Partners through Peaks and Valleys
They say 4-H builds lasting skills and lifelong friendships. Dan Totushek and Jerry Quaal, from Dan & Jerry’s Greenhouse in Monticello, MN are living proof of that claim. Business partners for over 40 years, they met as boys, riding the school bus to Eden Prairie Middle School together. Both were active in the local 4-H group led by Dan’s parents. That’s where their acquaintance grew into a close friendship.
“I worked with my dad on his vegetable farm,” said Totushek. “Jerry came to work with us in 9th grade, the year he moved to Eden Prairie. And so we have been working together for a couple years now,” he joked.
In 1979, the boys put up their first greenhouses to start some of their own vegetable seedlings for the vegetable farm. Soon they began focusing on bedding plants. “Basically, in those days, in Minnesota, anything you could produce for a starter plant for people to put in a garden, would sell,” said Totushek. “There wasn't really an industry yet, so the demand far outweighed the production.”
They put petunias, marigolds and other bedding plants in milk cartons or any other low- or no-cost containers they could find. When Dan’s dad semi-retired in North Central, Minnesota Totushek and Quaal sat down and decided to carry on with their own business: “Dan and Jerry’s.”
The rest is Midwestern greenhouse history.
In 1980, they tore down the Eden Prairie greenhouses -- basically wood structures -- sawed off the ends and moved it all up to Buffalo and reassembled it. All told, they had about three acres of space.
“I think that we put up mostly wood structures covered with plastic,” said Totushek. “And then went shopping around for an operating line of credit for that first year. And banks weren't real excited about our collateral -- you know, plastic covered wood structures.”
We finally landed with Compeer’s predecessor, Production Credit Association, if anybody remembers that name. I don't think PCA ever dealt with a greenhouse.”
“The reason they went with us is because we were agricultural and their clients were agricultural people. So we fell into that category,” added Quaal.
Since then, they’ve never gone anywhere else for any operating capital. “Compeer and their legacy organizations have stuck with us. They've been there to help us grow during the good times and didn’t back away during the challenging times. That's the one thing we really appreciated about the lending relationship,” said Totushek. "The difference with Compeer is that when we have a bad year they help us think through our options and provide ideas on getting back on track. With that kind of track record, our level of trust just continued to grow over the years.”
“So, considering our background with Compeer and how strong our relationship is, we really have no desire to go shopping around for another lender,” added Quaal.
According to Dan & Jerry’s CFO, Leticia DeChene Fulda, there’s another big value that Compeer brings to the table: patronage. “Payback to clients, in the cooperative spirit, is something you simply don't see in the commercial banking industry. But as part of the Farm Credit System, Compeer is willing to share their organization's profits. It’s absolutely much appreciated, but additionally, the patronage payouts allow us opportunities for additional growth or investments in other areas.”
After four decades of growth, challenges and success, at the urging of Compeer, Dan & Jerry’s leadership team started discussing an exit strategy for Totushek and Quaal, essentially developing into a succession plan for the business.
“Compeer approached us about planning for the future about 10 or 15 years ago,” said Totushek. “It really made us think.”
That led to more discussions and a lot of soul searching and consideration. Ultimately, the family wanted to keep the business, so they started setting up a transition process. They formed a board of directors, and worked with Compeer and the St. Cloud Small Business Development Association to restructure the business and develop a strategy for the future.
Part of that meant hiring some new leaders to drive the business forward. About a year ago, Mike Vallafskey was brought on as CEO and Leticia DeChene Fulda is now their CFO.
Vallafskey, a veteran in this industry, was impressed when he learned about Dan & Jerry’s evolution, from servicing the greenhouses, providing products, and expanding their footprint. different services. “There's so much opportunity here. Everywhere you walk you can pause and say, ‘how do we take that and build scalability?’ They've already built a solid, business-driven foundation with the different ranges, servicing different states, primarily the Midwest,” said Vallafskey.
For her part, joining the Dan & Jerry’s team has been a dream come true for DeChene Fulda. “I grew up in this community and have watched Dan & Jerry's grow over the years. When I learned that Dan & Jerry's was hiring, I was very motivated to learn more about the company and apply. After submitting an application, I decided to visit. I felt as if were my neighbor and I should stop in, talk, and get to know them.”
She jokes that it was her approach that worked, since she was soon interviewed thereafter and offered the CFO role at Dan & Jerry’s. “The experience has been amazing. Everyone here has been so welcoming. I think that speaks loudly for an organization to have a team that’s excited for growth and to share what they know. And I’ve been impressed with the number of different options that Compeer has presented over my first year: different financing arms and avenues. You feel you have someone on your side.”
The next step is ensuring the company can stand on its own, even without Dan and Jerry. DeChene Fulda and Vallafskey are excited to help Dan & Jerry's grow into that next phase.
Compeer is a leader in Food and Agribusiness Financing. Check out our resources and insights today.
Compeer Financial can provide assistance with agri-business finances and operations based on historical data and industry expertise. Compeer does not provide legal advice or certified financial planning.
Compeer Financial is an equal opportunity employer and provider, and an equal credit opportunity lender.