After a decade of annually selecting the top performing dealerships in North America, we have seen 21 dealerships, large and small, earn the title of Dealership of the Year by meeting and exceeding Farm Equipment’s criteria for a top dealership. Despite its challenges, these farm equipment dealers are comprised of many top performers making significant contributions to agriculture, their farm customers and their local communities. These dealers have served and will continue to serve as models for others to follow.
The inaugural Farm Equipment Dealership of the Year program was initiated in 2005 to “elevate dealerships who are leading the industry in best practices, operations management and customer care.”
Each one of our Dealership of the Year alumni have told us what a difference it made for them to achieve this honor and to be recognized for their accomplishments. Being named Dealership of the Year has given these dealerships a sense of pride that continues to drive them to perform at a high level.
In the last 10 years, some of these dealerships have grown to enormous proportions with locations worldwide. Others have sought new opportunities and have been acquired by other dealer groups. All have seen change, as the industry continues to move in the direction of high-tech precision farming and farmer consolidation, with dealers merging to match the amalgamation of their customers. In this increasingly competitive industry, even the smallest dealerships understand that the industry is changing rapidly and they will need to adapt to make it to the next generation.
In this report, 21 Dealership of the Year alumni from the past decade reflect and share with us the changes they have seen and the challenges they expect for the future, both for their dealerships and for the agricultural industry as a whole.
2005 — Large, Multi-Store Operation
Jamestown Implement Co.
Major Line: John Deere
2005 Vitals: $40.5 million in sales; 1 location; 45 employees
Now: Jamestown Implement Co. is owned by Brandt Holdings and has since been combined with 5 other dealer locations and renamed Valley Plains Equipment.
Valley Plains Equipment Vitals: 6 locations; approx. 150 employees
Brandt Holdings acquired Jamestown Implement in 2001. At the time, Brandt owned 14 John Deere dealerships. Today, the company owns and operates 29 Deere and Vermeer dealer locations.
When Jamestown Implement was acquired, its sales amounted to only about $10 million and its market share was 10%. A year after it was bought out by Brandt, sales doubled and by the time they received Farm Equipment’s Dealership of the Year award in 2005, total revenues had grown to $40 million and market share increased to 71.6%.
Commenting on the previous ownership, Roger Nelson, the general manager who was brought in to turn things around, commented, “Maybe they were trying to ‘save’ their way to profitability.” About the new ownership, he added, “We are allowed to make things happen. Each store is run independently, not as a franchise. Brandt encourages its managers to be entrepreneurs. And that fits me just fine.”
“When we were named Dealership of the Year we were recognized by a lot of other dealers and customers in the area,” says Mike Grondahl, the current sales manager for the Jamestown location. “The honor of being named Dealership of the Year had a big impact and our employees took it to another level. It has left a lasting imprint on the company.
“We’ve grown substantially, during the past 10 years. We’ve taken our precision ag program to a whole new level. We now have specialists and RTK networks at each location.
“I expect that John Deere will continue to innovate and produce new products. We want to continue on the path of service support and maintain our sustainable business model that emphasizes treating customers well,” Grondahl says.
2005 — Small-Store Operation
Fred Haar Co.
2005 Vitals: $17 million in revenue; 1 location; 27 employees
Now: Acquired by C&B Operations in 2012: 24 locations in 5 states; 600 employees
The dealership had seen its sales grow 27% and 21% in the years just prior to earning the Dealership of the Year award. The fourth and fifth generations of the Haar family were at the helm at the time, but Fred Haar retired last year and his son Al moved on the year before.
Kent Senf, COO of C&B Operations that now owns the dealership, says, “In 2005, Fred Haar Co. was coming up on its 125th anniversary and being named Farm Equipment’s Dealership of the Year was a big deal. It was a tribute to 5 generations of hard work.”
He adds, “Most of the employees haven’t seen a lot of change since we acquired the store, but there has been quite a bit of change in its structure and how it’s managed. We want to understand the individual location’s best practices and learn from the store. C&B has added store managers who still operate the dealership as a local business.”
