It all began in a garage a little over 42 years ago.
Today, FEI, Inc. is a wholesale distributor to dealers in the propane and fertilizer industries with four locations serving more than 4,500 customers in the U.S. and Canada. The company has also been 100% employee owned since 2006 with the mission of, “Delivering solutions to fuel and feed the world by helping our customers with the transport and application of fertilizer and propane.”
“Whether we are working with you in-person or over the phone, you are always talking to an owner,” said Christy Fliflet, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of FEI, Inc. about the team members who she said are proud to be personally vested in the business. “Our employees are the heartbeat of our company. We are proud to have low turnover and long-term employees that are dedicated to the company’s mission.”
FEI, Inc. provides next-day shipping to 13 states and consulting across 14 states, with 20 sales representatives and seven inside customer service product specialists dedicated to the fertilizer and propane industries.
“We provide equipment, parts, and expert advice to our customers so they may, in turn, serve their customers better,” Fliflet said.
She explained the company’s humble beginnings and the path that ensued after they started in that small garage in Valley City, North Dakota in 1978 under the original name of Fertilizer Equipment. The company got its start selling fertilizer application and handling equipment and parts to dealers in North Dakota, South Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.
In 1982 FEI expanded its territory to serve all of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Then in 1987, an acquisition of a distributor in Billings, Montana allowed them to add propane equipment and parts while also expanding their footprint in the west.
The Yakima, Washington, location opened distribution in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah in 2004. Millwright services to fertilizer and grain facilities started in 2017, the same year FEI opened the Hastings, Nebraska location, allowing them to service Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado.
“We have weathered many challenges over the years and have come out stronger after enduring each one,” Fliflet said. “This success is due to the persistence of our employees, past and present. We are grateful for those that have served FEI in the past and the employee-owners of the present, as everyone has shaped this company into what it is today.”
Opening new locations, expanding the company footprint, developing employees and seeing long-term employees retire with an employee stock ownership plan retirement account is the most rewarding and exciting part of the business to Fliflet.
“It takes time to develop relationships in our industry, so great people armed with patience and determination are a must,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges Fliflet said they face is the cyclical nature of the industries they serve.
“We are closely tied to the impacts of commodity prices and weather,” she said. “One of our main mitigating factors to these challenges is the large region we serve, which provides diversity in weather and crop outputs.”
Despite the challenges, Matt Klabo, the company’s vice president of fertilizer, reiterated they take pride in providing solutions for their customers.
“One of the areas we specialize in is on-site consulting to help customers with fertilizer delivery and storage efficiencies,” he said. “Our strong partnerships with industry leaders, such as Doyle Manufacturing, Precision Tank, and area builders, enable us to offer any size, turn-key dry, liquid or NH3 facility as well as the rolling stock to get product to the field.”
“The window for fertilizer seems to get smaller every year, and we take pride in helping our customers be productive and efficient through such a tight window in the spring,” Klabo added. “We are proud of the relationships we have developed throughout the last 42 years and not only consider these customers business partners, but friends.”
Kerry Hoffschneider can be reached at email@example.com.