About The Family
Marvin Priefert was born to be an inventor. A native of Nebraska, he was born in 1923 and was intelligent and inquisitive from the start. He was just four years old when he followed his brothers to the country school they attended. He spent a week sitting outside on the steps each day before the teacher invited him in to join the class. Marvin was 13 when his father died; leaving him and his two older brothers to take over and run the family farm, working 160 acres with teams of horses. A year later, at age 14, Marvin's model farm won first place at the Nebraska State Fair, a prize he won three consecutive years.
A major turning point in Marvin's life occurred in 1942, when he joined the Navy to serve in World War II. When he returned to the family farm in 1945, he came back with new ideas that would change their traditional farming practices. After seeing bulldozers in the military, Marvin and his brothers purchased a D-7 Caterpillar. In his shop, he built two six-bottom plows, arranging them to be pulled in tandem behind the dozer. This dramatically increased the number of acres he and his brothers could plow in a day. He also designed and patented a labor-saving mechanical hay loader, as well as a grain wagon. These inventions caught the attention of various farming publications and even resulted in a mention in a Readers Digest article about inventors.
It was also upon his return in 1945 that Marvin married his sweetheart, Virginia "Johnni" Johnson. Johnni gave birth to their first child in 1948, a son named Bill. Twin girls, Micki and Vicki, followed in 1949. Tired of the bitter cold of Nebraska winters, Marvin moved his family to Texas in January of 1962. He purchased an orange grove near McAllen, TX in the Rio Grande Valley. Days after the family's arrival, a record-breaking winter freeze destroyed the grove. Taking this as a sign, Marvin sold out in McAllen, and moved his family to the small east Texas town of Mt. Pleasant in August of 1962.
Marvin, who had always been a farmer, had now moved his family right into the heart of cattle country. Embracing the change, Marvin set out to become a rancher and to learn the workings of the livestock industry. After seeing his neighbor work cattle with a guillotine-style headgate, which would often let the cattle get choked down, Marvin knew there had to be a "better way" and he began working on a headgate prototype.
In 1964, Marvin Priefert invented the first gliding-action, fully-opening headgate. This headgate design featured two gate yokes that would slide open when the operator lifted the lever, allowing the animal's head to pass through the opening. The operator then pulled the lever down to slide the two yokes of the headgate back into place, closing securely onto both sides of the animal's neck. Confident in this design, Marvin built a second one of these headgates for his neighbor. He went on to patent this invention as he had many others, but this time, he took it a step further and decided to manufacture and sell the item himself.
Marvin's first shop was a one-room building with a dirt floor. He would travel to oil fields in Talco, a nearby town, to purchase the pipe he needed for his manufacturing operation. With Marvin dividing his time between production and sales, his son Bill and some of Bill's classmates worked after school to cut out parts for more headgates. When school would let out for the summer, production would go full tilt with the help of Bill and his friends, and by summer's end, they would have a barn stacked full of inventory. Marvin soon realized that he needed more help if he was going to continue to grow his business.
By the end of 1966, Marvin went to his brother Corbin to ask him to join the business as a traveling salesman to recruit more dealers. Initially Corbin, who was running a successful lawn and garden dealership at the time, was resistant to the idea of moving his family to Texas and working with Marvin. Persistent as ever, Marvin continued to pursue Corbin and eventually convinced him to make the move. Corbin "Coke" Priefert became the first official salesman and worked a 38-state area for six years, recruiting dealers for Priefert Manufacturing. His first sales vehicle was a green 1967 Mustang that Marvin had modified by extending the frame so he could mount a headgate to it for Corbin to display when making sales calls.
The business flourished with help from the booming cattle market of the late 1960s. In 1967, Marvin had to build a larger production facility and start hiring additional employees. This was a major step forward in the history of Priefert Manufacturing. However, Marvin didn't have the capital to outfit his new shop with all new equipment. Always the inventor, his solution was to build the machinery he needed out of the materials he had available. Soon, he had built benders, sheers, punch presses, and more from old tractor and implement parts. When Bill returned home from college in 1970, he went to work with his dad and quickly took a leadership role in the company, overseeing purchasing, sales, and production.
