By early September, West Side Tractor Sales Co. will be operating from its new location in Lisle, Illinois, just 7 minutes from its current headquarters in Naperville, where it’s been since its beginning in 1962 when Rich and Mary Benck started the company with three employees and a pickup truckload of tractor parts.
The intervening years have seen the company grow, expanding to 11 locations in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. It recently became clear that the existing space wasn’t sufficient for the flourishing company’s headquarters.
We spent five years figuring out a solution for corporate headquarters,” says Diane Benck, general operations. “We were out of space, out of acreage, out of buildings.” Many central functions had been pushed to the branch offices in the interim, but it was time to bring everything back under one roof.
Rich and Mary’s children – Steve, Diane and Tom – took over operations of the company in 1987 and remain active in the business. Diane served as AED chairwoman in 2018. “There’s a lot of value in AED,” she says. “The resources are useful and we rely on AED’s advocacy.” She adds that AED’s emphasis on technician recruitment is particularly beneficial at a time when good techs are hard to find.
The third generation of Bencks began joining the team 10 years ago and are part of the contingent blazing the path to the future. That direction includes two new facilities in Indiana (Bloomington and Terre Haute) and the establishment of a technology division in 2015 to provide fleet monitoring, telematics, GPS, machine control products and job-site drones.
Further supporting the legacy, a sister company was founded in Rockford, Illinois. RCE Equipment Solutions designs and manufactures specialized heavy equipment for the rail and energy sectors. And in 2010, a John Deere construction and forestry equipment dealership in Indiana was acquired.
From site selection to renovation
With so much expansion, West Side has done a lot of building over the years, but, as Benck points out, the challenge of creating a new headquarters is that there is no empty land near the heart of Chicago. “You have to go out from the city to get blank land – and it’s very expensive.”
Even if it could be found, building on new ground in a metropolitan area adds a lot of expense, such as permit costs, utilities and other infrastructure. There can be zoning issues, Benck indicates. “It can be a long process.” The right site also requires easy access to freeways and ample acreage.
A better solution came in the form of a former Jeep dealership that sat empty. There was precedent; it’s actually the second car dealership West Side has purchased to convert into an appropriate facility for their needs. But modifications were necessary. “We tore down one building and added 25,000 square feet (for a total of 85,000 square feet),” Benck details.
They had to build a new 22,000-square-foot shop to get the necessary ceiling height to service equipment, but they took advantage of the opportunity to include room for a certified rebuild center and an area for small equipment repair.
The former drive-through service bays now house parts. “There’s extra indoor storage for parts,” Benck says with relish, as she imagines an Amazon-style parts inventory system. There’s additional inside warehouse space for the future, where she’s already envisioning storing attachments and GPS systems.
The large showroom will feature a history wall, documenting the company’s milestones and celebrating the three generations of family members who have run West Side. Benck says they’ve been collecting memorabilia to lend the showroom a museum-like quality.
A giant overhead glass door will allow them to bring in even the biggest machines, including the antique John Deere tractors they enjoy restoring, as well as the newly acquired 99-year-old Waterloo Boy tractor and an old crawler with a West Side sticker proving it’s one of the first machines sold by her father.
In addition to showcasing the company’s history and equipment, the new facility will offer several private, quieter areas: meeting spaces and places suitable for customer training, service training and operations training.
The new ways to work
There will also be collaborative areas, Benck says, as West Side adjusts to new ways of working during – and after – a pandemic. Office space will be available for traveling sales staff, and unique supplementary areas with different types (and heights) of work tables will allow people to spread out and move around. Explaining that they haven’t been able to bring all their employees back to the office after sending most of them home earlier this year because of health concerns, Benck says, “The new building is so big, there’s lots of room for social distancing.”
Because the way we all work is changing due to COVID-19, West Side is investing in conference room technology. A good audio system is key. “We’re willing to spend money on that area to get the right equipment, because we’ll be doing more on Zoom,” Benck explains, adding that renovating a new building during a health crisis has provided a “good time for a reset” to consider how to work safely and efficiently in the future.
Without branch managers, West Side staff do a lot of driving to their other locations. “Face-to-face is important with employees and customers, but we can reduce the amount of traveling we do,” Benck predicts. Having a conference room with state-of-the-art technology will enable them to have better control from a centralized operation.
Amenities to please employees will help with recruitment, Benck believes. “It’s very important to make the employee areas nice. We will have ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ breakrooms for women and men, respectively, and lockers for female techs.”
The big shop
The punch list includes drywall, flooring and paint, but the schedule is on track for a September move. “It will be helpful to be centralized,” Benck states. With room to spare for future growth, this new facility in Lisle is expected to be West Side’s corporate headquarters for years to come.