Gary Lano can’t help but chuckle as he recalls the lengths his brother Rod went to in order to defend the family business as a child.

As the story goes, a fellow student at Guardian Angels Catholic School in Chaska was teasing Rod about their products and Rod had heard enough. “The kid told him Lano Equipment was a terrible dealership. ‘They sell tractors that don’t even start,’” Gary said, who currently serves as president of Lano Equipment.

Thankfully, the business was just a short walk away at the time because Rod had an idea. “At lunch, he went down to the dealership, started one of the tractors and drove it over to the school to show that kid he was wrong,” said Gary. Rod drove the tractor right onto the playground, much to the surprise of students and staff. “I guess the nuns got a bit excited,” Gary laughed.

That passion and pride continues today as Lano Equipment celebrates 75 years in business this year.

Lano Equipment is one of the largest power equipment dealers in the Twin Cities, with locations in Louisville Township (between Shakopee and Jordan on Highway 169), Loretto and Anoka.

HISTORY

The story of Lano Equipment begins with a group of brothers, four of which were just returning home to Chaska after serving in World War II. It was the spring of 1946 and Clarence, Joe, Bernard (Ben), Leonard (Dick) and Gerhard (Hauser) Lano had $1,400 and a dream to start a business. Trained in mechanics at Dunwoody Institute, the brothers purchased a ramshackle building on Fourth Street in Chaska and opened an auto body shop named Lano’s Body and Fender Works.

Just a few months into their business venture and with winter looming, the Lano brothers built a more hospitable (heated) building on First Street in Chaska. There, they began selling Kaiser-Frazer cars, as well as servicing other vehicles. But when the car manufacturer collapsed a few years later, the Lanos shifted gears to start selling farm equipment. In 1949, they purchased an Allis Chalmers dealership and added hay equipment from Minneapolis Moline and New Holland. The business was then renamed Lano Brothers Implement.

In 1954, Clarence left the business and the remaining brothers soldiered on. By the late 1950s, a new piece of equipment called a Bobcat skid steer loader caught Hauser’s attention with its debut at the Minnesota State Fair. That same day, the Lanos signed on to become one of the first Melroe Bobcat dealers in the world. “It was love at first sight,” Gary recalled his father saying.

Lano’s Bobcat partnership helped the company grow and by the 1970s, the Lanos were the top Bobcat dealer in the country. Today, they hold the distinction of being the world’s oldest Bobcat retailer.

Success meant that when an opportunity came up to purchase a struggling implement dealership in Norwood in 1960, the Lano brothers were able to add to their portfolio with Lano Equipment of Norwood. (Dick Lano received the business upon retirement in return for his stake in the original company. His sons operate the store today.)

Success also meant that when they outgrew their Chaska space in 1978, they were able to build a new 16,000-square-foot facility on six acres in Louisville Township (south of highways 41 and 169) and change their name to Lano Equipment, Inc.

EVOLVED

With the recession of the 1980s, small family farms were in decline, so Lano Equipment evolved to stay afloat by expanding into equipment sales and service for the industrial and construction markets.

Then, as the economy rebounded in the 1990s, Lano opened a new location in Anoka and added Kubota to their burgeoning cache of product lines. “Being a retailer for two world-leading manufacturers, Bobcat and Kubota, sure makes our life a lot easier,” said Kurt Lano, vice president, son of Joe Lano. “These two brands cover so many different needs, it opens up so many opportunities.”

In 2005, Lano added a third location, this time in Loretto. Now in its 75th year, Lano Equipment is reporting a record sales year after a decade of “steady sales increases” and despite the curve balls the pandemic has thrown their way.

“We’re fortunate to carry the brands that we do,” said Gary. “Even with limited inventory, we’re holding our own.”

FAMILY AFFAIR

Lano currently employs 100 people across its three facilities. Several of those employees are members of the Lano family. Though all of the founding brothers except Clarence have passed away, the second and third generations of Lanos continue to represent the family business with pride.

“I never thought I would work for Lano Equipment,” said Gary. The son of Hauser Lano, Gary grew up with Lano Equipment, but early on, viewed it more as a part-time job than a career path. “It was sweeping the floor after school,” he explained.

“Dad (who served as president for more than five decades) had a policy — ‘If you’re going to work for Lano, I’d like you to work somewhere else first,’” Gary remembered. But when he graduated in the 1980s, recession meant jobs were scarce and Gary found himself looking to the family business for a job. “I was still sweeping floors, but also delivering equipment.”

Eventually, Gary moved into parts where his uncle Benny taught him the business. Gary was parts manager in Shakopee until Lano opened its Anoka location. There, he said he got a taste for all positions. “Sales stuck,” he said, noting that he stayed in sales until his brother Brad retired as company president in 2012 and Gary threw his hat in for consideration. The 63-year-old has served as president for the last nine years.

“Dad taught us a lot,” said Gary. “He had a good work ethic.”

Gary recalled how his father always made time to visit his customers. “He would preach that — you gotta go out and see the customers.”

Gary said his father also built a “competent workforce” that aided in their success. “He had a saying, ‘The cream will rise to the top,’” said Gary. “He would just let people do their jobs.”

And for those with the name Lano, the pressure to do the job well is even greater. “When your name’s on the building, you gotta make sure you stick around,” said Gary.

Gary said working with family has been “very rewarding.”

“Family has been a constant,” he said. “Through thick and thin, you know they’re going to be there for you.”

His father would likely agree. In a 1981 Chaska Herald article, Hauser said, “I never would have wanted to go it alone. It’s good to share concerns, decisions, dreams with somebody you’ve grown up with.”

Hauser also told the Herald that he hoped the cousins would get as much kick out of sharing the business as the brothers have.

“I can only hope the third generation has the same passion as the first,” said Gary. “And that they carry the torch for the fourth generation.”

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