DAYTON -- After years as a go-to stop for combine parts and other equipment, Tumac Machinery will close its Main Street store here this week.
Changes in the agriculture industry have led the Walla Walla-based ag equipment retailer to revamp its own operations, said Tumac President Tim Larkin. The closure of the Dayton parts and service shop, 218 W. Main St., on Friday is the latest step in that.
"It was a very hard decision," Larkin said. "That store has done well for many years, basically selling consumables."
But what made it most profitable -- the Gleaner dealership -- is also the biggest driver of the change.
Tumac's flagship brand is John Deere, and that company is merging its various Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho dealers into a single dealership. As a condition to that merger, John Deere is requiring Tumac to discontinue involvement with competitive product lines, such as Gleaner and Kubota.
Tumac's sale of its Kubota dealership on Rose Street last summer to Blueline Equipment Co. was a step in the process, Larkin said.
But those who have been watching agriculture closely may have been noticing the consolidation of equipment dealers for some time. The local Case dealer is headquartered in Colfax. The New Holland dealership is part of a Tri-Cities chain. Tumac's former Kubota operation is now part of a larger Yakima-based group.
Larkin said owners made a "considerable effort" to sell the Dayton store, but they were not successful. He said ag manufacturer AGCO has assured Tumac owners Larkin and Dan McClure that it will support the Gleaner owners in the area, "but we do not know what those plans are."
Larkin expects the residents and farmers of Columbia County will not take the news well, especially since so many rely on the store.
"For a farmer, parts are the food of life," he said. "They're constantly tinkering. The terrain is rough."
The loss of two skilled employees is also a hardship. He lauded the work of Tim Alexander and Lori Dobbs in running the store.
"And there's going to be another empty building in Dayton, so it's not a good situation," Larkin said.
But the change has been coming, and as with a lot of changes, it's coming later to Walla Walla than many other places, he said.
Technology is changing the face of farming. As a consequence, it's changing the way farm equipment is sold, too.
"GPS technology is becoming mainstream. Cell technology is becoming fundamental," Larkin explained. "So for farming, the combination of GPS technology and cellular technology is revolutionizing the way farmers farm."
The wave of the future: A service manager sitting at a desk will be able to troubleshoot problem farm equipment on a plot 100 miles away thanks to wireless technology, while a satellite-steered tractor another 100 miles away moves through crops where GPS technology helps monitor how green a crop is or whether weeds are growing.
On the plus side, there are added efficiencies. The challenge is maintaining personal service.
Larkin compared the changeover to the proliferation of home improvement chains. Though they're not as known as independent hardware stores for personal attention and knowledge, they may carry more inventory at a cheaper price, he said.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.