Tumac to shed John Deere dealership

The Eugene-based Papé Group will buy the business and plans to keep it in Walla Walla.

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WALLA WALLA - The owners of Tumac Machinery plan to sell their John Deere agricultural equipment dealership, the last locally owned farm machinery operation of its kind in the community and one of a decreasing number across the country.

Owners have signed a letter of intent with the Eugene-based Pap Group in a sale expected to close at the end of this month, said Tumac President Tim Larkin.

Larkin declined to disclose the sale price of the dealership. He said most of the 30 employees will continue under the new ownership, minus a couple of administrative positions, including his own.

He said the sale is indicative of a greater shift in the business model for John Deere. The agricultural equipment manufacturer has encouraged its dealerships to merge with larger operators. The strategy is intended to mirror the trend in farming as more of the family-owned businesses sell to corporate farm operations.

"In some ways it's sad, but in other ways it's just what's happening," Larkin said. "Look at grocery stores, as an example. They used to all be locally owned, but they're not any more."

With bigger companies running farms, it no longer makes sense to have them served by mom-and-pop dealerships, he explained. He said he and Tumac co-owner Dan McClure have been negotiating with neighboring dealers for sale over the past year. The sale was foreshadowed over the last year or two as Tumac sold its Kubota dealership on Rose Street and closed its Dayton store in early November.

Larkin said he believes the transition under Pap, a billion-dollar company that established roots as a John Deere construction equipment dealer, will be a good one for the community.

When the sale is complete, Walla Walla's John Deere operation will become part of a broader regional network. Pap has also purchased other dealerships in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, including in Moscow, Spokane, Tekoa, Bonners Ferry and Ponderay, Idaho.

Most importantly, Larkin said, Pap has agreed to sign a 10-year lease at Tumac's current location, 3037 Melrose St. The property is owned by Tumac co-owners Dan and Sarah McClure.

"The significance is that they're committed to Walla Walla," Larkin said.

In the long run the merge into a bigger company will bode well for local growers because of better access to equipment.

"Deere has skewed their allocation of equipment toward larger dealers so it'll be much easier to Pap to get equipment for farmers," he said. "When you're small you seem to not get the priority."

Customers are not expected to notice major changes, other than more selection and services.

"I think the changes will be for the good," Larkin said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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