by Emily Leeson
One recent day in late February, Patrick VanOostrum was working out of the VanOostrum Farm Equipment facility in Port Williams, N.S. The next morning, he was on the road toward the Blueline New Holland shop in Truro.
While the recent merger of the two businesses means big changes for both companies – combined they share more than 90 years of experience selling and servicing agricultural equipment in Nova Scotia – one thing is for sure, amidst all the changes, VanOostrum’s truck certainly isn’t the only company vehicle on the road. While the new business is consolidated, there is still a fleet of VanOostrum and Blueline trucks with plenty dedicated to on-farm maintenance throughout the region.
“We probably have six to eight trucks that are on the road any given day,” said VanOostrum. “But then, there are, of course, also the sales trucks, delivery trucks, and parts-running trucks, so there’s probably 20 vehicles in total.”
VanOostrum Farm Equipment and Blueline New Holland are now into the second phase of the merger. Together the two businesses will make up the new Agricultural Dealership Group of SanStone Investments, a group of Nova Scotian private equity investors.
“Blueline New Holland has a great history of representing and servicing leading brands of agriculture and lawn and garden products in Nova Scotia, and the business pairs up nicely with our existing VanOostrum Farm Equipment and Wilson Equipment dealerships,” said SanStone Investments CEO Bill Sanford in the announcement of the merger on Aug. 10, 2018.
However, that pairing does mean big changes to the dealership landscape. According to VanOostrum, western Nova Scotia’s small forestry and mink farm businesses have experienced economic downturns. And both were core businesses for the Lawrencetown Blueline New Holland dealership. It was therefore closed in September 2018. The business from that location was shifted over to the Kentville facility. And now, as of Feb. 4, the Kentville location has closed and moved operations to the Port Williams VanOostrum Farm Equipment store.
VanOostrum said the changes will centralize their resources while allowing the new business to maintain the same level of support to customers in the western end of the province.
Both Blueline New Holland and the VanOostrum enterprise have long histories in the area.
The VanOostrum business began as J.G. VanOostrum Farm Equipment in 1974 when Jos VanOostrum opened up shop for himself, having previously worked as a mechanic and then shop foreman elsewhere.
The company became a second generation business in 2000 when Patrick VanOostrum took over ownership. In 2009, the business became a certified dealer for Case IH. And in 2014, SanStone Investments became a partner in the business.
At around that same time, the original three Blueline New Holland locations in the Annapolis Valley and Truro were purchased by businessmen Stu Rath and Trevor Dillman.
Patrick VanOostrum will now lead up the newly combined Agricultural Dealership Group, and Stu Rath and Trevor Dillman will also continue to be involved.
The merger of the companies also solidifies SanStone Investments’ three divisions. The construction unit consists of Wilson Equipment (Komatsu/DynaPac), which was acquired in 2013. VanOostrum Farm Equipment and now Blueline New Holland make up the agricultural equipment dealership group. And Iron Apple, which was acquired by the investor group in 2015, makes up the food software division. The Halifax-based business develops software for distribution centres as well as for food processing and trucking firms throughout North America.
With the closures of the Lawrencetown and Kentville locations, VanOostrum said many of the service positions were moved to the Port Williams facility.
“We expanded in Port Williams last year with a new service shop,” he said. “Our two service departments now consist of 24 individuals, from service managers, warranty writers, in-shop and road technicians.”
The Port Williams facility now has 16 service bays and Truro has six.
The product lines – with Case IH and New Holland being the major ones – will remain the same for the merged companies. “Our goal is to bring Case IH back to the Truro region shortly,” said VanOostrum. “We have already been set up to provide Case IH parts in Truro.”
The two companies are now installing new computer systems, linking the two stores together. “We expect to officially complete the merger by Sept. 30, 2019,” said VanOostrum.