2006 — Large, Multi-Store Operation
Major Line: Case IH Agriculture, New Holland, Case Construction
2006 Vitals: $228 million in sales; 29 locations; 500 employees
Now: $2.2 billion in sales; 96 U.S. locations and 16 European locations; 2,400 employees
Citing a “wave of consolidation” among dealers, Titan went public in December 2007 and has since grown to what is believed to be the largest farm equipment dealer group in the world. When it was named Farm Equipment’s Dealership of the Year for 2006, Peter Christianson, president & COO, described how the dealer group was growing: “We are simply applying modern computer technology and outside equity capital to do more of what the good farm equipment dealerships have been doing for 70 years.”
“I expect that we will continue to see a lot of consolidation in dealerships,” says David Meyer, current chairman & CEO. “There will be even larger capital needs in the distribution part of the industry and the technology is going to continue driving equipment purchasing. I believe we will continue to see a rise in the importance of service.”
Looking back, Meyer says, “It was really great being recognized by our peers when we were named Dealership of the Year. It gave us a lot of credibility. It went a long way with the employees to know that they had contributed to our success.”
2006 — Small-Store Operation
Champlain Valley Equipment
Major Lines: New Holland, Case IH, Kubota, Polaris
2006 Vitals: $18 million in sales; 2 locations;
Now: $40 million in sales; 4 locations; approx. 85 employees
“Being named Farm Equipment’s Dealership of the Year was a pretty big event for us. We had just purchased our second store, so getting that recognition was great. Everyone feels like they are doing a good job, but until you are compared to and recognized by your peers, you just don’t know,” says Brian Carpenter.
“I expect we’ll see a continuous move toward mergers and acquisitions,” Carpenter says. “It’s being driven by a lot of the older small store owners who would rather merge with a larger company than go through the growing pains and struggle of moving someone younger up in the business.
“We’re looking at more and more government regulations and I don’t expect that to let up any time soon. Whether it’s clean water regulations or reduced emissions, their oversight has increased in the last few years. We are working on an outreach program to help teach farmers how these new regulations will impact their business.”
2007 — Large, Multi-Store Operation
Birkey’s Farm Store
Major Lines: Case IH
2007 Vitals: $173 million in sales; 14 locations; 300 employees
Now: $394 million in sales; 14 locations; 415 employees
In selecting Birkey’s Farm Store as the Dealership of the Year in 2007, one of the judges making the pick said: “Focus on employees is unusual. The company is open in sharing financial information. Clearly, this dealer is doing all it can to keep employees happy and motivated.”
Ron Birkey, president & CEO at the time but now retired, described the dealership’s culture in a different way. “We’ve never had a structure that allowed a dictatorial, dominant leader. There’s no Lee Iacocca here.”
“Being named Dealership of the Year in 2007 created and helped establish a lot of pride in our organization,” says Mike Hedge, Birkey’s current CEO. “It was a great recognition and validation of the hard work that everyone had put into the organization.
“We’ve gone through an economic robustness in the farm industry in the last few years. During this time, we’ve been able to add additional facilities, including shops that improve our capacity and allow us to better serve our customers.
“The structure of our company has changed a little. I stepped into the CEO role a year and a half ago when Ron retired,” says Hedge. “At that time, we restructured our executive team and moved to a regional manager philosophy to better support our locations.
“We also brought on new people in the past 5 years, including dedicated precision ag employees at every location. Before this change, we only had one or two specialists to cover all of our stores,” he says.
“This year marked Birkey’s 60th anniversary, and we celebrated by raising money for local food banks. We raised over one million meals. To encourage customers to participate, we restored and raffled off a 1954 Farmall.
“There continues to be consolidation in the industry. We see opportunities for expansion as manufacturers drive for bigger and fewer dealers. We will continue to look for ways to expand our business at a pace that allows us to absorb acquisitions into our culture in a healthy way,” says Hedge.
2007 — Small-Store Operation
Scott Supply Co.
Major Lines: Case IH and New Holland
2007 Vitals: $21 million in sales; 1 location; 37 employees
Now: $48 million in sales; 1 location; 42 employees
In describing the basis for the dealership’s success when Scott Supply Co. was named Dealership of the Year, Bob Scott, president, said, “Service means more than the sale itself. We’re a very customer-focused dealership with a large parts inventory and well trained technicians. In our hearts, we really strive to satisfy every customer. A big part of it is just being better parts and service salesmen.”
