Robert H. Laning & Sons joined FEWA in 1979 and remained in EMDA membership through 2016.
Article written by Monte Sonnenberg of the Simcoe Reformer
People in Waterford, Ontario, and surrounding area have known for decades that Robert H. Laning and Sons Ltd. was in the business of selling farm equipment. But many have long wondered where Bob Laning and his family kept all those tractors and implements.
Fact is, Laning Ltd. has been a wholesaler for nearly 60 years doing business with farm dealerships across eastern Canada. As it happens, the company’s specialty is specialty equipment.
Family patriarch Bob Laning started out on the family farm in Villa Nova selling water bowls for livestock, conveyor systems for removing manure from barns, bunk feeders and silo unloading systems. A dairy farmer at the time, Laning got into the business because he was tired of replacing substandard equipment that didn’t stand up to the rigors of farming.
Laning searched out and found better brands. From there the business grew and was passed on to his children.
“I had no business background,” Laning, 91, said Friday. “But when your own money is at stake, you learn in a hurry. If you’re going to have a business, you better have good employees – ones who are smarter than you in certain things.”
The product line has changed over the years but the niche focus remains. Other specialties have included tractor cabs, portable air compressors, power washers and fertilizer spreaders
And it’s all about to come to an end. Sometime next year, the familiar Laning signage on Leamon Street in Waterford will come down. Company president Rob Laning and secretary-treasurer Jill Chuli have sold the real estate. The buildings in question have a combined floor space of 11,000 square feet.
Rob Laning says its been a good ride. Now 65, he has known no other employment. “I’m afraid I wouldn’t have much of a resume,” he said. “This is the only place I’ve ever worked.” Rob Laning doesn’t intend to put his feet up. He will pursue other opportunities once the transition is complete.
Chuli also has pokers in the fire. What those are is a secret for the time being.
Bob Laning sold the business to his children in 1992. Even so, hardly a day goes by when he doesn’t drop in to see how they are doing. “Dad has been a wonderful resource for Rob and I,” Chuli said. “He has always provided solid advice and insights based on his own experiences. Dad was always good at looking at the big picture and leaving the details to others.
“It is very special for Rob and I to have dad here for the entire life cycle of the business. Now we can all move on to the next chapter together.”
The senior Laning feels winding down the business is the right thing to do. He recalls a time when family businesses did well developing relationships with other family businesses in networks where deals were done with a handshake. But the business dynamic today is different. Where once there were 10 farmers with 10 barns and 10 tractors there is now a corporate farm run by a board of directors. Everything today, Laning says, is done in a corporate environment that doesn’t have much time for family businesses.
“It’s a different game now,” he said. “There’s no room left for the little guy. Everything changes, and all good things must come to an end.”