CUBA CITY, Wis. — After nearly 45 years of selling implements to and servicing the equipment of area farmers, a longtime Cuba City dealer is closing its doors.
Three Freiburger brothers — Dubuque natives Clint, Larry and Steve — and Pat Williams all had a hand in running Grant Equipment Co. On Friday, the business’s penultimate day of operation, the owners received legislative commendations from two southwest Wisconsin lawmakers in recognition of their service to farmers in the tri-state area.
“The mortality rate for small businesses is incredibly high,” said state Sen. Howard Marklein, who is a certified professional accountant by trade. “There’s a lot of companies that don’t make it a year. The fact that you’ve been here as long as you have is really a testament to the leadership and hard work of all the employees here.”
As the agricultural market improved in recent years, the Freiburgers and Williams, of Platteville, jumped at the chance to retire and sold the property at 2120 Wisconsin 80 to Premier Cooperative, which has locations throughout southwest Wisconsin.
“We are at the start of an upswing,” Clint said. “It finally brought a buyer. If we were still stuck in a downturn, the buyer probably would not have surfaced.”
The Freiburgers grew up in rural Dubuque milking cows for neighbors and later found employment at a dealership for Massey Ferguson tractors.
Years later, Clint and Larry saw the opportunity to run their own business in Cuba City and founded Grant Equipment Co. in 1976.
The business relocated three years later to its current location, about a mile south of the city limits. Steve joined the outfit in 1982 and Williams in 1987.
Among the company’s offerings were tractors, discs, skid-steer loaders, combines and planters. Staff also serviced and repaired implements and sold parts. At its apex, it employed 13 staff.
The business weathered the 1980s farm crisis, which saw the simultaneous decline of land prices and increase of farm debt for land and equipment purchases.
The late 2010s also brought record-low commodity prices.
When farmers’ profit margins shrink, they tend to forgo equipment replacement, Steve said.
Small family businesses such as Grant Equipment Co. must endure downturns with the added challenge of competing with large chains that benefit from economies of scale. Farm equipment also has grown in size and expense, increasing cash flow.
“The pressures that the ag businesses face are the same as what farmers face,” said state Rep. Travis Tranel, a Cuba City dairy farmer. “A lot of times now, the ag businesses, they’re consolidating. You don’t find ma and pa shops now that have one or two locations.”
Throughout the years when agriculture faced economic downturns, self-employment underscored the necessity of perseverance, Steve said.
“You just tighten your belts and move on and make the best of a bad situation,” he said.