Statisticians know that numbers don’t lie. So if you want to know what topics are most concerning to farm equipment dealers, a big piece of the story can be told by taking a look at their information-consumption habits.
If you’ve missed any of these columns, or any of the other content that editors prepare twice-a-month through the FREE E-WATCH e-newsletter, act now. To sign up for this free opt-in content, which includes news, exclusively online features, video clips, and access to archived content, visit www.farm-equipment.com.
And thanks to the analytics available today, the Farm Equipment E-Media team can show what is getting the lion’s share of attention on laptops, tablets and mobile devices. The list below is a “journal” so to speak of some of the most talked about, and in some cases, most argued about, viewpoints of the past year. The Farm Equipment staff monitors these analytics to keep a pulse on readers concerns, and go to work asking questions and interviewing to provide actionable content to address those issues.
What you see below are quick summaries of the top 10 most-viewed columns (most prepared by award-winning columnist Dave Kanicki) distributed to dealers via the every-other-week E-WATCH email-newsletter over the last 12 months. None of these articles had been seen in print before.
To see the original column (and ensuing industry commentary), use the QR Code accompanying each headline.
#1 A Crack in the Ethanol Dam
The most-viewed E-WATCH column over the last 12 months came on October 15, 2013 as Executive Editor Dave Kanicki shared that ethanol-induced “corn fever” was rapidly cooling down. With ethanol having consumed one-third of the corn crop and 10% of the U.S. gas supply in recent years, he sounded the alarm that there’d soon be a drop in commodity prices and ag machinery sales (which had been running at a torrid pace since 2010).
What he called “the first crack in the proverbial ethanol dam,” was the EPA’s declaration that it could, if it wished, roll back the renewable fuel standard, reducing the 2014 mandate by 15% to 15.21 billion. The move would significantly drop the levels of ethanol — and corn — needed to produce it.
Citing the $4.33 futures corn price (lowest levels since August 2010) that was down from $8 a year earlier, he reported that “speculators are betting on a record or near-record U.S. corn harvest in 2013, as well as the strong possibility of an ethanol rollback in 2014.”
He also highlighted the need to watch Brazil, which surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest exporter of corn at 25% of world supply compared to 6% just 10 years earlier. “With its capability of double-cropping and availability of land, Brazil is expected to remain a major player in worldwide agriculture,” he wrote, pointing out that the nation is also the second-largest world player in ethanol production.
#2 Trust Your Gut
Recent examples involving dealers getting “taken” by fraudulent behavior resulted in Kanicki’s August 6, 2013 column. Two dealers contacted him so others could be alerted to scams working their way into the business. “I don’t want to be known as the dumbest dealer around,” said one who asked that his name be withheld for that reason, “but I do want to let other dealers know that it could happen to them if they’re not careful.”
The first example was a duping on a tractor auction. Feeling pressure to move two tractors after relentless telemarketing and double-speak from an opportunistic auction house, a dealer agreed to a deal that, by the time the ordeal ended, cost him $120,000. The dealer, whose biggest mistake was taking someone at their word as they addressed his concerns, didn’t listen to what his gut was trying to say during the confusion that was created. Kanicki summarized the “pitch” that dealers might hear from the auction house, and also explained how and where to register a complaint.
The other discussion involved hour-meter tampering on tractors, a topic Kanicki also covered in detail in the July/August 2013 print edition of Farm Equipment. Ontario farmer and dealer Calvin Schmidt, who ended up with a tractor from a “jockey sale” that he suspected had been tampered with, called Kanicki to examine the problem, find out its frequency of occurrence and what to keep an eye out for if unscrupulous actors try to manipulate the hour meter, internal computer or both, before selling their unit. Kanicki even uncovered a website advertising hour-meter repair and programming devices that can reset hours for nearly every major tractor brand to “your requirement.”
The column resulted in a review of laws covering hour-meter tampering that Kanicki concluded “were few and far between with enforcement that’s minimal at best.” At present, it doesn’t appear to be a major problem, but may also happen more than some notice. Another dealer told Kanicki, “There are computer hackers in every industry.”
#3 Brand Purity Raising Its Ugly Head
In this March 4, 2014, column, Kanicki wrote that survey results showed that brand purity demands by the majors was ranking high on dealers’ list of concerns (#6) once again after ranking of only relative worry (#16) for the past several years. This timely column was distributed weeks after Case IH’s dealer meeting in Florida where Vice President Jim Walker told dealers that they were expected to dump several of the high-profile speciality equipment manufacturers on their lots, including MacDon, Kubota, Kinze, Great Plains and Kuhn/Krause, and even Geringhoff and Drago.
