After more than half a century as part of the Virden business community, the Morris Sales & Service dealership is closed as of March 12.
At a community information meeting Wednesday night, General Manager Trevis Hunter and Sales Representative David Draper spoke to a Comfort Inn & Suites meeting room filled to capacity with over 30 people – many of them customers, employees, business people and municipal elected officials.
“This isn’t a rally of any kind to save the dealership. It’s an informational meeting so you know what the situation is and how we move forward. It’s also to dispel rumours and serve as a starting point for anyone interested in a local effort to establish another dealership,” said Tiffany Cameron, who organized the gathering. She is the proprietor of Ice Cream Island, and has been working on economic development projects for the R.M. of Wallace-Woodworth during her off-season.
Morris Sales & Service in Virden is owned by Morris Industries Ltd., which is under court-ordered creditor protection.
“CCAA (Companies Creditor Arrangement Act) creditor protection is run by the courts. We can’t do much without their say,” Draper said. He and Hunter could offer few details as to what the outcome would be.
“As far as Morris Industries, we don’t know what is happening with them,” Hunter said.
He said that offers to purchase the company were to close that day. A variety of factors contributed to the company’s financial difficulties and brought about the current restructuring efforts.
“A new ownership group came in with new investors. Sales were good, the drill was good…the air seeders came a long way. In the meantime, some of the other manufacturers had seen the (economic) downturn and were backing off,” Draper said.
Morris went in the opposite direction, ramping up production, and was affected by some unforeseen warranty issues, as well as poor weather and crop yields which cut into their sales. Mazergroup was supposed to take over sales of Morris equipment in this trading area, threatening the Virden store’s future.
Draper said that he and fellow staff have been dealing with uncertainty since the fall of 2019. “We were initially supposed to shut down August 31, then it became December 31, and now we’re into March,” he said. “There were people willing to assist at that time. All the manufacturers were still on board. In the meantime, Kubota started looking at the big picture. They will financially support a new building, but want their branding on it and do not want a competitive short line.”
Locally, Morris Industries had plans to expand, purchasing land on Highway 83 at the western edge of town for a new facility to better serve their clientele. That property will now likely be put up for sale. Draper said that not having this materialize hampered their business from the time their original location was sold to Four Seasons Sales and they moved to the building they now occupy.
“Then we got moved into the temporary location, and slowly got handcuffed,” he said. “The business was profitable. Despite being handcuffed, we were having a busy year for our store.”
Nonetheless, the service capacity for small and large equipment was one of their major shortcomings, with a shop that was simply too small.
“We couldn’t even get an air (seeder) tank in our shop. This doesn’t make sense. Most farms have bigger shops than we had. If we could have got Morris Industries to make our shop better, there was the potential for a lot of service work,” Draper said.
With physical limitations, and a future in question, their ability to attract and retain qualified staff was also hampered. “We found that when we moved over to the current building it was hard to get employees in a rented shop that’s as big as this room. At the time we expected we were to have a new building. As things happened from the top down, we’re the ones that are first to go,” Draper said.
During the question period, Brian Eilers expressed appreciation to Hunter and Draper for their tenacity. He thought it was important to move forward in a timely fashion.
“I applaud you guys for sticking it out,” he said. “We need the community to do something because we cannot let things go to Moosomin, or to Brandon. How can they have all these ag dealers and we have nothing?” he asked.
For the foreseeable future, customers will need to travel to another community to purchase new equipment or obtain parts and service. “It’s going to be a real change for people,” Draper said. “For this spring, it is going to be Van L Equipment (in Reston). Hopefully they can coordinate something through Yorkton (where Morris Industries has a manufacturing plant). Unfortunately for Schulte, Kubota, Meridian, (and other product lines the Virden location sold), those customers will have to go to other dealers.”
There was cautious optimism that the void may be filled in the not-too-distant future.
“There have been dealerships in different towns that have seen the gap in Virden and have contacted us. I’m not saying it’s not going to be here, but there will be bigger companies looking at doing something in Virden,” Draper said.
He and Hunter thanked their customers for their support over their 53 years in business.
“It’s been a long time…You take it for granted you’re there, and then when it disappears it hits home,” Hunter said.
“We’ve employed a lot of people and sold a lot of product out of that store,” Draper added. “Being the last one isn’t the best feeling. Hopefully, we can do something.
“It will be missed, for sure.”