By Kalea Hall
The late Enos Witmer was a farmer, but when the opportunity came to sell farm equipment, he couldn’t say no.
It was something new to take on, but Enos saw the necessity of change in his routine.
His grandchildren have carried on that mentality today as the leaders of Witmer’s Inc. in Salem.
“Enos would be proud of the fact that we maintained this business and we were always open to change,” said Nelson Witmer, company president.
Recently, the Witmers decided to make a big change. After 80 years of selling farm equipment in the region, Witmer’s decided to sell the assets of its agricultural equipment division to focus on the construction side of the business. Witmer’s recently closed a deal with Ohio Ag Equipment, a division of Ohio CAT, for the company to acquire the assets of Witmer’s Agricultural Equipment Division.
Witmer’s, which has been in the construction business for 48 years, is now completely focused on the delivery of pre-engineered steel and wood-frame buildings to the commercial, agricultural and industrial markets.
Witmer’s also offers energy analysis, through which the employees can analyze new and existing buildings for energy usage.
“The only thing you can guarantee is tomorrow will be different,” Nelson said. “We have been able to adapt to the changes that have happened. We have had a willingness to try new things and an understanding that you need to change and adapt.”
But while things have changed, it’s hard to notice for customers who go to the farm equipment store. The equipment is still sold in the same place by the same employees. Ohio Ag Equipment leases the space at 39821 state Route 14, and Witmer’s Construction continues to operate from a separate spot at the same location.
The store that Ohio Ag now runs still has the first tractor Enos sold, which the Witmers bought back, in the showroom.
Enos was a farmer with acres of all sorts of crops. He found a favorite farm-equipment brand in Minneapolis-Moline. One day in 1937, the company came to meet with Enos. They asked if he would become a dealer of their equipment, and he agreed.
“It went well for him,” Nelson said. “They did some expansion there at the farm.”
In 1947, the Witmers moved the business to the current spot.
By the 1950s, Enos’ son and Nelson’s father, Ralph, realized that someone needed to focus on the equipment business. Ralph asked his dad if he could take over the business.
“He said, ‘That’s the best news I heard yet,’” Ralph said.
Ralph, now 90, is naturally an entrepreneur, his son says. He would find an opportunity and take it, like he did with construction. In 1969, after a customer asked Ralph to build a grain bin, Witmer’s became a Butler Manufacturing grain bin dealer.
“And that’s how we got into construction,” Nelson said. “That took off.”
Ralph’s cousin, the late Vernon Witmer and his son Don Witmer, who is still working at Witmer’s, helped grow the construction side of the business.
The association with Butler got Witmer’s in the commercial construction business. Witmer’s added the Lester Buildings line in 1986.
“We developed into a full-fledged general contractor doing commercial, industrial and agricultural construction,” Nelson said.
Nelson focused on the construction side of the business and his father focused on the farm equipment side.
In the 1990s, Nelson’s sister, Grace Styer, came back to the family business in an administrative role. Grace is now Witmer’s vice president.
Doris Witmer, Ralph’s wife, didn’t work at Witmer’s, but she was back home supporting her family in any way she could.
“She was very supportive in helping all of us,” Grace said.
Witmer’s Inc. isn’t the only family business. The Witmers are also part owners of the Das Dutch Haus Restaurant, Dutch Village Inn and Village Shops.
“We have always been very entrepreneurial,” Nelson said.
After three significant deaths happened within a year-and-a-half, the Witmers decided it was time to rethink all they had going on and refocus their business. That’s when the decision was made to sell off the agriculture side of the business.
Ralph supported the decision, knowing change is necessary for growth.
“The economics of a single farm equipment store isn’t there anymore,” Ralph said. “We are very blessed that there’s a well-capitalized company that’s buying farm agriculture businesses. It’s just a win-win situation.”
What hasn’t changed at Witmer’s is the way they work with customers.
“It’s really important that we aren’t just having a contract with our clients, that we have a relationship,” Nelson said. “We want them to be an investment, not just a contract.”
And Ralph is still a mainstay at Witmer’s. He can’t seem to fully retire from the company.
“He’s still the grandfather of all the businesses,” Nelson said. “He gives us wisdom.”