Whether majors are bold and brazen enough to state it at the podium was not the issue; Kanicki writes that “If the majors want to coerce dealers to drop other lines, they’ll figure out a way to do it.” Manufacturers want dealers’ full attention on their line of course, but Kanicki concludes that dealers who acquiesce to their majors’ demands to shed lines, and ultimately the manufacturer itself, will pay the price.
“Dealers have told us time and again that if they didn’t carry shortlines, they’d never be able to get farmers loyal to another brand of equipment into their dealerships.” Often, it’s the specialty equipment that attracts those conquest sales opportunities because however that initial purchase starts, rapport and relationship can take over.
Kanicki’s column left several takeaways:
- “Without the shortlines, the majors would be stuck copying from each other and then arguing who came up with the idea first.”
- “If it weren’t for the competition from the shortlines, we wouldn’t see the major lines investing in new product development at the level they are today.”
- “Shortline equipment makers must believe that the customers always come first to make the commitment they do. And the majors can say it, but the real question is ‘do they believe it?’”
#4 Will CNH Learn From IH’s Mistakes?
In this October 1, 2013, column, Kanicki revisited the merger of CNH Global and its parent Fiat that took place at mid-year.
He commented on how the new CNH Industrial and the old International Harvester would look familiar to old-timers. Just as IH was the big dog of equipment and trucks, the new CNH Industrial would be #2 in ag equipment, #2 in commercial vehicles and near the top of construction equipment.
Currie Management’s George Russell, a former CNH exec, cautioned that the new company would need to avoid the issues that led to the demise of IH, and cited excerpts from Barbara Marsh’s book, A Corporate Tragedy: The Agony of International Harvester Company. Russell pointed out a few things that industry executives should post on their office walls. “There was stiff competition from arch rival John Deere, bad relations with organized labor, and a pervasive, arrogant complacency about its unsurpassable market dominance.”
Kanicki expressed hope that CNH won’t relive IH’s mistakes and concluded that while he wouldn’t speak for the truck market, “I do know that the top ag and construction makers need all the good competition they can get.”
#5 Update on Brand Loyalty
In this December 24, 2013 piece, Kanicki provided observations on new primary research from Farm Equipment on farmers’ attitudes toward the importance of the brand they are buying vs. the retailers who are selling it.
He revisits earlier interviews with experts from Farm Equipment’s initial baseline study published 3 years ago. On the most recent study, Kanicki writes: “It’s clear that farmers want to do business with the same dealership as often as they can. Three of the top five reasons they would switch brands, including the top two — better parts availability and better dealer repair/service — involve the dealership they do business with.”
Branding expert Scott Deming says what farmers are really saying is they want reliability and trust, and Kanicki is encouraged that dealers are getting the message. “They understand and accept that reliable service is the most important thing they’re selling; the brand of equipment becomes incidental for the best dealers.”
#6 Follow the Numbers on Consolidation
A dichotomy is at play when looking at the 5-year census newly released from USDA, wrote Kanicki in this March 18, 2014 piece. On the one hand, the number of big revenue generators (surpassing the $1 million revenue level) grew to 81,600 farmers. Meanwhile, the number of farms dropped 4% to 2.1 million.
Dealers who don’t understand the whys of consolidation need only examine these trends, says Kanicki. In this column, he shares farm population and demographics data from the new USDA Census (conducted in late 2012) that show some interesting dynamics at work.
First, the average age of farmers is 58.3, considerably higher than the last two censuses. And while there are more farmers who are 35 and younger than 5 years earlier, the number of new farmers (with 10 years or less experience) has fallen by 20% since the last census.
“It’s worrisome as it would appear that the base of U.S. farmers — your potential customers — will continue to shrink, thus concentrating the business even further,” he writes.
#7 Taking Charge of ‘Upping’ Your Knowledge Quotient
In this February 4, 2014 column, Editor/Publisher Mike Lessiter writes on the heels of the 22nd National No-Tillage Conference that drew 1,024 in Springfield, Ill. Watching farmers still cornering presenters with their technical questions after the conclusion of the last presentation at 10:15 p.m. on a Wednesday night, he wonders why many equipment dealers appear to look at their agronomic knowledge development so passively.