When the cattle market crashed in 1974, Marvin knew that he would have to diversify to keep the business going. Forced to scale back on the production of cattle handling equipment, Marvin went back to the drawing board to design new products. Priefert Manufacturing expanded its offerings to include hay equipment, such as a mechanical hay dolly designed to pick up and transport a 1500 lb round bale of hay. Once again, it was Marvin's innovations and inventions that prevailed and helped the company continue its forward motion. In 1976, Marvin brought in his son-in-law, David Bynum, to work with him and Bill as the demands on each of them grew. David took over the duties of Sales Manager, allowing Bill to focus on the production side of the business.
By the late 1970s, Priefert was outgrowing its 12,000 square foot production facility. In 1980, Marvin and Bill built a new 27,000 square foot facility alongside Hwy 271 and moved the entire operation, including some of the original machines Marvin had built. Both the headgate and squeeze chute designs were updated in 1981. Perhaps one of the most notable updates was the transition from straight sides to contoured sides on the squeeze chute to better fit the shape of cattle.
As Priefert's production capacity continued to expand, so did the Priefert family. Bill and his wife Shayne, welcomed their first child, a boy named Edward, in 1974. Two more sons followed; William Nathan in 1976, and Travis in 1978. These were happy times for the family and Marvin enjoyed being a grandfather. After school, Eddie, Nate, and Travis would often spend time with Bill and Marvin in the shop. The boys were taught the importance of a good work ethic and helped out by sweeping the shop floors. On Saturdays, Marvin would often take his grandsons to local scrap yards to look for old machine parts. The boys would help to dig out the parts that Marvin would purchase to take back to the shop and rebuild into something new. This helped instill the importance of being resourceful and inventive in what would later become the 3rd generation of family leadership.
In 1984, 20 years after inventing his headgate, Marvin introduced another revolutionary advancement in the livestock industry: a panel featuring a chain connection with a "fishhook" top and J-leg frame. The chain connection was Marvin's solution to many of the problems created by the traditional pin connection. Chains could easily be adjusted to flow the panels over uneven terrain and allowed for a tighter fit between panels, eliminating the leg trap caused by pin connectors. The addition of the small loop at the top of the frame that resembled an upside-down fishhook was a Marvin original. This safety feature, coupled with the chain connection, helped to guide the legs of unruly livestock up and off of the panel. Although the idea of a J-leg wasn't new, it helped prevent panels from sinking into soggy ground. This Premier Panel was the first panel to effectively bridge the gap between cattle and horse panels, by offering a single panel design that was "Tough Enough for Cattle, Safe Enough for Horses."
By the mid-80s, Priefert offered galvanized panels, gates, and fencing along with their cattle and hay equipment lines, and their dealer network covered the central and eastern US. In 1987, the decision was made to expand westward. Bill sent longtime friend and salesman David Fillebrown to the west, pulling a trailer of Priefert products to try and recruit new dealers. Within a few years, the Priefert Dealer Network stretched from coast to coast. The diversity of the products offered and the volume needed to sustain the growing dealer network, meant more expansions to the plant, including more production space, new loading docks, and eventually the addition of an overhead crane system.
The innovations continued in 1988 when Priefert released both the first open-sided cattle sweep system and the first double pivot calf table. However, amidst all the success and growth, 1988 also dealt a devastating blow to the Priefert family. In the fall of that year, Marvin passed away unexpectedly as a result of surgical complications related to throat and lung cancer. He was laid to rest on the ranch, atop a grassy hill in view of his original workshop. Following the loss of his dad, Bill stepped up and took the reins to help guide Priefert Manufacturing forward and to carry on his father's legacy.
