By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer
Rockyford Steel is a small town success story by any measure. The company has been in business for 20 years, and owner Adrian de Groot and his wife Cathy have built a business that serves an important niche in the agricultural community. And at the same time a business which shows the best attributes of resourcefulness, adaptability and hometown pride. Rockyford Steel helps refurbish older grain bins to modern technological requirements by creating collar upgrades, retrofit door packages, remote lid openers and custom install temperature cables.
“The augers are getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” explains Adrian de Groot. “Some of these old bins were designed when these farmers’ parents and grandparents were using little tiny augers. Now these guys are buying their augers bigger and bigger, and need bigger and bigger holes on top to get those augers in. They are also making their old bins bigger. So they need collar upgrades, bigger doors and all those things to make an old bin new again…
“Big bin companies don’t want to fix this stuff. They want you to buy new. So they are not going to offer you products to upgrade the old ones. We can do that.”
Rockyford is a town of about 300 people located about an hour outside of Calgary. This location isn’t a disadvantage to his business, says de Groot, rather the opposite.
“We have everything we need for our business right here, and for anything else we are within an hour of Calgary. And yet we don’t have to live in the city. If you are going to trade shows, you have to travel anyway. So that’s not really an issue for us. The combine repair guy here in town also has a fabrication shop so we have our collars made there, our openers made there and our doors made there. We are talking about three blocks away. You put your parts on a pallet and drive them over with the forklift.”
Rockyford Steel is also a family run business with de Groot, his wife Cathy and their four children all involved on some level.
“Not everybody has the chance like I have had to work with a good chunk of their family,” says de Groot.
Rockyford Steel started out as a more traditional bin manufacturing business, but de Groot quickly realized where his niche was in retrofitting instead of manufacturing.
“When you are selling bins you are competing with larger companies that can afford to buy ten semi loads (of steel) and put them in the yard. I couldn’t afford to play that game. But fixing these old bins? They wanted nothing to do with it. The bin manufacturers don’t want us to do it. If I shut down and went away, they would probably be quite happy.”
de Groot, who also manufactures steel cattle shelters as a side line, says he has to judge carefully how to market his products in order to stay in business.
“Some of the products we have, we have to basically install ourselves. Like with our livestock shelters: We don’t sell them in pieces. So if it isn’t close enough to deliver, we don’t sell it there. The economics would just kill us.
“On the other hand, the collars we could ship to Africa if we want to. Anything that is shipable, we will ship. We sell anywhere rural basically. We do trade shows like Lethbridge, Red Deer, Grand Prairie, Saskatoon, Regina. We do one in Minot, North Dakota. The roads go everywhere so we can go as far as we want to go.”
As farm technology keeps changing, de Groot says businesses like his have to be willing to adapt or be left behind. In the last year, for example, Rockyford Steel has moved into manufacturing and selling temperature cables for bins which can be monitored remotely by farmers.
“That is where the market is going so we have to go there too,” explains de Groot. “You have to go with it. You can lead it. You can follow it. Or you can go with the flow. If you are a step ahead of the game, you can lead the way. There’s nothing wrong with that. You can see where things are going. You can either get on board or you don’t.”
For de Groot his company’s essential mission remains unchanged, no matter where the technology leads him in the future.
“With farmers, you know what problems they have. We are talking to them all the time. If you go downtown for a meal or whatever you are talking to farmers and you hear what the problems are, and I build stuff to help them solve their problems,” he says.
So what is the next stage of technological adaptation for Rockyford Steel? de Groot says it’s pretty easy to figure.
“Ya, I can see where it’s going. I am 66. My next step is going to be retirement,” de Groot says with a laugh. “But I still love doing what I’m doing so retirement is going to be a slow process.”