published Saturday, May 10th, 2014

Kubota dealership celebrates 42 years

Ken Burke operates Tag Equipment, selling and servicing Kubota lawn mowers, tractors and utility vehicles.
Ken Burke operates Tag Equipment, selling and servicing Kubota lawn mowers, tractors and utility vehicles.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

What: Open house

Where: TAG Equipment Dist. Inc., 608 Cherokee Blvd., Chattanooga

When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today

Contact: 423-265-0475

The legacy of Ken Burke is written in grass, dirt and a few thousand orange tractors.

As Burke prepared for an open house today at his TAG Equipment Distributors on Cherokee Boulevard, he stood on the edge of Cherokee Boulevard and leaned against a glistening orange Kubota mower in the asphalt parking lot of his tractor dealership.

In the midst of the preparations, it was a chance to acknowledge the company's 42-year history.

The last four decades have seen a lot of change: the shop moved from across the street, the North Shore became a destination spot and things are flat out way more expensive than they used to be.

Some of TAG's small tractors will put you back $18,000 or more.

"Oh, the market," said Burke, citing major changes since TAG began. "I probably didn't have a unit that cost that much money [in 1972]."

An older Kubota machine arrived for repairs on the back of one of the rollbacks the Burkes own. The family also owns and operates Cain's Wrecker Service.

"I never would have thought that a delivery truck, a rollback, would have cost me twice as much as this property," said Burke.

But it's one of the pitfalls of running a small business, and a thing that Burke has learned to work around in his life. Of course there are many things you learn in 42 years -- like how to work alongside family.

Eric Burke, the oldest of the three Burke brothers -- Kenny and Timmy are the others -- said it can be a challenge. But the same rules apply at TAG as at any other company: you pay your dues, you work hard and you don't expect a break.

He says the boys' father has been a good example.

"He's worked hard all these years," said Eric.

The tractor business was always interesting to him. Ken Burke never pressured his sons to take over the company -- there has always just been an unspoken agreement that it would happen.

"It's sort of a family deal," said Eric. "It was more or less understood. I don't think we've ever thought about selling out."

Now with the company debt-free and the family willing to carry it on, Eric said TAG is hopefully going to continue to be a good living for him and the others, although "ain't nobody getting rich off a small business or anything."

The transition is already happening. Ken Burke only comes in a few days a week now, spending the rest of his time as he pleases.

At 80 years old, he reflects fondly on the legacy he's made and the three generations that trusted with it.

"It's made a good life for us," he said, his boys bustling around the shop around him.

He perched on a stool in the main lobby, the eye of the hurricane, cracking jokes, content.

"I can't complain at all," he said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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