Alan Johnson stands in the workshop at R.N. Johnson in Walpole, N.H.(Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Alan Johnson stands in the workshop at R.N. Johnson in Walpole, N.H. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Saturday January 12, 2013

WALPOLE, N.H. -- A relationship Alan Johnson's grandfather started with an iconic American business 84 years ago officially ended Monday.

The owner of R.N. Johnson said representatives from John Deere strolled into his store at 4:15 p.m. and told him the industrial giant was canceling its contract with the shop. Johnson said the representatives immediately started removing all the corporation's equipment -- equaling $1 million in value -- from the business that was one of the three or four oldest family-owned John Deere dealers in the world.

"This day has been coming for about a decade," Johnson said in a telephone interview, while the merchandise was being taken from his store. "We have been fighting it tooth and nail to stop but there was nothing we could do."

He said it is a little early to tell how this will affect his business but John Deere equipment made up more than half of his inventory, and his showroom looks pretty bare without it. The lack of merchandise forced Johnson to do something his business hasn't in 84 years -- lay off employees.

He said he had to cut six of his 20 workers from payroll Tuesday in order to reduce overhead. Johnson said terminating people's positions has been the saddest thing about this whole experience.

"I believe, and my grandfather (Ralph "Jack" Nathan Johnson) believed, the greatest purposes in business is to provide jobs," he told the Reformer. "I have no great need to accumulate wealth."

He said those six individuals relied on their jobs and the insurance that came with it.

Despite the heartbreak, Johnson said he holds no resentment toward John Deere, which is famous for its green and yellow deer logo. He instructed all his employees to help the representatives remove the merchandise from the store, telling them "It's no more fun for them than it is for us."

Though he said he does not take the decision personally, he believes it is John Deere's corporate philosophy to systematically cut relations with all single-location dealers and use only large, multi-location dealers. He said his shop is just the latest casualty.

Barry Nelson, the manager of media relations for John Deere, said that is not the corporation's philosophy, and Johnson is not in a position to say so. Though he rebutted Johnson's comment, Nelson said confidentiality reasons prevented him from explaining why John Deere decided to cancel the contract.

When asked if John Deere was concerned about small businesses, Nelson said the company is concerned about its relationship with its customers.

He said anyone can visit the corporation's website and use their ZIP code to find the nearest John Deere dealer.

Northrax Northeast in Springfield, Vt., is about 16 miles from R.N. Johnson and sells John Deere construction tractors, but not farming ones. It appears that Mountain View Equipment, LLC, in Rutland, Vt., is the dealer of John Deere farming tractors closest to Walpole. According to MapQuest, it is at least 55 miles from Walpole.

Johnson said his company will not sever all ties with John Deere, as it will still offer the parts and service to corporation's equipment. He also said he will continue to operate the store's John Deere Museum.

"We have green and yellow blood," he said. "You don't just kiss that history good-bye.

Harry Thayer works on a John Deere tractor in the workshop at R.N. Johnson in Walpole, N.H.(Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Harry Thayer works on a John Deere tractor in the workshop at R.N. Johnson in Walpole, N.H. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
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Johnson said he also carries Kuhn, Echo and Stihl and will start discussions with other tractor lines.

He said the situation is upsetting, but merely business.

"I have complete faith in God and He will guide us through it," he said.

The John Deere headquarters are in Moline, Ill., but the man whose name the company bears was born in Vermont.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. Follow Domenic on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.