Innovative Equipment Engineered to Last

"The Dance" - The Early Years with Greg Barreto

By, Greg Barreto, President

40th Logo_Greg Tiller picAs we pass the 40-year milestone in business, a few lyrics from the Garth Brooks song “The Dance” came to mind: 

“Looking back on the memory of, 

The dance we shared ‘neath the stars above.... 

I could have missed the pain, 

But I’d have had to miss the dance.” 

Throughout the years in business, there have been joys as well as disappointments and frustrations. “The dance” has well outlasted the pain, but pain is real. It was a lot of hard work and uncertainty, just hoping that it would pay off in the long run. We have had many good years mixed in with a few bad ones. But, through it all, it has been a great learning and growing experience that matured and formed a lot of character in the process. 

Old Barreto 820 sales flyerThere are so many memories that come into focus as I go back in time, starting with the original idea of designing a tiller that didn’t break. I recall the first time I started the engine on the original tiller, and the tines and wheels went around and the dirt was tilled. Memories like renting that tiller out for a season and following up with everyone who rented it to see if they liked it. Remembering then at 28 years old, deciding to go into business, naming the business, and hiring a graphic artist to design us a brochure. Then, not noticing on our first set of brochures that the phone number was wrong, and we spent the evenings before our first trade show whiting out and handwriting in the correct phone number on each brochure.

The First Tradeshow

I built a second tiller and drove from Keizer, Oregon to San Diego, California to exhibit at our first trade show in October of 1983. My wife flew down to help me at the show, leaving our two infant girls behind with my parents. 

We went into trade show sales so naïve and inexperienced in the art of presenting and selling a product. I remember being so nervous that first day with my stomach roiling and the sweat rolling down each side of my shirt. 

But, the second day of the show we were so busy showing and explaining this hydraulic tiller to rental owners that the nervousness left and the day went so quickly. I remember having our main competitors come by the booth, and they basically told us our tiller would never compete with their machines and their corner on the market. We ended up doing just fine. 

We sold one tiller on the last day of the show, and we didn’t even have a sales order to write up the sale. Our first sale was to Laguna Niguel Rental, which was also a Kubota dealership. They loaned us a sales order slip, so, we ended up writing up our first ever Barreto sale on a Kubota sales order. 

That’s what it’s like starting a business with no experience, having zeal without knowledge, not being afraid to step up to the plate and swing with all the freedom to either succeed or fail. That was the beginning of our adventure into manufacturing knowing that we had better be quick learners if we were to succeed. 

We ended up selling 2 tillers from that first trade show, and I built 3 more tillers in the garage. I drove back down to southern California to deliver those two, and then drove back up I-5 stopping at every town, looking up rental yards in the phone book and driving to them to drop off a brochure and ask if they would like to take a look at our new, innovative machine. I would then head back to Keizer to get ready for our first national trade show in Dallas, TX. 

All of this was done on a financial shoestring that was getting stretched pretty thin. I was still working at a rental yard in-between building tillers – it was a lot of long days and short nights. A couple days before we left for the Dallas show, I got a call from U.S. Rentals in Sacramento. I had no idea who they were, but evidently, I had swung by on my way up I-5 and dropped them a brochure. Their general manager wanted me to send them down a tiller to demo at their monthly corporate meeting while my wife and I were in Dallas. We decided to risk it and sent the machine. It ended up that at the time, they were the largest corporate rental chain in the country with 34 store locations, most of them in California. 

Going International

In Dallas in 1984, we met a dealer from Australia that was intrigued with our tiller. He ended up buying 25 machines that we shipped Buckingham Palace“down under.” We also sold 25 tillers domestically. So, in 1984 we went international and sold a total of 50 machines for the year, and some of those were to the U.S. Rentals we sent the demo machine to. 

That’s how we got started, and those are just a few of the many memories from the first year in business. In those early years we met a lot of fine people at trade shows, both customers and vendors, and they were all eager to help us out with their years of experience in business and manufacturing. We gleaned a wealth of knowledge at those trade shows from simply visiting with folks and asking questions. 

Keep Your Priorities Straight

One of the most important lessons I learned early on was to keep your priorities straight. Business was busy, and time was always taken up with business. I was married and had two young daughters at the time. I was trying to juggle it all and still make some time to recharge on a hunting trip in eastern Oregon. 

I had an order of tillers to get out before I could leave, but it was a huge wake up call for me when we came home from church one Sunday and I immediately put on my coveralls and went to the garage to build tillers. My wife came out to ask me if I could please take just one day off work to spend with the family. I wasn’t prioritizing family time, and it was clearly conflicting our family relationship. So, I instead ended up taking the family to the Portland Zoo. We got rained on the whole time, but we at least spent the day together. 

I still got the tillers out on time and managed to make the hunting trip that week. But, a very important lesson was learned in keeping priorities straight, and although business and deadlines are important, they don’t come first.

Growing Out of the Garage

My brother Brian lived in Lebanon, OR, about 30 miles away from where we lived, and he had a machine and fab shop which helped us immensely with gaining knowledge in fabrication and machining, welding jigs, and set ups. In 1985, we were growing out of the garage when I got a phone call from the Union County Economic Development Corporation. They got wind from a friend of mine in La Grande that there was a small garage company in Keizer that was starting to manufacture hydraulic tillers. The Economic Development director stopped by our place and said they would be interested in having us move to La Grande. At the time, there was no way that we had the means to move six hours across the state. As we grew out of the garage, we moved to Lebanon and into my brother’s new facilities. But, after a year we outgrew that facility too and ended up risking it all to make the move to La Grande in December of 1986. 

Early Bob & tillerThe director had called me back and said the Economic Development Corporation offered to purchase a building and lease it back to us with a three-year option to buy if we would commit to move. We made the commitment. At the time I had three employees that moved over with us to the east side of the state. Our current General Manager was one of them. I hired Bob while he was in high school when he was 17 years old. At the age of 18 he had Lebanon in his rear-view mirror as he headed to La Grande to help us continue in the adventure. 


Shoestring Beginnings

Still on a shoestring, we were trying to get set up in a new building to manufacture with the selling season only a month or two away. We converted the upstairs office of our first manufacturing facility into a short-term apartment and lived there while we put in 16-hour days trying to make this venture work. 

Sometimes we had to make payroll with credit card advances. We never seemed to have any reserves, but somehow made it work. God was extremely gracious to us through it all, although at the time I didn’t realize or acknowledge His involvement. It wouldn’t be until a few years later that I came to realize that all things are in His providential control. I also came to realize my need for a Savior, Jesus Christ, to save me from my sins which were quite evident. Through that life change it also reinforced the importance of priorities and the importance of people and how you treat and respond to them. 

All the memories of the first few years were too many to list, but these are some of the main ones that formed this company called Barreto Manufacturing. 

40 Years Later

A Bible verse that I have camped on and find comfort in is Romans 8:28 “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” When it says ‘All things work together for good’ it does not mean that all things go along swimmingly. There will be trials along with joys. And usually the hard times - the trials, the defeats - are the things that build our character and create in us a stronger reliance and dependence on our sovereign God. 

These are also the things that prepare us for days to come when there will be a need to be tenacious, resourceful, determined, cautious, wise and eagerly looking forward to the future.