“Three years ago, we added a 15,000 square-foot shop addition that doubled the size of our service department and also added a precision ag department with our own RTK network and 3 dedicated employees,” says Chris Scott. “Since 2007, I’ve purchased half of my dad [Bob]’s share of the company. He is 70 years old, but is more active in the company than ever. My grandfather is 98 and he still hangs around the shop everyday and mows all the grass.
“We haven’t really taken advantage of any of the opportunities to add more locations yet, but we are open to it if the right one comes along.
“Being named Dealership of the Year gave us a huge sense of pride in being recognized by our peers and manufacturers for our hard work, especially as a single store competing with other companies who keep adding more and more stores. We try to do the best work we can for our employees and our brands. Next year we are celebrating 100 years in business, and as a 4-generation, family-owned, single-store dealership, we are extremely proud of that.”
2007 — Specialty: Precision Farming
Record Harvest Enterprises Inc.
Major Lines: Trimble Navigation, Ag Leader, Tee-Jet, Rawson, Yetter, Dickey-John, SST Software
2007 Vitals: Almost $2 million in sales; 2 locations; 10 employees
Now: $5.5 million in sales; 4 locations; 14 employees
Steve Cubbage established Record Harvest Enterprises in 1999 when he realized that farmers needed help adopting precision farming equipment and that traditional ag equipment dealers weren’t offering the support that growers needed.
“Being named Dealership of the Year was quite an honor. As a precision ag dealer, we were new and unique at the time and Farm Equipment even made a special Dealership of the Year award just for us. Any time there is recognition, it means a lot,” says Cubbage.
“We want to put boots on the ground and are trying to deploy technicians and employees even in areas where we don’t have a store. We spun off our data services into its own company, Prime Meridian, so we could focus on growers on a more local level.
“We saw the writing on the wall for precision farming and we expect to see a continued evolution toward a service business model in which the hardware facilitates the information and infrastructure for services,” he says.
2008 — Large, Multi-Store Operation
Rocky Mountain Equipment, formerly Miller Farm Equipment
Major Line: John Deere
2008 Vitals: $103.2 million in sales, 6 locations, 91 employees
Now: Miller Farm Equipment was acquired by Rocky Mountain Equipment in 2008.
Rocky Mountain Equipment Vitals: $1 billion in sales; 38 locations; just under 1,000 employees
Kevin Miller and Doug Heritage were pre-selling equipment before pre-selling was in vogue in the farm equipment business. And they didn’t accept the values of used equipment they saw in industry guides. “We came up with our own evaluations and base everything on what it was worth as a cash value,” said Miller in 2008.
“At the time, being named Dealership of the Year showed that Miller Farm Equipment was a successful dealer committed to the business,” says Jim Wood, vice president of agriculture for Rocky Mountain Equipment. “Around the time of the article, it was announced that we had just purchased Miller Farm Equipment. They left quite a legacy behind and Kevin Miller’s son, Jason, still works for us as a branch manager in Moosomin.
“In the next 3-5 years, farms and dealer groups will continue to consolidate,” he says. “Technology and more fuel-efficient equipment are going to continue to grow in importance. The more cost efficient we can make equipment and the more it can work at optimal performance, the more return we can get. With technology, we just need to keep investing. Look at the technology that’s being used in different fields, oil, gas, aerospace. It’s always advancing.”
2008 — Small-Store Operation
Major Line: John Deere
2008 Vitals: $25.8 million in sales; 1 location; 31 employees
Now: $45 million in sales; 1 location; 42 employees
While Vincennes Tractor operates as a single-store business today, Edgar Kuhlenschmidt’s original dealership had at one point operated 5 John Deere stores in southern Indiana. “We were a multi-store dealership before it was fashionable,” he said in 2008. “We were ordered by Deere to break it up because they were concerned about ‘having all their eggs in one basket’ and afraid we would monopolize southern Indiana. Now, 30 years later, Deere is telling us that we should go back to more stores.”
