The Scharine Group Inc
The Scharine Group Inc. is a family-owned and -operated agricultural, automation and construction business serving customers in the grain, dairy and livestock markets throughout southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois and also manufactures material handling products for many commercial manufacturing industries. Based in Whitewater, Wisconsin, the company has been serving the needs of regional farmers for more than 52 years.
Charles Scharine established the business in 1962 and is still actively involved. When he started out, The Scharine Group focused primarily on the livestock and dairy end of the agricultural market. In the 1970s, the company expanded into grain storage, drying and handling. In the early ‘90s, applying existing capabilities of fabrication in the agricultural equipment industry, the company branched out into custom steel fabrication for automotive and other manufacturing industries. Charles’ sons, Blake, Jason and Marcus Scharine, grew up in the business and all came to work full time after completing school.
Today, Marcus and Blake serve as division managers. Marcus focuses on the grain side of the operation and Blake is the head of the dairy and livestock division. Jason manages the day to day operations of the facility, as well as the fleet of vehicles and the vast amount of machinery used in both the manufacturing and installation companies. All benefit from the company’s third division, which provides custom steel fabrication solutions for agricultural and commercial clients.
A business built on service
With all three divisions, service is the driving factor behind growth. Between all three divisions, Scharine Group employs around 100 full-time people, many of whom have had long-term employment with the company. Marcus and Blake agree that their team of employees is the company’s greatest asset. Efficient, reliable performance brings the company’s high-quality products to a new level, driving up customer satisfaction and repeat business.
“If we build a relationship with a customer, we know that is who is going to give us repeat business,” Marcus explains. “We are looking to not only install grain handling and dairy systems, but to make satisfied customers. Those are the people that if you bump into them in the store, they talk to you; they tell their friends about you.”
Strong partnerships with leading agricultural equipment suppliers keep customers happy with the end product. Scharine Group ensures that customers are happy with the process as well, by providing value and working alongside clients throughout design and construction. A majority of the company’s business comes through word-of-mouth advertising and repeat business.
“I think people seek out our products and services because they are looking for someone with a solid reputation,” Blake adds. We have been working in this market for many years. When people have a large project on the farm, they are looking for familiar faces. We have both installation and service people who have been with us for more than 20 years. Scharine group has a good reputation – we’re pretty rock solid in the industry. Our customers don’t have to worry about who they’re doing business with or whether we’ll be around 10 years down the road.”
Grain storage and handling
Marcus maintains a service-first approach in the grain storage and handling division of the company. He works with a sales staff of three people who take pride in their ability to build solutions tailored to the needs of customers. “What we enjoy is trying to find the best solution for a customer not just based on cost, but on cost productivity and creating an all-around good setup,” he explains. “Value is key in all of our operations. Our forte is to take existing systems and make them a lot better by bringing them up to date to increase throughput and efficiency.”
The operation’s scope of work includes installation and service of storage bins, grain dryers, elevators, dump pits, transport augers, cleaners and other grain storage and handling necessities. Scharine Group helps operators by pulling together turnkey solutions, whether that regards construction of a new facility or just an upgrade to automation.
The team builds full CAD drawings in both 2-D and 3-D for accuracy, technology that is utilized in most applications. 3-D is new to Scharine Group for 2015 and so far has proven a major advantage. Marcus and his team place great emphasis on technology, knowing that keeping on top of changes in design software helps the business improve efficiency in delivery.
Maintaining a strong product line is equally important. The grain division works closely with Sukup, a provider of bins, dryers and elevators, components that are vital to the industry. “This year we are installing Sukup’s largest tower dryer, which will be out this summer,” Marcus explains. “We have done some good sized projects with Sukup and we are a large dealer for our area.”
Because of the company’s ongoing relationship with suppliers, The Scharine Group can provide measurable value and efficient service. The team strives to maintain relationships beyond installation, providing maintenance and servicing equipment throughout the harvest season.
Dairy and Livestock
On the dairy and livestock end of the business, Blake and his team offer complete turnkey milking facilities from design to construction. Much like the grain side of Scharine Group, this division goes beyond installation, providing maintenance and a 24-hour service program. The team’s projects include new construction and retrofit for dairy and livestock operations from small to large.
Blake notes that the dairy and livestock industry has shifted its needs to higher levels of herd management and expanding in scale and efficiencies. “Because of that, we have gained additional opportunity to emphasize milking and cow handling systems and automation,” explains Blake. “That can be for a 30-cow dairy to a 3,000-cow dairy with the highest level of automation. There is growth in robotic milking and we have performed numerous robotic milking installations both in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.”
These higher technology systems have made up a significant portion of the division’s revenue in recent years. In some applications, Blake and his team supply the building, concrete, infrastructure, ventilation and design. In others, the crew will provide only the equipment and design. “We can provide as much or as little as our customers are comfortable doing with us,” he adds. “If the customer wants someone to handle it all, we can do that. If they have a local builder, we’ll focus on equipment and infrastructure and so forth, and that’s OK too.”
The construction side of the dairy and livestock division is also active. The company is capable of providing whole barns and manure handling systems, serving as a turnkey partner for farmers. “We like to be a one-stop source for a person to come in and get a facility not only designed, but built without having to go to a whole bunch of different people,” says Blake. “We put together the entire project, and work with subcontractors for building construction.”
One of the company’s main grain equipment suppliers, Sukup, has recently begun to offer steel buildings. The construction aspect of the business is where Scharine Group sees the most overlap between divisions. “My connections are far more with building and Marcus’ are more with storage, handling and drying,” Blake elaborates. “When there is a building project, most of the time I would handle that aspect. We have sold some very large buildings for steer confinement and young stock confinement in the last few years and we see that part of our business picking up for both divisions with this new product line.”
While Scharine Group can handle most aspects of agricultural fabrication, construction and automation in-house, the business still relies on strong partnerships both in the supply chain and with subcontractors. The brothers strive to keep a full-time staff year-round, which means seasonal labor is less common on Scharine Group’s worksites.
“For barn construction, we have a local builder, London Lumber & Construction, that we have been working with for more than 20 years,” notes Blake. “We have a great relationship with him. He knows our expectations, we know his capabilities and there are no fingers getting pointed. That is a very good working relationship.”
“We serve as a project manager and a general contractor, but we have some great outside help when we need it,” adds Marcus. “Most of the time, our customers don’t even realize that we have subs because it is all so tightly knit. I get asked quite often, ‘Does this guy work for you or for himself?’”
With strong relationships with suppliers and subcontractors, all three divisions are stable and growing. Marcus explains that any one of the three divisions could stand on its own, but the team takes comfort knowing that if any part of the industry is not as aggressive or not as profitable in a particular year or so, this diversity keeps the entire operation strong.
After being in business for more than 50 years, Blake, Jason, Marcus and Charles take great pride in the company’s longevity. Over the years, Scharine Group has served generations of growers – with younger family members taking over farms and seeking out the business for improvements of facilities the group has constructed or upgraded in the past.
Now two generations strong, The Scharine Group Inc. will continue to provide quality turnkey services for agricultural customers throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.