SD family builds Lankota Group into thriving Huron business
HURON — It started out as a hobby for Kim Tschetter, a way to keep his hands busy innovating farm equipment. When Tschetter delved into the entrepreneurial field, he realized he had hit a niche market for farmers.
Meet the Tschetters of Lankota Group, a multifaceted fabrication and warehouse facility that distributes more than 600 products worldwide from its doorstep in Huron. The business' drive to deliver solution-based, after-market products for farming equipment and machinery was born in 2001 from the creativity and work ethic of Kim along with his wife, Marvie, and sons, Lance and Dakota, after whom the business was named.
As a grain farmer near Yale, Kim filled his winter months with repairing and designing equipment in the shop. When John Deere changed how combine headers hook up, farmers buying new combines who wanted to keep the previous year's header were tasked with buying an expensive kit to match the two. Instead of buying Deere's kit, Kim fabricated his own and realized that other farmers could benefit from his ingenuity. What started as a hobby on the side quickly evolved into a family endeavor, with Marvie's expertise in business management driving the venture forward.
"Dad was the innovator who saw products that needed to be built," said Lance, who is involved in manufacturing and design at Lankota. "Mom was in charge of the office."
When Kim wasn't farming, he'd be in the shop welding and building. If he was out in the field, Marvie, now the Lankota president, would act as receptionist and direct technical support calls to him. In high school at the time, Lance and Dakota were brought on board to help their parents' rapidly expanding business.
"We'd get home from school, pack orders, and UPS would pick them up," Lance said. "Both our parents taught us work ethic. We're extremely thankful for that."
Word of mouth became the dominant form of advertising, along with the help of a trifold brochure distributed throughout the James River area. Within a few years it became evident that the Tschetters' four-stall garage substituting as shop and warehouse couldn't keep up with customer demand.
"We couldn't make everything in the shop," Dakota said. "We had to start outsourcing parts."
'Built on reputation'
In 2003, the Tschetters reached a fork in the road. The family business venture was too big to be considered a hobby. It was time to sell the business or dive in full-time to manufacturing and leave the farm.
The family collectively took the leap and purchased Larsen Manufacturing, a custom cab fabrication shop in Huron. Now with a complete warehouse and manufacturing floor in place, the Tschetters have diversified their business into a variety of revenue streams. The Lankota Group product line includes industrial cabs and snow blowers, along with the family's signature after-market products.
"Our product ideas come from our customers," Dakota said. "They ask if we have a product. That idea goes to our R and D list, and then goes on the shelf as a kit."
The "stalk stomper" has topped Lankota's best-selling list during the past four years. As a value-added product that mounts on the back of combine headers, the stalk stomper protects tires by flattening corn stubble. Through its trademark stalk stompers and kits, Lankota has showcased its dedication to create products that provide solutions.
"We're built on reputation," Kim said. "We want to deliver a good product that's effective."
While farmers are the main customer base of Lankota, the Tschetters are also branching into a new niche market, a venture they've called Range Recovery Technologies. With EPA's recent disclosure of best practices for maintaining shooting ranges, Lankota has developed equipment to recover and recycle lead from berms. Dakota, who oversees Lankota's warehouse and shipping, also takes the Range Recovery equipment on the road to salvage lead from shooting range berms.
Despite their avenues of diversification, the Tschetters' goal remains the same.
"We've learned the valuable lesson in sticking to what we know and what we're good at," Lance said. "We know agriculture. Those are the things that have worked out well for us."
The Tschetters claim several factors have given them the competitive edge in a marginally tight industry. Kim's experience in an end user focus group for corporate John Deere has given him credible experience with his customers. And as a family-driven business, the Tschetters have an intimate understanding of how a team efficiently operates and can react during critical decisions.
"Our culture is very team-oriented," Dakota said. "Everything we do, it's never just one person that makes a decision."
The Tschetters also know that their customer base is essential to their success. A business built around quality product lines and customer service reflects the Tschetters' work ethic and farming roots.
"We're tied to the farmers," Lance said. "That's who we rely on."