From his conversations with technology-eager farmers, he opines that many dealers too readily accept what their major prepares at “rah-rah” introductions as wholly sufficient, even when it’s obvious that the “research data” exists to reinforce only the movement of their newest piece of iron. The reality is that farmers need much more, and they’re frustrated when their dealer can’t keep pace.
“There’s a narrow belief that time is productive only if measured by an immediate sale or billable hour,” he writes. “So as awash as our industry is with speeches about upping one’s knowledge to support farmers’ needs, dealers continue to be several steps behind.”
He says that as demands rise, “it’s a certainty that taking a spoon-fed approach to knowledge will eventually leave you spitting dust.” Learning, he said, is the dealer’s own responsibility, and no one else’s. “Your customers, your company and you can’t afford to leave it in someone else’s hands.” It comes down to a choice — do you want to be known for a customer, or product, focus?
#8 New Changes Coming to Farm Equipment Dealerships
In this column from September 3, 2013, Kanicki advises dealers to start paying attention to regulatory head-scratchers in other states that could end up in your backyard.
1. The Auto Dealers Bill of Right (which also applies to farm equipment dealers) that prevents manufacturers from forcing dealers to update showrooms, change signs, etc., at the manufacturers’ whim. Unfortunately, John Deere, AGCO and CNH filed a 170-page suit arguing the law to be unconstitutional — presumably because it would erode their control over their dealers.
2. On July 1 of last year, Minnesota legislators put a 6.875% state tax on farm equipment repairs, something that the governor admitted he didn’t understand until it was enacted.
3. Wisconsin’s “Implement of Husbandry” (that’s Wisconsin legislator-speak for “farm equipment”) was going to require “shadow” vehicles anytime certain equipment was put on the road and written authorizations annually.
In a time where government dollars are tight and funding through fines can be “found” legislatively, Kanicki says dealers can’t afford to worry only about the crazy things happening in their own AOR.
“Let things like this ride without a fight and see how many others jump on the bandwagon,” he writes.
#9 What’s Your Real Business?
On July 9, 2013, Lessiter shared an example of the 2013 Dealership of the Year Stotz Equipment (a 23-store group headquartered in Arizona) and how it was willing to look beyond the traditional boundaries of equipment peddler and fixer.
After 8 years of contracts for 40-plus tractors annually with the state of Utah, the Dept. of Transportation considered letting the contracts go into private hands. In addition to the potential loss of $5 million in business, a byproduct of the contracts was the high-spec, low-hour units that many of its farm customers came to rely on. With a mission of “making the customer’s life easier,” the dealer formed a new division, Stotz Mowing, that picked up an initial contract for 620 miles of roadside mowing, and last year, won a 3-year contract for 5,000 state highway miles.
“You are presented with ‘new frontiers’ with precision ag, data management, irrigation services and other voices that keep your farm customers up at night,” writes Lessiter. “Job one is being close enough to the action to hear those opportunities knocking.”
While jumping into non-core ventures is risky (“Anything less than an A-plus performance can soil your entire business’ reputation,” he says), a dealership with talent, capacity and commitment can grow in new areas.
#10 Perspectives on Succession Planning
In this column, which was available for viewing only since it went up on May 27 of this year, Kanicki commented on a special project Farm Equipment undertook that offered a glimpse into the next 25 years of farm equipment dealer management. Unlike many succession planning stories that focus on the dealer-principals (or old guard) who are making plans to move out, this special report examined the challenges of those who have, or who are hoping, to move in.
In discussing his observations on the subject dealers’ confidence, humility and desire to earn the respect of their staffs and their customers, Kanicki says “If these eight are representative of the industry’s next-generation of dealers and leaders, we’re in pretty good shape.” He wrote that the interviews with these young leaders reminded him of an article by JetBlue Airways Chairman Joel Petersen, titled, “Want to be a Real Leader? Forget ‘You.’”
As he goes on to explain self-importance and hubris, Petersen wrote, “Leaders with a me-first attitude are too often distracted playing the smartest guy in the room to realize the floodwaters have already begun to rise before they make their exits.”
Kanicki said he hopes that each of the young leaders remembers a few things about their apprenticeships served on their way to becoming leaders — including confidence, putting others first and balancing success with a healthy dose of humility.
Most-Viewed News & Features from Farm Equipment
Below is a list of the most viewed online items via Farm Equipment website and email newsletters from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014. For more information on these 20 stories, scan the QR code at right. You can sign up for a free Daily News update of all headlines (and industry commentary) — as it occurs — at www.farm-equipment.com