Many things have changed greatly since the late 1950s but one thing which has not changed is the presence of Gruett’s Inc. of Potter, and more recently New Holstein, as a commercial exhibitor at the Calumet County Fair.
That continuous presence began in 1959, when the late Harlan Gruett, who passed away in 1993, and his wife Audrey began to introduce their new business to the public with the County Fair serving as one of the venues. At age 19 in 1958, Gruett began pounding plow plates on an old anvil in his parents’ garage.
Since then, the company has completed several expansions at its longtime location at the western edge of the village of Potter in addition to its second location—Gruett’s New Holland at the northwestern edge of New Holstein.
It is a dealer and distributor for up to 10 main brand names of farm implements, lawn and garden equipment, snowmobiles, and all-terrain and utility vehicles along with 20 shortline brand names. From its manufacturing division, Gruett’s also has it own name on many forage box wagons and calf feeders.
Continuity of generations
Another dimension of Gruett’s is the full-scale family involvement in the business ownership and operation that now includes six members of the third generation. The company is led by the founders’ five children—Steve, Tom, David, Jeff, and their sister Chris (Doug) Lau.
Steve, who is the company president and sales manager, recalls becoming involved with the County Fair as a teenager in the early 1970s. Until then, and for a number of years afterward, the County Fair had farm equipment displays by many firms—some still in business and others not.
That list included the still active and greatly expanded companies Riesterer & Schnell and Vanderloop Equipment along with others such as Hingiss, Huebner, Hein, Keller, Mader, and Siebel that are no longer in business or have been absorbed by other entities, Steve recalls.
During most of the years when Harlan was at the helm for Gruett’s, one of the annual highlights was the County Fair price discount which led to many sales—mostly to farmers during that era, Steve indicates. That practice has largely been discarded.
As the only exhibitor in its category at the County Fair in most recent years, the commitment is mainly to the County Fair itself rather than to generate on-the-spot sales for the business, Steve said. But that does not diminish the effort that the company puts forth, he points out.
It takes about five hours each for three employees to both move the year’s display of equipment to and from the fairgrounds about 10 miles away. Beyond that, two company representatives are at the display for eight hours each on the Friday and Monday of the fair and for 10 hours each on Saturday and Sunday—a total of 85 to 90 hours each year as a time commitment.
Planned for the display on Labor Day weekend are a self-propelled forage chopper, a large tractor, some tillage units, snowmobiles, and ATVs and UTVs.
Several decades ago, it was common that about three-fourths of the people at the fair and likely to stop at the Gruett’s display were farmers but that has shifted to about three-fourths non-farmers today, Gruett observes. That correlates directly to what is taken to the exhibit at the fair, he notes.
Another obvious change over the past 50-plus years is the enlarging of all types of farm equipment along with the great growth in the size of many of the farms in the area, Gruett points out.
With its extensive array of equipment and brand names, Gruett’s has established a trade area with a radius of up to about 75 miles. In addition to its annual display at the Calumet County Fair, the company regularly exhibits at the early spring Wisconsin Public Service Farm Show in Oshkosh and at Wisconsin’s Farm Technology Days, which were held Aug. 25 to 27 in Dane County this year.
The company also holds an annual open house at its main location in Potter.