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Monroe Tractor Celebrates 55-Year Anniversary

Fri January 27, 2006 - Northeast Edition
Laurie Mercer



“Don’t call me in the middle of the night if you have a problem.”

That’s what Len Frederico, CEO and president of upstate New York’s Frederico Construction, said many equipment dealers would tell you if you had equipment break down. Saving Frederico Construction from a serious situation is just one of the reasons why Frederico prefers to work with Monroe Tractor when he buys, sells, or rents heavy equipment.

Frederico and his two sons, Lee and Mark, are likely to show up at Monroe Tractor with donuts, bagels and croissants for the employees just for fun; although in late December 2005, they also were interested in acquiring two mid-size excavators — the Case CX160 and CX130 for Katrina-affected area demolition assignments.

While Monroe Tractor celebrates its 55th year in business, it’s interesting to note that Frederico’s father, Joe (now deceased), was one of the then fledgling company’s first customers.

“In 1967 I bought my first machine, a backhoe, from Henry. Then I got a dozer,” Frederico said.

That particular dozer enjoys special status today. After Monroe Tractor’s Andy May carefully restored it to mint condition, Frederico’s sons presented it to their dad on his 60th birthday in 2004.

“We’ve bought or rented lots of excavators and attachments like grapples and thumbs over the years,” he added.

For customers such as Frederico, families matter. While large multi-national companies have come and gone, Monroe Tractor has grown from its modest 20 by 30-ft., cinder block building on 2 acres, rooted in the agricultural market. The 2-acre farm lot purchased for $10,000 in 1951 has experienced intense commercial development; the lot, now 10 acres, is worth more than a few million dollars today.

Forging a New Business

In 1951, Henry Hansen and his wife Dorothy launched what was then called Monroe Tractor and Implements to serve upstate New York’s burgeoning agricultural community with a dealership that exclusively sold Case.

“I grew up on a farm in Geneva and I became a farmer,” said Hansen of his early life with heavy equipment. “Like a lot of young people, at that time I didn’t know what else was available. I understood farming. I kind of followed my oldest brother into the heavy equipment business. He went to RIT [Mechanics Institute, at the time], and so did I. At first we talked about being partners in a heavy equipment dealership for farmers, but he went to Horseheads, NY, and I didn’t think much of that territory, so I stayed here.

“There hadn’t been a Case dealer in these parts for over a year in ’51, so I could start from scratch,” said Hansen.

Carrying the Case lineup, however, was challenging at first.

“Case wasn’t a very popular line in the area then,” said Hansen, “It didn’t enjoy the reputation held by International at the time. Case was kind of a third-line of farm machinery, and that’s all we sold then. Case combines got us started with the local farmers.”

In 1956, a Pippin backhoe and loader was attached to a Case tractor, and the industrial portion of the business began.

“Case started getting into the construction line with products like backhoes and loaders,” Hansen said. “It proved to be a good line for us. We got into heavier equipment like bigger bulldozers. Later we got with a company that made excavators. We were doing well enough financially to take these new lines on, and they proved to be good businesses. Then we got into cranes, compaction, trenchers, graders, and we grew about as fast as we could.

“It was a little tougher back then to get started,” he continued, describing the high personal cost of starting up the business 55 years ago. “We wouldn’t be the company we are today if we had stuck to the original program. Instead we became a full-line provider to two very different industries.”

But did Hansen ever imagine the business would become this big? With a new 25,000-sq.-ft. building and 135 employees, including 27 specialists fueling outside sales, the 55 years of growth is evident.

“Oh no,” he said. “Every time we made an addition to the original building, I thought that would take care of everything, but we’ve always outgrown them.”

Eight additions later in 1999, Monroe Tractor chose to build an entirely new from-the-ground-up facility designed by the Rochester-based Nichols Team. Always homespun, the new location was just across the street from where they first began.

In each instance of growth, an economic spark signaled an enhancement at Monroe Tractor. Many business decisions were innovations for their time. For example, during the early 1960s, power line construction really took off, and Monroe Tractor responded by growing the rental side of its business to support the work.

Beginning in the early 1950s, Hansen had already been offering his customers an alternative to the heavy investment in purchasing a new piece of equipment, which was unusual for its day.

“We were able to create responsible growth because we had some very good people with good management training in the field,” said Hansen. “We really don’t think it makes much difference what you sell. With good service, they buy Monroe Tractor first and the machinery brand second.”

