In the early 1900s, Frank Gerten began selling his top-quality produce primarily to local farm markets. From day one, he was a steward of his beloved Minnesota land. Frank’s small truck farm grew rapidly to the point that he handed over the business to his two sons, Bob and Jerry.
Having grown up on the family farm, they followed in their father’s footsteps. While produce remained as the cornerstone of the business, the brothers branched out into garden plants and flowers for their homeowner customers.
Their emphasis remained on selling mostly what they grew, and they developed a simple motto: “Buy from the Grower.”
In 1989, after more than 70 years in the business, the third generation of Gertens became primary owners. Bob’s two sons, Lewis and Glen, and a son-in-law, Gino Pitera, exuded the same passion for local growing, keeping their grandfather’s vision close to heart.
Frank Would be Proud
Today, the business has blossomed into a gigantic operation that employs more than 400 people throughout the landscaping season. Gertens Garden Center is located in Inver Grove Heights, about nine miles south of St. Paul and only a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River. The family business serves the seven-county Twin Cities metro area.
During the early 90s, the business grew rapidly with the addition of several acres of greenhouses, growing fields and landscape supply. During 1996, the retail store was expanded to more than 40,000 square feet. Recently, the addition of a 2.5-acre state-of-the-art greenhouse in 2013 greatly expanded the early-season growing capacity. The 100-acre complex also includes a wholesale operation, nursery and a full-service landscape supply yard.
In the busiest weeks from April through October, thousands of retail customers come to Gertens to find the green treasures that brighten their yards and daily lives. In addition, Gertens serves the wide-ranging needs of thousands of landscape contractors and other wholesale customers.
And all winter long, customers flock to Gertens for Christmas specials, road salt to melt the Twin Cities’ ice, interior-scaping plants and a wide variety of other popular holiday flowers and plants.
With the widest selection of annuals, perennials and nursery stock in the Twin Cities, Gertens is only one of a few garden centers that grows the majority of the goods it sells. Based on their roots nurtured over 100-plus years, Lewis, Glen and Gino also believe that it is only natural to buy from the grower.
21 Cat Machines
To transport, load, stock and deliver the massive inventories of plants, trees, shrubs, flowers, sod, stone, topsoil, aggregates and other landscape materials, 12 Cat Skid Steer Loaders, three Multi Terrain Loaders, two Wheel Loaders and two integrated toolcarriers are a blur of activity as they maneuver rapidly and efficiently throughout the complex.
Using buckets and pallet forks, chores performed include carrying burlap-balled trees, and loading sand, topsoil and/or smaller loads of aggregates into customers’ pickup trucks. Heavier tasks include loading contractors’ trailers with pallets of sod, retaining wall blocks, limestone, trap rock or any one of 17 different varieties of mulch.
The Skid Steer Loaders and Multi Terrain Loaders are equipped with 60-inch light material buckets that are a good match with the contractors’ pickups. The Cat units also keep the aisles clean with their buckets and brooms by scraping and/or sweeping any material spillage back into the material storage bins.
Tracy Meyer, fleet manager at Gertens, says fuel efficiency is another plus: “We can run the machines for two shifts on one tank of fuel, and that keeps our crews working instead of constantly stopping to refuel.”
Meyer estimates each machine averages 1,000 to 1,200 hours of operation per year. He says Gertens strives to stay under the warranty umbrella, then trades for newer models. Pitera says the company has recently gone to a three-year ownership cycle, as they get busier and log more hours.
Gertens’ Cat 320C LH Excavator is equipped with a grapple, and travels among the neatly arranged stockpiles of landscape boulders to efficiently pluck them from the stockpiles and precisely load them one-by-one into waiting trucks without chipping or cracking. It handles about 500 tons of boulders annually.
Their 262C High Flow Skid Steer Loader was purchased to handle various chores around the large complex. It is also called upon to handle the higher hydraulic demands of a land leveler attachment used in the nursery and greenhouse growing operation.
The three Cat Multi Terrain Loaders hurry about to tackle all the normal chores, but also provide the capability to run no matter what the weather. The trio easily handles muddy or poor underfoot conditions anywhere on the many unpaved paths throughout the site.
The larger IT28 and 924H Wheel Loaders are equipped with 2.5-cubic-yard buckets and the IT62 uses a 4.5-cubic-yard bucket, enabling them to respond quickly to landscapers’ requests to efficiently load their 10-yard dump trucks. The Wheel Loaders and Integrated Tool carriers are also instrumental in the composting and soil screening operation, as Gertens does all of its own soil blending.
Easy to Operate
Meyer likes the Cat Skid Steer and Multi Terrain Loaders for their versatility and ease of operation.
“Our operators love the Cat Skid Steer Loaders and Multi Terrain Loaders,” he says. “And the rear-view cameras on our newer models make for safer operation. These machines are so easy to run that training is quick and a new guy can learn to operate the machine in a weekend.”
Gertens has been running Cat equipment since 2002, with their newest models joining the fleet in 2014.
“Availability of the Cat machines has been outstanding,” Meyer says. “We perform the simple maintenance like hoses, fluids and filters. But the entire fleet is on a PM program, and the Ziegler technicians always pull scheduled oil samples and provide detailed reports.”
Several years ago, the report from one of the PM oil samples taken from a Skid Steer Loader identified higher than normal element concentrations, which indicated a deviation from the normal trend in the head gasket’s performance. Noticing the variation and to be on the safe side, Ziegler recommended changing out the head gasket on that unit, which averted a failure that could have caused more serious problems, possibly saving the cost of an engine rebuild or replacement.
“If any emergency work is needed, the Ziegler techs get us up and running the same day,” Meyer adds. “They always have the proper tools and the right parts to handle anything that needs attention.”
WHAT THEY LIKE ABOUT CAT EQUIPMENT
One of the motivations for switching to Cat equipment, according to Pitera, is the face that Gertens experienced fewer failures and less downtime, so it made machine ownership a lot easier to handle. “When the equipment is running good, it just makes our life easier,” he says.
WHAT THEY LIKE ABOUT THEIR CAT DEALER
“We’ve been very happy with Ziegler Cat, and we’ve developed a great overall working relationship,” Pitera says. “We know who to go to there, and they know our equipment ownership cycle.” “Ziegler is also very good at coaching us about what’s coming down the line that we might want to take advantage of – like the rear view cameras on the newer machines that contribute to safety in our busy passageways and aisles. They have been great to work with as far as getting things financed, and informing us about opportunities we may have as our machines go through their various life cycles.”