They really are probably the most loyal employees that we could have. I just really felt that we should reward them for that.”
Many of those employees have been with West Side Tractor for more than two decades, including one with 39 years on the books and 30 with 25 years.
That longevity still pales in comparison to Rich’s history with heavy equipment. He was born and raised on an Illinois farm, where he was first exposed to farming equipment. After high school, he went to work for an equipment dealer and attended diesel trade school before joining the Air Force, where he taught diesel engine repair for four years.
Once he left the service, he went to work as a technician at a dealership in South Holland, Illinois, eventually working his way up to shop foreman.
“One day the boss came out and handed me a sales manual and said, ‘Why don’t you go out and see what you can sell,’” he recalled. “That was my total training, but I knew most of the customers and I enjoyed selling equipment. It worked out really well.”
When an area John Deere dealer went bankrupt, Rich and a few of his coworkers cobbled together $30,000 to buy him out, and in 1962 West Side Tractor was born.
Although Rich bought out his partners within the first 12 months, the early years were tough and required sacrifice by him and his family.
“Our biggest problem was the cash flow,” he said. “With the limited amount of money I had, I could not get a line of credit at that time. John Deere had a floor plan. They gave you a very liberal floor plan, but they also tied up all your assets so you couldn’t borrow against them. You had to make payroll and then once a month you had to settle with John Deere, so you had to keep the money turning pretty fast.”
Rich and Mary persevered, though, and overcame the hardships of those early years together.
“We worked as a team all the time,” Rich said. “Mary was raising the family. She worked down there a few times, but not too often. Everything we did, we did as a team.”
That teamwork eventually paid off, and in 1987, Rich turned the company over to his three children: Diane, who oversees the general operations and product support; Steve who manages RCE as well as machine sales; and Tom, who is in charge of used equipment and the consignment fleet.
“We’ve given the children the company,” Rich said. “It’s completely in their names now. They are pretty well financed and they have the ability to make a pretty good living for their families. They’re probably doing a better job than I could.”
That’s not to say Rich isn’t still involved in the equipment dealership business.
After leaving West Side, he and Mary headed south to Texas where he purchased three struggling dealerships and again turned them around. After making a decent return on Longhorn real estate as well, he returned to Illinois and now helps his children by managing West Side Tractor’s and RCE’s facilities.
In addition to their employees, Rich said the secret to the Bencks’ success all these years is simple.
“If you can get the customer and keep them, then you can grow; that’s the name of the game,” he said. “Our philosophy all these years has been ‘service what you sell.’ Get a customer and keep them for life. You do that when you have good parts and service. We go out of our way to make sure we have the service if we sell something.”