Training and Teamwork

Hansen’s daughter, Janet Felosky, grew up working for the company — beginning in shipping and receiving. She is now president and is leading every initiative the company is involved in, taking obvious pride in its accomplishments. Recent business highlights include Doosan Daewoo taking the entire CE sales department on an expense-paid trip to Atlanta to see the manufacturer’s Georgia facility.

Internal training is on-going in subjects such as safety, hazardous materials management, specific product applications, and new tools and equipment.

“A few years ago, Wirtgen, the German-based manufacturer with the number one milling, compaction, and roller machine in the world, chose to ask us to come on board as a distributor,” said Felosky. “We’ve, in turn, invested heavily in training product specialists just for their line, and the training never stops. Maybe because this is a family-run business, the employees understand the team approach. Here, when a customer has a problem or a need, we get right on it and get them satisfied.”

Management put that team talk into action in 1990 when it introduced an Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP); employees currently own 43 percent of the company stock.

“In the agriculture field we have achieved the same kind of recognition in the German-based manufacturer Claas — number one in the world for self-propelled choppers, which farmers use for high-tech forage harvesting,” said Felosky.

She pointed to other equipment on Monroe Tractor’s line card, including small pavers and hydraulic hammers that have earned major market share worldwide.

The Internet and a strategically-linked Web site (www.Monroetractor.com) has brought the company international business with customers in Mexico and Canada.

“Servicing our customers is a huge part of the business,” said Felosky. “With more sophistication in the equipment — including things like GPS becoming routine — technicians have to understand how to program computers.”

Felosky cited a deep understanding for specialty applications as another area where Monroe Tractor excels.

“Scrap handling, recycling, demolition, logging, refuse, paving, milling, and specialty construction are some of the areas where our knowledge and understanding of a specialized industry really pays off,” she said.

As an example, she cited busy scrap yards from Utica to Buffalo, as they fill container ships bound for China with American scrap metal with more activity than ever before.

In special applications, sometimes modifications are needed. For example, Alpco Recycling in Macedon, NY, identified a need for a high-tech and specialized solution to waste management.

Chris Felosky, Hansen’s grandson and a member of Monroe Tractor’s sales force, was instrumental in taking a standard Case CX 240 excavator and, instead of placing the cab just a couple of feet above the tractor, service technicians added a 6-ft. riser. Instead of a bucket, they added a grapple on the end of the arm to pick up debris and recyclables. A magnet helps grab metal. Best of all, the 16-ft. tall machine easily folds down for transport on the open road.

Monroe Rents

Sandy Alvarez, another Hansen daughter, leads an aggressive sales team under the banner, “Monroe Rents,” following several years managing the parts department.

Like most things this company does, the rental business has its own manager-based agenda to follow, as well as its own sales goals throughout the territory with more than 1,500 customers. The collective rental fleet of earthmoving, compaction, landscaping, and snow removal equipment — more than 200 pieces strong — is valued at more than $20 million.

Here’s an example of a Monroe Tractor rental rescue.

When the snowfall reading at the Buffalo Airport reached 82.6 in. during the winter of 2001, Monroe Rents was able to quickly provide short-term rental equipment — mostly loaders in the 2 yd. to 4 yd. capacity — to lighten the load, earning the rental staff high praise.

In building solid community relations, Monroe Tractor donates equipment when a local town needs a new ball field, for Habitat for Humanity, for a women builders association in Syracuse, and through local trade unions that need equipment for training purposes.

All About Family

The roots of the success of this family-owned heavy equipment business can be traced to a man who at age 85 still comes in to work at the company. Hansen claimed he has no place else to go because he doesn’t play golf.

Not surprisingly, he finds reading the daily sales reports that come across his desk each morning to be one of the most intriguing parts of the job.

“I like to see what equipment is sold for, what’s taken in on trade, and which sales person took the order,” he said.

“When people ask me why my dad, at age 85, continues to come to work at Monroe Tractor,” said Felosky, “I have to believe that in a family business, it gets into your blood. I know that my mother has 55 years of exasperation because whenever we get together, no matter how hard we try to avoid it, my father, my sister, and my son and I will start sharing what we think we can do to make it even better for our customers and our employees.”

“They’re just great people to deal with,” said a total site developer, who got caught by a dozer breakdown in a critical timeframe. Monroe Tractor delivered the part he needed to the job site within two hours.

Chris Felosky is most impressed with one very important element of his grandfather’s success — he’s never heard any criticism of his grandfather.

“You’d think after 85 years of age and 55 years in business in two highly competitive fields, he would have stepped on somebody’s toes by now, but he never has,” he said. CEG