The company continued to prosper under Bill's leadership. Like his father, Bill was a forward-thinker and was always looking for ways to improve the status quo. The 90s were a period a rapid growth and expansion for the company. The year 1991 saw one of the most important improvements in Priefert's history: the introduction of the Infinite Locking system. This lock was tested 250,000 times and showed no measurable wear; that would be the equivalent of a ranch working 325 head of cattle three times a year for 250 years. These locks are guaranteed for life and are still used on Priefert headgates and squeeze chutes. The Model 91 Headgate was also released that year, featuring the ability to work in manual or automatic mode and is still one of company's most popular items.
Moving beyond the cattle market, Priefert began making Litter Savers for the poultry industry in 1990. They expanded their equine product line by adding hay and grain feeders in 1991 and stalls in 1992. Priefert also released its first roping chute in 1992, dipping its toe into the popular rodeo market. This chute design was revised in 1998 and has since grown to become the most utilized chute in the sport of roping. In 1995, the Premier Dog Kennel was added to the line-up, further widening Priefert's impact on the farm and ranch communities.
As the scope of Priefert's product lines expanded, so did their production capabilities. In 1994, the company saw two new additions to the plant that revolutionized the production processes. Priefert was the first in the industry to make the shift from traditional paint to offer a full line of powder-coated equipment. This not only gave the product a glossy, furniture- grade finish, but also helped extend the life of the product by resisting UV fading and rust. That year, Priefert also installed its first tube mill, giving the company the ability to roll and form its own tube for constructing its ranch equipment. This led to more flexibility in what could be created, and provided greater control over quality. In 1999, the company also added a slitter, giving them the ability to purchase raw, master coils of steel and then oversee each step of the production process. Over the course of a few short years, Bill had helped lead Priefert to becoming a vertically-integrated company.
Throughout the 90s, each of Bill's sons worked for the company after school and over summer break. As they graduated high school, they attended a local college and worked part time for their dad. One by one, they finished degrees and began working full time at Priefert Manufacturing. Each boy had to work his way through all the departments, from maintenance to welding to shipping, before he was allowed to hold an "office job." Bill felt this was not only the best way for the boys to learn the ins and outs of the business, but that it was also important for them to see and appreciate what their grandfather had built and the impact that it had on the lives of its employees and its community.
By 2005, Bill's eldest son was ready to take on a stronger leadership role and Eddie was named company President. Nate and Travis also worked their way up through the ranks to join their dad and brother as key members of the company's leadership. Nate took a keen interest in production, while Travis focused on family's ranch and their quarter horse and cattle operations. Both went on to be named Vice Presidents, with each responsible for overseeing different divisions of the company.
As the company entered the 21st century, Bill, like his father before him, continued to focus on building the best product on the market. This led the company to revise its squeeze chute design in 2001. A new chute was added to the lineup in 2004 with the creation of the Model S04 chute. The S04 would go on to become Priefert's number one selling squeeze chute of all time, and includes a multitude of features designed to help take the "work" out of working cattle, while making the process safer and easier for both the livestock and the operator.
To remain a leader in a highly competitive market, Bill realized that the company needed to not only focus on making the best products available, but also on marketing these products to the dealers and to the public. In the fall of 2001, Priefert hired Marketing Director Jeff Rash. Young, energetic, and enthusiastic, Jeff helped push the Priefert name into the spotlight. He developed a marketing team to produce literature, videos, advertising and more to promote Priefert and its many product offerings. Today, Bill credits this "marketing machine" with helping catapult the company into years of exponential growth.
With a rapidly expanding product line, a massive dealer network spread out across the US, and increased demand for product, shipping also became a major focus for the company. With a truck shop already in place to service company vehicles and equipment, Priefert decided to open its own trucking and brokerage authority. In 2005, Priefert Logistics was born when the company purchased more than 20 semi-trucks. As this fleet expanded, so did the truck shop, which was opened to the public in 2008, offering 24-hr roadside assistance and the ability to service heavy equipment and semi-trucks.
