Since he was 10 years old, Dan Butler has been hanging around the family-owned Caterpillar dealership, cleaning parts bins and mowing grass as a kid, now serving as CEO of the Butler Cat family of eight dealerships strategically spotted across the Dakotas (Fargo, Bismarck, Minot, Jamestown, Grand Forks, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, and Aberdeen).
As a third generation Butler, since 1998 Dan has taken the reins of a burgeoning Cat dealership and its 450 employees and is helping to guide it to future growth, assisted by a sister, Twylah (Blotsky), a son who works at the Grand Forks branch and attends the University of North Dakota, and a daughter who works at the Fargo office and attends West Fargo High School.
"The competition in our lines of equipment--agriculture, construction, trucking--is becoming more fierce every day," says Butler in a quick meeting with CFO/Treasurer Bob Jensen, who's also been with the company for 25 years. "Components for machinery are often made by separate manufacturers who also supply competitive firms, so now the dealership and its people are often the deciding factor in making a difference on getting and keeping customer loyalty."
In order to fill the demands for qualified people, especially technicians (no longer mechanics), Butler has developed and continues to sponsor a 'Think Big' hands-on education program at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, ND and a similar program at the Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, SD. With a promise of excellent salaries and benefit programs, Butler Machinery recruits many students still in high school to give them paid experience at Caterpillar shops in the region, along with classroom instruction using both Butler's and Caterpillar's donated equipment ... nearly $3 million dollars worth.
"Our reputation for service in the field is what we're known for," acknowledges Butler with some pride. "In some areas we have resident technicians who are spotted at remote locations to take care of Butler equipment. Fast service is essential; most of the cost for operators in agriculture and construction is in time lost when a machine is down. Our CATs (Customer Account Technicians) are there to provide personal service. We're not just there to sell them a machine."
This dedication to training and education is also evident in the new headquarters and training facility in south Fargo. The contemporary design is complimented by state-of-the art training/conference room facilities for constant attention to upgrading technical skills.
Following its association with Caterpillar in 1955, the Butler family has become an integral operation for Caterpillar, beginning first with agriculture machines, then transforming itself into a heavy construction equipment operation before returning to its roots--agriculture--in the late 1980s.
In addition to Butler Machinery, the three Butler brothers also launched Gremada Industries as an offshoot to the dealership. Gremada (named after the first letters in each man's name: Greg, Matt, Dave) has become one of the nation's premier Caterpillar parts restoration firms. Greg Butler continues to own and operate Gremada. Matt Butler took sole ownership of Butler Machinery and in 1998, turned the reins over to his son, Dan.
"The quality of heavy equipment is simply getting better all the time," observes Dan. "Computer technology now enables Caterpillar to go from a concept to a working machine within 18 months. It's our mission to make certain that our staff and technicians can effectively deal with customer needs as they evolve with this new equipment. That's part of the reason we have two corporate planes ... to fly technicians and customers to the different locations for training and access to the latest in Caterpillar technology."
Besides growing their business, the Butlers have stayed active in regional and community development; for example, the Butler's donated a former south Fargo corporate headquarters to the University of Mary for their accelerated degree program.
With that kind of focus and commitment from a third-generation owner, it would seem highly likely that the familiar Butler Cat logo will remain a fixture on job sites and Great Plains farms for many years to come.