“We’ve grown quite a bit in sales and we’ve done some building expansions since then. We even added 5 acres behind our facility. We’ve updated our computer systems and expanded our RTK. We now have almost 30 antenna sites and an integrated solutions department,” says Rick Linenburg, general manager. “We have also added Generac to our product line. This year, we were named Business of the Year by the Knox County Chamber of Commerce.
“Being named Dealership of the Year was a big morale boost for our employees. We received a lot of recognition locally. We’re in a small town and they picked up on it pretty quickly and even ran a story on it,” says Linenburg.
2009 — Large, Multi-store Operation
Major Line: Case IH
2009 Vitals: $97 million in sales; 5 locations; 132 employees
Now: $246 million in sales; 9 locations; 270 employees
When asked in 2008 why he had put so much emphasis on the people side of his business, Tim Young, replied: “You can manage the business in penny-pinching fashion, or you can spend money, have fun along the way and make sure your customers and employees are happy. That’s the route we’ve taken in developing a long-term sustainable business.”
“Being named Farm Equipment’s Dealership of the Year was tremendous. It was the culmination of a lot of growth. One of the integral parts of our story is that in 2000, we were only a single location and we had a total-loss fire. Three weeks after the fire, we were able to come back and buy a second location. By 2009, we had continued to grow and hit our stride,” Young explains. “Our staff was really, really proud to know that we were being recognized for all of our hard work. We never anticipated that we would grow to the levels that we did.
“We’ve taken the next step to make sure we have the right structure to manage this many locations and people. Our explosive growth from 5 to 9 stores has really only happened in the last 2 years,” says Young. “We’ve added personnel to marketing and precision farming at each of our locations. In 2009, we only had one precision ag specialist for the entire company.
“In 2011, my father, unfortunately, passed away. That same year, my eldest son came into the business. He’s purchased a 25% share.
“I expect to see increased emphasis on GPS equipment as the technology continues to evolve. It just keeps getting better. I don’t believe the intent of our business or the presentation to the customers will change, but I do think we’re going to continue trying to get into deeper relationships with those people who are our major customers.”
2009 — Small-Store Operation
Bonneville & Madison County Implement
Idaho Falls & Rexburg, Idaho
Major Line: John Deere
2009 Vitals: $50 million in sales; 2 locations; 57 employees
Now: Bonneville and Madison County Implement is a part of C&B Operations.
This was another story of two under-performing dealerships that between them produced only $18 million in revenue on 19.3% market share in 2004. Under new management, by 2008 revenues were approaching $50 million with a market share of 50.3%. These two stores are part of C&B Operations, which at the time operated 16 John Deere dealerships, but have since grown to 24 locations in 5 states.
“We felt that our work was really being appreciated by being named Farm Equipment’s Dealership of the Year,” says Kent Senf, COO of C&B Operations. “Our strong growth and development were being recognized. Our employees at Bonneville & Madison were really excited. Being named Dealership of the Year also added some competition among our other locations, as they saw what being recognized for their hard work could mean. It pushed them to be the best.”
2010 — Large, Multi-Store Operation
RDO Northern Agriculture
Major Lines: John Deere, Vermeer
2010 Vitals: $406 million in sales; 17 locations
Now: $950 million in sales; 33 locations; 2,100 employees
“It starts with an authentic leadership team that works well together to connect with, provide a vision for and fully develops employees across the organization,” said Christi Offut, CEO of RDO Equipment Co. when the 17 stores that comprised the company’s Northern Ag division were selected as Farm Equipment’s Dealership of the Year in 2010.
“It was an honor to be recognized through the Dealership of the Year program for the things we’ve been working so hard on and it was an honor to be among the other winners. It was a validation of all of the changes we have been making and of all of our hard work,” says Keith Kreps, executive vice president.
“The biggest change for us since 2010 is that we’ve gotten into irrigation and we’ve added 7 irrigation locations in Arizona and California. We’ve also become a partner to a John Deere dealer in Australia,” he says.
“We have formed a separate precision farming department with 17 people and we are continuing to mainstream precision ag. We have our own call center to better support our customers and we are heavily marketing our different support packages,” Kreps adds.
