Listening to Customers

BTU Ventilation in Perham, Minn.

Published in the December 2012 Issue Published online: Dec 07, 2012 Tyler J. Baum
Viewed 3130 time(s)

Russian Refigeration

When companies want to succeed, one of the most important things they need to do is listen to their customers.

That's what BTU Ventilation of Perham, Minn., was built on.

Since the founding of the company in the spring of 2004 and the launching of their first control system in the fall of that year, BTU Ventilation has been a leader in potato storage ventilation/refrigeration ever since.

Customer Driven

Agri-Control Technologies, the founding parent company, has been a dealer for potato storage ventilation and refrigeration products since 1998. Based on feedback from customers, they saw the need for more defined control schemes, including humidity control, CO2 control and a web interface that would instantly access storage circumstances.

General manager Tim Pearson, who has been in the ventilation business since 1991, hired a team of electrical engineers familiar with the potato industry. John Butorac, their head electrical engineer, has been in the industry since 1986. Together, they all went to work meeting customer-driven demands.

Since 2004, BTU Ventilation has released a number of new products aimed at meeting the demands of its customers in the potato and onion industries, including Color Touch Screens (HMI - Human Machine Interface), full web-based system access and patented, energy-efficient refrigeration controls. Customers can log into the website to access a list of all their storages, running in real time-with graphical information such as temperature, humidity and CO2 levels-and log directly into their control systems from the website in order to make changes. They currently have 629 storage systems on their website, being polled in real time with data for their respective farm managers.

BTU also provides alerting tools, with text message and email alerts from the website.

"Customers were asking for these things, and we developed them," says Tim Pearson, general manager of BTU.

BTU is a turnkey storage ventilation manufacturer and helps growers design storage facilities from the ground up.

BTU supplies dealers all across the United States-supplying equipment to potato growers from Washington all the way to Maine-and they even supply growers in Canada, Russia and China.

While BTU works directly with their dealer network, BTU's parent company, Agri-Control Technologies, is a dealer itself. This unique relationship allows them to listen to their dealers as well as to the growers so they can implement their suggestions.

"That's really the thing that made us who we are:" Pearson says, "listening to the growers and implementing things they request-from control schemes to equipment. Customers were asking for corrosion-resistant equipment, and we now have mostly plastic evaporative coolers and humidifiers."

Al Simmons instructs Lionel Lopez how to operate new BTU XT-70 control system.

Never Finished

BTU has also provided equipment for two of the latest potato research facilities in the U.S.-the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Storage Research Facility in Hancock, Wis., and the Simplot research facility in Caldwell, Idaho.

While very involved with potato research, as well as onions, carrots, cabbages and beets, BTU is expanding into a new niche-the sweet potato industry, which Pearson says is quite a bit different from "Irish" potatoes.

"There is a lot to learn regarding sweet potato storage, and we are excited to be involved with one of the first high-tech sweet potato research facilities."

BTU Ventilation employs 25 full-time people. Their corporate headquarters is in Perham, Minn., but they have company stores in Twin Falls, Idaho, and Grand Island, Neb. They're currently looking at locating another company store in Mississippi or Louisiana.

GroupAG, based out of Rexburg, Idaho, is one of BTU's dealers. Owner Ken Wasden says that he works with a lot of people who have BTU equipment, and they all really like their products. According to them, the products are well designed, easy to install and fairly maintenance free with good support.

Wasden says that Pearson and his staff have been a wealth of knowledge for servicing equipment. Door controls don't arch, and the power relays last a lot longer, due to "smart circuitry."

"BTU provides one of the only panels out there that has a web service that communicates with all their panels," he says.

Pearson says that service is No. 1. Their goal is to provide top-quality service, build robust equipment and meet the changing needs of the potato industry, but he says they're never really finished.

"There are a lot of customers and growers who have great ideas. The potato industry is an ever-learning business. You're never done learning new things. We really enjoy that because we can implement new ideas into our equipment. We just don't stand still at all."