With the Model 98 Roping Chute already the top choice for professional ropers, Eddie, as the newly-named company President, decided that Priefert's next major focus should be to develop a complete line of products for the rodeo market. Working with his top engineers and consulting with professional bull riders, Eddie oversaw the development of the Priefert's Bucking Chute and a line of Rough Stock panels in 2005. This innovative new chute design focused on the safety of the cowboy and the livestock. The PBR quickly took notice and named Priefert its Official Equipment Provider. The new chutes debuted at the 2005 PBR World Finals in Las Vegas. Within a year, Priefert was also named the Official Equipment Company of the PRCA, and began providing the arena and holding pens for the National Finals Rodeo in 2006.
After taking the rodeo world by storm, Priefert turned its focus to expanding its business outside the US. Although the company had been exporting headgates to Germany since 1991, they still didn't have a global presence for their equine or rodeo equipment. In 2007, Priefert set up its largest international dealer, Priefert Australia. With their help, Priefert shipped over 475 stalls to Tamworth, Australia to outfit the country's premier equine and livestock events center. Priefert soon had dealers in Europe and Asia, and in Central and South America.
Priefert equipment had also become a favorite of fairgrounds and expo centers all over North America. Priefert would often be contacted to provide the arenas and livestock equipment for these facilities after they had been designed and were partially constructed. More often than not, custom equipment was required to resolve design integration issues related to livestock flow. Bill believed that there had to be a better way to assist these facilities. So, in 2008, Priefert Complex Designs was created to consult with these facilities throughout the design process to ensure they got the equipment they wanted without the costly delays and redesigns.
In the fall of 2008, Priefert, like so many other manufacturers, faced a challenge with the onset of an economic recession. Times worsened in 2009 when a severe drought led to a rapidly declining cattle market. Just as Marvin had weathered the crash of '74, Bill and the boys buckled down and again diversified their product offering. Eventually, the rain returned, and with it, the cattle market. Once more, innovation and perseverance allowed Priefert to emerge strong and continue on into the future.
In 2011, Priefert was presented with an opportunity to expand into the popular hunting market. Partnering with a trophy hunting ranch in Texas, the company began manufacturing wildlife handling equipment, including a complete working system designed for deer. Eddie, Nate, and Travis were also presented with an opportunity to appear on a hunting show called Backwoods Bloodline. Priefert would go on to not only sponsor this show, but eventually purchase the show, changing the name to Priefert Backwoods Bloodline. The show is currently airing on the Sportsman Channel.
Late 2012 saw the opportunity for Priefert to add another new division to the company: Priefert Steel Sales. Due to the volume of steel that Priefert consumes and its capability to process master coils, it was a natural transition for the company to expand its capabilities and product mix to meet the needs of other steel-consuming businesses. This division continues to grow and currently provides steel to trailer manufacturers, the oil and gas industry, and other fabricators and steel service centers.
While the years have brought many changes for the Priefert family and their business, some things have remained the same. Marvin's son Bill and his grandsons Eddie, Nate, and Travis continue to carry on the tradition he began. Motivated by the pride of ownership and the challenge of finding a better way, the Priefert family has built a business focused on meeting the needs of the American farmer and rancher. Building ranch equipment is not just a job; it's their lifestyle and integral part of who they are. Hard work, good people, a willingness to step "outside the box," and abundant blessings from God have allowed the company to not only grow and prosper, but also to earn a strong reputation in the industry for integrity, quality, and reliability.
Bill, now a grandfather himself with 7 grandsons, has experienced the progression of the family business from a one room, dirt floor shop in the backyard to the one of the largest farm, ranch and rodeo equipment manufacturers in the world with a production facility that includes over 20 acres under roof. He and his family are a true testament to the American Dream and are proud to produce a quality product that is made in the USA. A quote hangs on the wall of one of the company conference rooms that states, "We are who we are, because they were who they were." To all those who helped build this great company, and who refused to give up, even when times were tough, we say "Thank You."