WINCHESTER - It was 50 years ago that Fred and Anita Weagant opened the first Weagant Farm Supplies Dealership in the backyard of a country general store in South Mountain, and in those 50 years, the family has celebrated many successes.
The family-owned company currently has three stores -- two in Winchester and one in Brockville -- that employ over 50 people.
Fred and Anita have accepted many Highest Sales awards from the companies they represented throughout the years, and they, along with the whole Weagant family, are well-respected both throughout the industry and in their community.
Around 1951, Fred was getting tired of working behind the counter at Weagant's General Store, and decided to attend the Ontario Retail Farm Equipment Dealers' Association Show in Toronto. He'd always been interested in machinery, and he returned with a Minneapolis Moline tractor.
"That was my first piece of equipment, a Minneapolis Moline tractor -- I paid for it and brought it home with me," Fred said. "It whetted my appetite for selling machinery."
Fred's love of machinery and natural aptitude for salesmanship drove him to open the first Weagant Farm Supplies Dealership in 1953.
While the company grew from a backyard enterprise to a qualified Cockshutt dealer, Fred nurtured his business and eventually closed the general store. This allowed Anita to join him in the dealership, where she kept the books and helped out wherever she could, especially on the parts counter.
In 1957, Weagant Farm Supplies acquired the New Holland line, allowing them to enter the haying business and, in 1958, added David Brown tractors, which they sold until 1971.
In the early 1960's, Cockshutt was bought by Oliver Company, which was later taken over by White Motor Company of the United States. Weagant's then became a White dealership.
The relationship with White lasted until the 1980's, when Weagant's got a Fiat tractor dealership under the Hesston brand name.
Despite becoming the second largest Hesston dealer in Canada in only six years, Weagant's expanded once again when Fiat Corporation bought out Ford-New Holland, a secure and popular line and a brand with which the Weagants were very familiar.
They became a Ford-New Holland dealer in 1993 and remain so today.
Fred and Anita, now fully retired from the business, were very much a part of the expansion years that began with their oldest son, Bob's, return to the business full-time in 1971 after graduating from Western University. Their son-in-law, Dave Black, joined the business in 1974 after working in Toronto. Fred and Anita's second son, Laird, returned to the business in 1980 with a business degree from Western University, and to their very great satisfaction, they saw three grandchildren -- Julie Black, Scott Weagant and Stacey Weagant -- enter the business when they finished university.
A new 10,000 square foot shop, which has been added onto several times, opened in 1978 in Winchester. They added the Brockville store, with Laird as manager, and its Kubota line in 1982 and closed the South Mountain shop in 1988. A third store, Topline Trailers & Equipment, opened in 1993 and moved to a new facility on Highway 31, just south of Vernon, in 1999.
In a 1987 interview, Fred said that, "Market area has increased dramatically...but our commitment to personal service and friendliness hasn't changed." His family and customers today would still agree.
In his rather unassuming manner, Fred says, "I never really thought about it, but I think I was just born to sell. It was ambition and a desire to sell the product."
"I was born on a farm and that spurred the interest. I thoroughly enjoyed selling farm equipment -- I was blessed."
Fred's son Laird said he always knew he would go into the family business.
"Back in those days, it was 100 per cent a family affair. As kids, we spent all of our time working in the shop," he said.
"We just grew up as part and parcel of it."
Laird thinks there are many reasons for Weagant's success over the years.
"One of the reasons has definitely been our own personal involvement."
He, Bob and Dave Black are the owners and operators of Weagant's, but they have always been involved in the everyday business.
"It's likely been the fact that we enjoy what we do," he added.
"With the right staff that's working for you and their commitment to the business, it really does make the spot pleasurable to work in."
"We believe in offering our customer a good product at a good price with good service," Bob said. "We really promote our service. That's been the foundation of this dealership. It's helped to build our reputation."
Weagant Farm Supplies gives a lot back to the community. The store supports local trade shows, fairs and exhibitions and provides bursaries to local students. The Weagants support Winchester District Memorial Hospital, the Canadian Club, Upper Canada Playhouse, local 4-H clubs, the Cattlemen's Associations in the area, Junior Farmers, Winchester Dairyfest, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Farm Safety Days, area horse shows and a multitude of other farm related organizations and events. The Brockville store offered its facilities as the depot for distribution of generators by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs during the ice storm and was involved in the Hay West Movement last year, providing both tractors and manpower to load the hay onto railway cars.
Weagant Farm Supplies has also been a faithful and consistent supporter of the Ontario Retail Farm Equipment Dealers' Association.
Weagant's sends out their own publication, "Farmfest News," to some 22,000 rural route customers between Kingston and Ottawa and the Quebec border. Filled with approximately 14 to 16 pages of farm news, machinery deals and used equipment notices the company carries, the publication is known to customers as "Weagant's Yellow Flyer," and it is not unusual to see a customer come into the store carrying a copy, even if it is six months after publication.
The Weagants will be throwing a 50th anniversary party at their store, 11250 County Rd. 43, Winchester, at 7 p.m. on Friday, August 22. The evening promises to be great fun, with music by local group "The Celtic Canucks," miniature horses on display, a kids' pedal car tractor pull, a display of antique farm machinery, a Pelee Island wines sampling opportunity, light refreshments and a collection of Weagant Farm Supplies memorabilia.