a beer. I needed one after that one,” John says with a grin. “I can remember the first real PIP [Product Improvement Program] John Deere issued too – it was on the 8850. We had a customer with one, we had to put new piston liners in. That was when the program really took hold… the customer still has that tractor today.”
In the early 80’s the business expanded further with the addition of the Simcoe store in 1980, and a few years later a Burford store opened - all under the Scholten’s banner.
Fast forwarding through the 90’s and early 2000’s, Scholten’s joined forces with Ayr Tractor (Ayr and Tavistock) becoming ArgaTurf Inc, and then added Smithville in 2008. May of 2011 brought the formation of Premier Equipment by bringing the teams from Elmira Farm Service and AgraTurf together – and all the while John manning his post in the service department in Courtland – helping customers and coaching staff.
When asked what John felt was the biggest change he experienced over the years he replies, “Paper to computer was a big deal. It really changed how things were handled in the service department. We used to have written workorders – and hand them to the accounting folks to process the billing. My time used to be 10% in the office and 90% in the shop. With the computerized system, the workload shifted to 40% in the office and 60% in the shop. It was a big challenge, but a good one and for the best.”
“Outside of my role directly, all of the AMS products and capabilities has really changed the game, and has added a whole different element to the industry,” adds John. “It has really been great to see that technology from the beginning and how it has changed our farmers businesses and made them better.”
“I’ve always enjoyed working with our customers,” John says when asked what he’s enjoyed most. “In my role as service manager, and even now as CSR – I feel like a hub, like I help connect things and bring them all together, the customers, the different departments – all to make the customer happy or successful. Dick, John and I grew up together – we learned the business as we went along. It was great to work with customers with an awesome product line, and I felt I was able to help bring it all together. That was really rewarding for me.”
When asked if he’d do it over [working for a Deere dealer], John smiles “I thought about being a teacher…I loved to train the young fellas to go to the field. It’s a great feeling to see a young person [often from a local co-op program] that you are training start to find their way and be successful...you bet, I’d do it again.”
What advice would John give for a new hire/or apprentice candidate? “Be present. You need to pass the first inspection! Be keen, be able to problem solve. Do what you can to keep a customer going, with whatever you have, twine or wire or whatever, until you are able to do it properly. Listen to customers, understand their operation and needs – we’re helping them with their livelihood, or their lifestyle - and they need to know it’s important to us.”
These days, you’ll still find John helping customers to optimize their equipment, see the benefits of participating in Premier Service Inspection programs and helping young staff find their way. If you can slow him down long enough, be sure to say hello and thank John for all that he does for Premier and our customers.