The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 19, 2014

Zins, among oldest Deere dealers, is closing

Nicollet dealership has served farmers for more than a century

By Tim Krohn

---- — NICOLLET — Zins Implement, tied as the oldest John Deere dealership in the world, is closing this summer, part of a trend toward larger consolidated dealerships.

"You have a heavy heart thinking of it closing after so long as a family business," said Kurt Zins, among the fourth generation to operate the dealership.

"But I don't see it as an ending to our store, but a consolidation. With the ag climate the way it is and farmers getting bigger and bigger and farther between — it's the same with the implement dealers."

Gilsinger John Deere, in Winimac, Ind., bills itself as the oldest John Deere dealership in the world, starting in 1899. John C. Zins opened a general store in Nicollet in 1892 and got its first John Deere contract in 1899, the same year as Gilsinger.

Zins Implement has been operating as Kibble Equipment since it merged with Kibble in 2006. Kibble has dealerships in a dozen locations, including Mankato, Nicollet, New Ulm and Sleepy Eye.

Butch Kibble said that with fewer farmers and facilities relatively close together, closing the smaller Nicollet shop was inevitable.

"To provide the level of service we need to today and to have the work for our employees, we need the facilities that have the size and scope. The days of having the Nicollet-sized stores is actually long gone," Kibble said.

"It's not a great day when you have to do it, but we have good employees in Nicollet and rather than watch this just fade away, we thought we could keep them working and created the economy of scale and customer service we need to deliver."

The goal is to have the 10 employees working in Nicollet move to other Kibble dealerships.

Soon after opening his general store, John C. Zins began expanding into well drilling, plumbing, buying and selling livestock and selling farm equipment.

While Zins got his first contract with Deere and Co. in 1899, it was 19 years later that Deere purchased the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company in Waterloo, Iowa, and tractors became part of the John Deere line.

John C. died in 1927. Ed Zins, and his uncle, George Zins, bought out John's wife, Lena, to continue the business.

Ed Zins' son, Paul, began working at Zins Implement in 1967 when he was 29. Just a couple of months after he returned to Zins Implement, his father was killed in a car accident.

In 2002, Paul decided to semi-retire. His sons, Paul Mike and Kurt, began taking over the business and continue there today.

In 1979 they moved out of their original downtown location and opened on the north edge of town. The original building remains.

Kurt Zins said one of the biggest changes in the business has been the sheer size of the equipment and their computerized complexity.

"Diagnostics is a huge part of it today. In the old days you knew it was broke, now it's something in the software, in the wiring, and it can take a long time to figure that out. It's a lot more sophisticated. The mechanics have to be good fix-it guys and computer guys, too."

Kibble Equipment has been expanding in southern Minnesota in recent years. Two Kibble brothers started Mankato Implement and Kibble Equipment and began acquiring other dealerships. Last spring they merged as Kibble Equipment.

Kibble is now one of the largest John Deere dealer groups in the U.S. and Canada.