This is Part 1 in a two-part series.
Keeping this Texas farm equipment dealership as a family-owned business for over 50 years is a testament to hard work, strong family values, good customer service, and the motto that employees and customers are treated like family.
Kleber Tractor and Equipment, originally called Kleiber Ford Tractor, started in 1970 when Paul Kleiber took over the tractor side of LaGrange Motor Company from the Frede family and moved it from downtown to the west side of LaGrange, Texas.
Paul, who was a tractor technician for LaGrange Motor Company, and his brother, Charlie, pooled their resources and built the new building in 1970 at the current location selling Ford tractors and implements.
Paul’s son David grew up working around the dealership following in his dad’s footsteps not only at the dealership but at the family farm. Through the years, David took on more responsibility and eventually took over the business in 1996 when his dad retired and focused his time and attention to farming their 60-acre family ranch with his wife.
“I think Dad was relieved to eliminate some of the stress of the business, but he still came by frequently and I welcomed him,” David said. “He understood the pressure and was a shoulder for me to lean on.”
“We worked quite well together as business partners and father-son. We butted heads at times, but it was always a good thing because we put our heads together and came up with the right answer, and that’s still what makes it so successful now with my son Ryan.”
David’s son Ryan has been working around the dealership since he was 10, covering every aspect of the business. He started in the back of the shop working on tractors making his way to the parts department, to service manager, and to parts manager. He then moved into sales and is currently Sales Manager.
Ryan, 25, attended Blinn College studying business and earned his degree in Tractor Technology from Texas State Technical College.
“Ryan is a gearhead just like me. We understand the tractor and equipment world very well so when someone comes to us with a problem, we can come up with an answer,” David said. “We’re also farmers doing pretty much everything our customers are doing – raising cattle, plowing, planting and harvesting.”
Although New Holland is the core brand, the dealership also carries a wide variety of equipment and brands including compact and subcompact tractors, lawn mowers and utility vehicles. Brands include eXmark, Honda, Stihl, Bush Hog, Woods, E-Z-Go, Kuhn and Arctic Cat to name a few.
The central Texas area consists mostly of cow-calf ranching operations, but hobby farmers make up a large percentage of customers who are retirees that moved from Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. The 50HP to 100HP are the most popular tractors, with little demand for larger tractors.
“This used to be a big dairy area, but that industry has shrunk,” David said, “and there are just a few farmers left in the row crop business.”
Like most dealers across the country, the biggest challenge for Kleiber is the lack of inventory and parts. “These last couple of years have been challenging,” he said. “Getting equipment is tough. It’s not just larger tractors, but everything from the little 25HP to big 700HP tractors. They’re all taking about a year to get in after ordering.”
Diversifying from carrying one tractor line in 1970 to representing over ten larger product lines and almost 50 smaller brands can be challenging. Keeping up with the specialized training, tools, warranties, and parts requires a lot of organization and teamwork. The dealership currently has 24 employees. David’s wife Debbie also plays an integral part in the business handling the accounting since 1996.
Looking ahead, Ryan considers the challenge to be ever-changing technology, along with the availability of qualified service technicians.
“The technology that goes into all the machines now is exciting but can also be an issue because you need qualified technicians to work on them, and it’s very specialized,” he said.
Currently, the dealership employs 10 full time technicians: four that specialize in tractors; two in equipment; three in power sports and one in handheld products.
David Kleiber attributes the success of the family business to longevity and good customer service. “We treat customers and employees just like they are family,” he said. “We consider each other friends.”
Asked about working with his dad, Ryan said it’s mostly good, but there can be rough days too.
“Sometimes we just butt heads because I see him all the time, even after work. But, the best part of working with my dad is that he knows who I am,” Ryan said.
In remembering his dad, David said, “Dad was a hard worker, a man with a heart who always took care of others instead of himself. He taught me these two things: hard work pays off and always treat customers and employees like family.”
“That’s what I’ve tried to instill in Ryan,” David said.
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