Over 100 years later, Hersruds a success
A commitment to quality, customers and community has been the cornerstone of Hersrud’s three generation success as both an automobile and farm equipment dealership serving the rural population of western South Dakota and the surrounding areas.
“My grandfather Martin Hersrud opened a general store in Petrel, North Dakota two miles from his homestead in 1908. In 1910 he started selling farm implements, which of course back then were all horse-drawn,” said David Hersrud of his family’s start in the farm equipment business.
In 1911 Martin started offering McCormick-Deering implements, which eventually became International Harvester Company.
“In 1918 he moved the store about 10 miles from Petrel to White Butte, South Dakota, and was there for probably five years before a fire completely destroyed the building his store was in. At that point he moved the business to Lemmon, South Dakota, where it stayed,” said David.
The reason behind the various moves was the degree of opportunity each location offered. All were along the rail line, but White Butte looked more promising than Petrel when Martin initially moved the business. Following the fire and while determining whether or not to rebuild it became very apparent that Lemmon was developing at much faster rate than White Butte.
“Over the years my grandfather continued selling farm implements, and from time to time would also sell automobiles. He sold everything from Chryslers to Hudsons – a lot of stuff that isn’t even around anymore,” said David.
Over those same years Martin also set a standard for customer service and community involvement that the Hersrud family continues today.
“My grandfather was a very giving human being and very involved in the community. He served in the North Dakota legislature in the early 1900s, provided a lot of help to area farmers and ranchers during the Depression era, and was always very involved in his community and the associated rural areas. Giving back to the people who supported us was something he took very seriously, and something we still take seriously today,” said David.
In the early 1940s David’s father Morris and uncle Gordon joined the business, and eventually took the reins in full upon Martin’s retirement in 1951.
“My uncle and father grew the company, having stores in Dickinson, Hettinger, New England and Mott, North Dakota. Then, in about 1976 they decided to split the business because each of them had family interested in coming into it. At that point my father came down to the Hills and purchased the Sturgis location from McKies,” said David.
Today, David and his brother-in-law Arnie Luptak represent the third generation of the Hersrud family operating the business, which has grown to include a second location in Belle Fourche, over 50 employees and a 100-year history of meeting the area’s automobile and farm equipment needs.
“We have continued to grow over the years, with an emphasis on maintaining both our automobile and farm equipment lines. There have been highs and lows – wondering if we would still be in business when General Motors declared bankruptcy in 2008 and becoming one of the top 100 Skid Steer loader dealers in the country among them,” said David.
Hersruds is currently the oldest continually running family owned dealership in western South Dakota, and celebrating 100 years in business in 2010 was among the family’s greatest milestones and proudest moments according to David.
“Our biggest emphasis has been our focus on rural America, which we all have strong ties to, our involvement in the community, and our customers. The way you thrive for 100-plus years is through having a commitment to your customers. They have to know they can trust you, and that you have their best interests at heart. My grandfather deeply believed that you never sold something and just let the customer leave. You had a responsibility to those people following the sale as well,” said David.
The subsequent generations have also carried on Martin’s strong belief in community involvement. David’s mother Marion was on the Board of Regents when they decided to expand the University of South Dakota medical school from a two to a four-year program. Her instrumental involvement in that is particularly poignant as one of her granddaughters is currently enrolled in the school’s medical program.
“We have all served on various boards including the local Chambers of Commerce, City Councils, boards of education in addition to church and hospital groups. My father and I both served as the South Dakota Automobile Dealer Association President, and he was honored as the Time Quality Dealer of the Year in 1984,” said David.
Of their reasons for remaining both an automobile and farm implement dealership, one of only two left in South Dakota, David said the answer is easy.
“It’s about working with the people in agriculture. My grandfather was a farmer first and foremost, and our ties to agriculture go back as far as our ties to the automobile industry. Part of our family makeup is working with those people who walk through the door every day. We’ve been here through the same highs and lows they’ve all experienced over the last 100 years, and our clientele is part of our heritage. I cannot imagine losing part of that through only selling one or the other between automobiles and farm equipment,” he said.
Of the future of Hersruds, David said it looks bright from his vantage point.
“Things will obviously change with time, as they always do, but I hope to see the business thriving in another 100 years. I have been here since 1977 and have no plans to retire. My brother-in-law and I both love coming to work every day, just as my dad did. I’m hopeful that when the time comes we will be able to pass the business on to either someone within the family or someone outside of it that wants to see it continue and recognizes the importance of it. We’ve been in a position to watch the western South Dakota area grow, to see the highs and lows of its people firsthand, and it’s been a great ride we don’t plan to end,” said David.
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