|By DENNE GOLDSTEIN|
John Buchek’s grandfather was also named John. He grew up, married, and was raising a family in Moulton, a small Texas town somewhere between San Antonio and Houston. But when their son, Harvey, was seven years old, the doctor suggested that they move the family out of the area because he had bad allergies.
So, at the age of 42, John Senior, a banker in Moulton, moved his family to San Antonio, a city which history made famous because of the Alamo. Needing to change careers, he began selling farm machinery. He eventually opened his own store and called it Alamo Farm Machinery Company. The year was 1924.
This year, Alamo Machinery Company, now known as AMC, is celebrating its 90th anniversary. It is also important to note that the same family still owns and operates the business, now in its fourth generation.
But, it’s a far cry from those early days, when they only had a single location; AMC currently has nine locations, serving the Texas and Oklahoma markets. They are among the original distributers of Rain Bird, Hunter, Toro and Myers.
So how did AMC transition from selling farm equipment into becoming a wholesale irrigation distributor? The current John Buchek, the founder’s grandson and company president, will tell you that after a few years, his father, Harvey, realized that there was a demand for water pumps, so he began to stock pumps.
Harvey, who had been working for the phone company, came aboard in 1939. Then, he decided to make a change and took over AMC. On the personal side, Harvey had married and they had two sons, John and Bob.
AMC continued to distribute farm implements until 1955, when Harvey began to see other opportunities.
“My dad sold the farm implement part of the business in 1955,” said Bob, the company’s CEO. “And for a while, it was just water pumps.” That’s when the company shortened its name to the Alamo Machinery Company.
John and Bob Buchek worked in the store part-time while going to school. “AMC still only had its San Antonio location,” said John. “Even before college, I worked during the summers in the store. I was about fourteen or so at the time.”
Harvey taught John and Bob a lot about the market. They worked alongside him, just as he had with his father, and learned the tricks of the trade. “My dad kind of turned me loose and allowed me to think about new ways of doing things in the business,” said John. “That’s how I got into irrigation originally. With that freedom, I started to look at the growth in the market, and I recognized that irrigation was the way to go.”
The irrigation industry followed along with the landscape industry, which was rapidly growing at the time, and as the two industries expanded, so too did AMC. “People started spending more and more money on landscaping their properties,” John said. “And along with that investment came the need for irrigation.”
The two brothers, John and Bob, both attended the University of Texas at Austin. There, they learned how to apply their studies for use in the family business. But it was the first-hand experience, according to the brothers, that gave them insight into how business worked. “You just learn as you go,” Bob remarked.
John graduated in 1969, and joined the company full time. He had big ideas for growing the business. In 1970, he started a turf irrigation division and began expanding their inventory to distribute a complete line of irrigation components. He also began opening new locations.
But running the business on his own wasn’t as easy as he thought. So when his brother, Bob, graduated with a degree in business administration in 1975, John couldn’t have been happier. Bob joined the company.
“It was PVC that really allowed us to expand into irrigation,” John says. “Before that, automated irrigation was primarily reserved for the rich, because the piping was copper or steel. But with the arrival of PVC, it opened a whole new audience of property owners who were able to capitalize on the opportunity and use it.” They began looking into products that were coming on the market, such as new controllers, new valves, PVC piping, as well as building irrigation systems.
In the meantime, John had a son, whom he also named John, the third in the family line. But to avoid confusion, they began calling him Tres, which in Spanish means three, for John III. Like his father and uncle, Tres went to the University of Texas, Austin, where he majored in Latin American studies.
During his time in college, and in keeping with tradition, Tres worked at AMC. “We had a branch in Austin, and instead of sitting around in the afternoons in the fraternity house watching TV, I would go to the store and see if they needed some help,” Tres said. “And the manager said ‘Sure,’ so that’s what I did.”
Tres, 38, is vice president and general manager of AMC Industries and handles most of its daily operations. With his wife, Mills, they started a family and have one daughter, Mary- Louise, who is nine years old.
Always looking to expand their business, the company began selling landscape lighting, which has proven quite successful. As more landscape contractors become licensed to install irrigation systems, the Bucheks eventually would like to make AMC a ‘one-stop-shop’ where the contractor can buy his fertilizer, seed, chemicals, etc. To that end, AMC will begin to experiment with stocking fertilizer in some of its locations.
All three of the current principals foresee a bright future for the company. “A resurgence is coming in the housing market,” said John. “We can see it beginning now, and we will be prepared.”
When they’re not thinking up new ways to distribute their product, Bob and John are down at their homes on the Texas coast, fishing for trout and redfish. As for Tres, he’s busy raising a family and running most of the day-to-day operations at AMC.
And who knows, maybe a fifth generation will arrive someday soon. But until then, the current group has things covered just fine.