“I expect that technology will continue to drive change over the next 5 years. We will also be looking into new export markets for used equipment. As our industry creates more used equipment, we are going to need to start finding new areas to sell that equipment.”
2010 — Small-Store Operation
Major Line: John Deere
2010 Vitals: $26 million in sales; 1 location; 39 employees
Now: In December of 2012, Codington-Clark was acquired by Schuneman Equipment, which operates 6 Deere stores.
When the dealership was selected as Dealership of the Year, it had an absorption rate of 115.02%, the highest in the history of the program. It also had a 47.2% market share.
“Being named Dealership of the Year was the honor of our career,” says John Hopper. “There was a lot of time and energy put into the application process and we were awarded for what we were the best at: market share and absorption. It was a great honor.
“We sold our dealership to Schuneman, which was John Deere’s Dealer of Tomorrow strategy. We just waited for the right opportunity, they made a good offer and we thought it was the right time to sell,” he says.
“Virtually all the same people work at the store. Schuneman did a complete remodel of the front of the store. They want to keep the store up-to-date with the times, which a multi-store has more ability to do.”
2011 — Large, Multi-Store Operation
Swift Current, Saskatchewan
Major Line: John Deere
2011 Vitals: $198 million in sales; 9 locations; 166 employees
Now: $313 million in sales; 9 locations; 220 employees
“The empowerment we have given our regional sales managers is valuable during the busy season because our customers can get split-second answers instead of having to wait for a message to be relayed to upper management,” Duane Smith, CEO & GM of JayDee AgTech said in describing JayDee AgTech’s philosophy in 2011. “Instead of losing hours or a day, our customers have a solution within a half an hour. Our customers know we’re going to support them after the sale.”
“Being named Dealership of the Year showed us that we were being recognized by our peer group as well as others for the way we were conducting business,” says Boyd Hofmann, vice president. “It is always nice to receive awards like this as it reflects on how good our employee base is as well as the strong direction that is provided by our management team.
“Since 2011, we have continued to grow our Farm Sight Strategy with our agronomy business. This helped us solidify the relationships with current customers as well as create new relationships with other producers. Our biggest change is we sold our business as of May 1, 2014, to the Jim Pattison group headquartered in Vancouver. All current senior management and employees have stayed on with the company and we continue to operate as we have in the past,” says Hofmann.
“Precision farming will continue to grow with emphasis on data management for the producers. All farmers are trying to return the most dollars to their bottom line and achieve a high rate of return on their assets. This can be achieved by optimizing the equipment they own, as well as using precision farming practices. Farms will continue to get larger as we see more of our older customers getting out. Dealerships will continue to get larger as the capital requirements needed to run these enterprises continues to grow. We could start seeing a shift in crop varieties grown in Western Canada as producers continue to look for products that will add the most dollars to their bottom lines,” he says.
2011 — Small-Store Operation
Janson Equipment Co.
Major Line: Case IH
2011 Vitals: $40 million in sales; 3 locations
Now: 75% increase in sales; 3 locations
Cousins Tom and Steve Janson admit they are two entirely different personalities. While they both agree their different approaches are complementary, they sometimes do have differences. It’s the business benchmarks that they’ve established that act as an objective third party, the common ground, to keep the partners in sync. If they agree on anything, it’s the benchmarks.
“It is such an honor when your peers recognize you as a great dealer. There is a real sense of prestige. It was one of the best honors I have had in my 30-year career. Being named Dealership of the Year created a real sense of pride in our managers and their staff,” says Tom Janson.
“One of the biggest changes we’ve seen is the evolution of precision farming products. The challenge has been creating new roles for our employees to support it and to support precision farming technology. Thankfully Case IH has given us great field support,” he says. “Because of our focus on meeting customer demands with urgent, accurate, response times, we have added 13 more employees over the last 5 years and have invested in our human resources through training to meet the needs of our farmers,” he says.
“Over the next 3-5 years our focus will continue to be market share growth. We are currently expanding one of our facilities and exploring the benefits of a new facility in another one of our locations. It has always been about customer satisfaction and market share is a measurement of how we are doing. Bill Janson, a previous president, often said, ‘If we do not take care of our customers someone else will.’ Our team embraces that attitude every day.”
