Machinery Pete

Greg Peterson of Machinery Pete

If you know farming, you know Machinery Pete.

For the (very) few not familiar, Machinery Pete (MachineryPete.com) is the fastest growing and largest marketplace for used farm equipment, offering an extensive selection of listings and analysis with search tools and categories.

The company was founded three decades ago by Greg Peterson of Rochester.

Back in 1989, Peterson, who's from Benson, Minn., started Machinery Pete out of his basement in Rochester, where he researched and tracked down auction prices for farm equipment, starting in the Midwest and eventually across the country.

The beginning

Peterson graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in the late 1980s with an accounting degree and moved to Rochester in 1989 with his wife who'd just been hired as a middle-school teacher.

One day, his dad, who was a John Deere dealer going back to the 1960s, called him to come home. He had something he wanted to show hi..

"It was an auction price book," said Peterson.

The book was compiled by a Morris, Minn., banker in the middle of the farm crisis. The banker made the auction guide for the bank'spurposes, but Peterson's dad loved it and used it often.

The banker had been promoted and didn't have time to catalog auctions anymore. Peterson's dad was disappointed and told his son, who was looking for a job at the time, he should take it over.

"He said 'you're 23, you don't have kids yet, and I know you're kind of independent'," said Peterson. "He told me he didn't know what I could do with it, but that it was really good information."

Before the internet even

Peterson said he paid $2,600 for the business, which at the time was a book distributed four times a year. For the price, he got a 32-bit Acer PC, a floppy drive for storage and a dot matrix printer.

"That was before Gateway, before Dell, and the thing weighed a ton," said Peterson of the computer.

He said he started with about 100 subscribers who paid $19 for a subscription.

There was no internet then and nobody was throwing around the term "big data," said Peterson, but that's what the business was.

The banker was only covering Minnesota auctions when Peterson took over, and he expanded its range to the Midwest. After a couple years covering five states, he decided to venture out to 15 states.

"Then it turned into all of the U.S., and all of Canada," said Peterson.

One thing that kept Peterson going was whenever he would go out to an auction, he saw people writing prices down.

"I thought oh, that's what I'm doing on a mass scale," said Peterson.

He chipped away at the business, but picked up two part-time jobs to make ends meet. One of those jobs was at the Post Bulletin, working at night in the sports department.

He used his writing skills that he developed at the newspaper to begin writing columns for farm publications and a blog. That helped get the word out for Machinery Pete, and helped the business get off the ground.

The birth of Machinery Pete

In March 2000, Peterson brought Machinery Pete to the internet with his first website. He said it became clear immediately that the internet was a good idea because he could see people wanted the information faster.

The milestone for Machinery Pete after that came in 2009, said Peterson, when Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were starting to take off. People weren't thinking about the platforms as business opportunities.

Peterson went to an estate auction in March 2009 in Illinois at a farm where a farmer struck oil on his land in the 1980s. The farmer negotiated a new line of machinery with the oil company, and got three John Deere 4440s, a John Deere 7720 combine as well as number of other machines. He got them and then hardly used them, said Peterson, and put them in his shed.

Peterson had written about the sale in advance, telling people to check it out. When he arrived for the sale, 3,500 people were there, coming up to him and calling him Machinery Pete.

"It was like an electric shock," said Peterson. "It was so fun and there was so much interest. For the five-hour drive home, my head was on fire."

When he got home he asked his youngest daughter -- a high school senior at the time -- if she could help him setup a Facebook page and YouTube channel.

"It felt like the Red Sea parted, now that I have these outlets," said Peterson. "So I just decided I'm going to hit it hard."

He knew that people wanted more information, more stories, pictures, pricing and reports, so he started producing more. There wasn't money in it, but Peterson said he knew he was building the Machinery Pete brand.

He was right. The business grew and with the growth came a Machinery Pete TV show, radio segments and a podcast.

"I never knew where it was going to go," he said. "I just knew it was good."

In 2011, Peterson started compiling Used Values Index reports which give a big picture of farm and construction equipment values. The reports are aimed at the Wall Street investment crowd, who asked him to write the reports.

One of the things Peterson always liked about Machinery Pete was that there was no real competitors to the business.

"On the one hand, maybe nobody was stupid enough to try it," he said. "I don't know why or how that is, but it just kind of worked out that way. It's a good niche."

Farm Journal partnership

In 2014, Machinery Pete partnered with Farm Journal Media, a company headquartered in downtown Chicago, with about 25 employees. Peterson still works from his Rochester basement, though.

Peterson said he made the decision to partner because he was starting to burn out, working too hard and sleeping only a few hours a night for years.

"I was loving what I was doing, but it wasn't going to be healthy long term to keep doing it," he said.

Farm Journal Media wanted to build upon what he'd created. They expanded the website, which now has hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment for sale, and continued commentary and columns. In turn, ag companies advertise on the site.

For Peterson, it's all good. "You just kind of follow the sunshine, basically."

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Agri News Reporter

Noah joined the Post Bulletin staff in 2018 as a regional and Agri News reporter, and has covered Southeast Minnesota as regional and sports reporter since 2016. He enjoys talking to farmers, playing basketball and watching HBO.

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