Deere Gold Key tours impress customers - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Deere Gold Key tours impress customers

In the mid-1990's, John Deere initiated a unique program to recognize its customers who purchase new John Deere tractors. In the mid-1990's, John Deere initiated a unique program to recognize its customers who purchase new John Deere tractors.

In the mid-1990's, John Deere initiated a unique program to recognize its customers who purchase new John Deere tractors.

It's called the Gold Key customer plant tour, which gives Deere customers an opportunity to visit the John Deere Waterloo tractor facility in person and watch their tractor being built, from start to finish.

On a recent Gold Key tour, Rich Annen of Spring Green, Wis., toured the Waterloo Tractor Cab Assembly Operations facility.

Annen is farm manager for the Karl Hausner Farms. He came to Waterloo with fellow employees Carlos Castaneda and Justin Fingerhut.

"We basically came down to watch the tractor being built, and see how the factory itself functions," Annen said." "See how things are done, the engineering behind it and all the thinking and the hard work. Very impressed."

Rich is buying a 230-horsepower, 7230R model for the Hausner Farms. It sells for around $225,000 and will be Hausner's tenth tractor. He said it will be used to transport hay.

Megan Zuniga, supervisor of visitor services in Waterloo, says Gold Key tours are provided free to John Deere tractor customers.

"They get a gold key at the end of the tour, and they will start their tractor," Zuniga said. "It's a way for customers who are buying tractors to be able to come and see the tractors be built."

Zuniga says the Gold Key program is very popular.

"In 2012, we did about 3,060, so we're tracking a little bit more than that right now," she said. "We'll probably do maybe around 3,200 or 3,300 this year. It's a lot of Gold Keys."

John Deere originally implemented the Gold Key program in Waterloo using retired John Deere employees to help out. They still do that today. 

"It's a wonderful program for Deere," says John Deere retiree Harold Hinz, who worked 34 years for John Deere.

"Basically, all the tour guides are retired John Deere employees out of the Waterloo area," he added. "We worked in one of the facilities. So we get to interact with the people, and the employees are real nice about working with the customers, too."

The Gold Key tour not only gives the customer a chance to follow the tractor's progress, the new owner gets to be the first to start the engine and the first to drive the new tractor off the assembly line.

In the long run, the customer gets to see, first hand, the quality of the John Deere tractor, said Zuniga.

"It's one of the core values of John Deere -- the quality, and the integrity and the innovation that goes into tractors," Zuniga said.

"It's to be expected that everything that comes out of here is of the highest quality," she added. "I think one of the biggest thrills is, people don't get to see the industrial environment like this, or the manufacturing environment from start to finish. So they love being able to see it come together."

It represented a great adventure for Rich Annen and his co-workers.

"It was pretty exciting, because we got to sign the hood and kind of leave our mark on the tractor for the future, and it was just impressive, and the people did such a good job," he said.

Deere customers first arrange their Gold Key tours through their local John Deere dealers. Then John Deere Visitor Services lines up a time for the tour to take place, based on the production time for the customer's tractor.

"It's a lot of fun to see people come in in the mornings, and everybody leaves with a smile and they're so happy and just had a great experience here and loved being a part of their tractor coming together," says Zuniga.

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