2012 — Large, Multi-Store Operation
Major Line: Case IH
2012 Vitals: $85.4 million in sales; 3 locations; 68 employees
Now: 13% increase in sales; 3 locations; 7 % increase in employee size
The Johnsons (Leo and Eric) aren’t “numbers freaks.” In fact, they don’t manage by metrics. “We look at total revenue, net income, cash availability and that’s about it,” says Leo. “We don’t get concerned if one department is losing a little if the others are OK, as long as there’s adequate return.
“Being named Dealership of the Year instilled a huge sense of pride in our family business, among both the family and our employees. We also received a lot of great recognition from out peers who read the magazine,” says Leo.
“2013 was another record year for us. Even better than 2012, which was a phenomenal year. Our sales are up about 13%. We gained another Case IH sales and service agreement for our Juda location so we now have 3 full-line Case IH dealerships. We are also working on building a completely new, 40,000 square-foot facility at our Janesville location,” he adds.
“For the last 5 years, we’ve seen a lot of fast growth in wholegoods sales, maybe too fast in some cases. I believe that the next 5 years are going to be a real test for our management. We are going to need to pay closer attention to details. Parts and service will become more important and we need to manage the supply line of our wholegoods. We can’t go back to the days of having inventory sit on our lot for a year.”
2012 — Small-Store Operation
Kennedy Implement & Auto
Major Line: New Holland
2012 Vitals: $13 million in sales; 1 location; 11 employees
Now: 8% increase in sales; 1 location; 15 employees
While many dealerships treat used equipment inventory as a liability, Kent Buchholz says Kennedy Implement sees it as an asset and attributes much of the dealership’s 22% return on assets to getting it turned.
“Being named Dealership of the Year says we’ve been doing a good job. It shows our peers think we’re doing well too. Our community and customers were also appreciative. It really increased our business. Successful people do business with successful people,” says Buchholz.
“We are looking at constructing a second building for our service bays. As far as precision farming, we are still pushing the envelope.
“Hopefully not too much will change in the next 3-5 years. We’re on a good trip right now. There will probably be some opportunities for some of our employees to step up in a new capacity and we will have to keep training them as more technology is built into equipment,” he says.
2013 — Large, Multi-Store Operation
Major Line: John Deere
2013 Vitals: $235 million in sales; 23 locations; 380 employees
Now: 10% increase in sales; 23 locations; 10% increase in employee size
Strict adherence to the company’s vision and values is vital to Stotz’s success. “With nearly 400 employees in 8 states and 23 locations, there’s no other way to get a consistent performance and ‘one-store’ experience for the customer,” says Tom Rosztoczy, CEO. “As long as our people act with consistency on our principles, then whatever they decide is going to be correct.
“Being named Dealership of the Year was a big win for us. It was very exciting. We have this vision of being the best equipment dealership in the world and being named Dealership of the Year stood as an affirmation that we are headed in the right direction for that goal,” says Rosztoczy.
2013 — Small-Store Operation
Lake County International
Major Line: Case IH
2013 Vitals: $25 million in sales; 1 location; 22 employees
Now: 8% increase in sales; 1 location; 24 employees
When Lake County International was selected as Dealership of the Year, the judging panel cited their more than $1 million in revenue per employee, their 97.2% absorption rate and 24% return on assets. Their 48.4% market share for combines and tractors over 100 horsepower didn’t hurt either. But co-owners and brothers Jeff and Tom Bloom understand the pressure is on to get bigger. They’re keeping their ear to the ground for opportunities to expand.
“Being named Dealership of the Year meant a lot to our employees. It was a validation that we did this just right. We were hitting on all cylinders when the boom came in 2012. Being named Dealership of the Year meant a lot to the community as well. The ag business brings a lot of people to town,” says Jeff Bloom.
“We just underwent a large renovation and now we are reaping the benefits and settling in. We added so much room to our sales department that we’ve taken on 2 new employees.
“I expect there to be further consolidations of the industry and more precision farming. There will be more integration of precision technology built into equipment. For our dealership, I look forward to having the next generation get involved. Both my brother and I have sons graduating college and looking to join the dealership,” he says.