Ritchie Implement’s core group (from l) includes: Kevin Depies, sales and management; Connie Ritchie, CFO and co-owner; Ron Ritchie, CEO and co-owner; Chelsie Klaas, finance, HR and marketing manager; Jon Ritchie, vice president and co-owner; and Tony Ritchie, sales and management.
Diversity is key for Ritchie Implement, the 2015 recipient of the over $75 million in revenues category of the Dealership of the Year program. Ritchie Implement’s commitment to a variety of product lines, a broad customer base and the addition of third generation management have made the dealer a success. “We don’t keep all our eggs in one basket,” says CEO and Co-owner Ron Ritchie.
Ritchie’s 3 locations in Cobb, Darlington and Barneveld, Wis., are 30 miles apart and the dealership stresses communication and teamwork between locations, as well as between departments.
Slow, but steady growth, along with recognition of the companies, customers and employees who supported the Wisconsin dealer in getting to where it is today are key principles in Ritchie’s way of doing business. While this Case IH dealer always looks forward to the future, it isn’t forgetting its past.
A Colorful History
Ritchie Implement, founded in 1961, was not always a Case IH dealership. When Co-owners Ron, Jon and Connie Ritchie’s parents opened the first store in Cobb, Wis., the dealership sold Allis Chalmers.
Ritchie Implement Inc.
Major Line: Case IH
Shortlines: Claas, Jamesway, Kubota, Drago, Kinze, Landoll, Woods, Unverferth, Polaris, Ag-Bag, Killbros, Ashland, Miller, Kuhn-Knight, Simplicity, JCB, Land Pride, Berlon, Top Air, Great Plains, Bobcat, H&S, Oxbo
Locations: 3 (Cobb, Darlington and Barneveld, Wis.)
2014 Revenues: $98 million (84% wholegoods, 10% parts, 6% service)
2014 Market Share: 63.8%
2014 Parts & Service Absorption Growth: 95.1%
Owners: Ron, Jon and Connie Ritchie
It wasn’t until 1988 when a nearby dealership in Highland, Wis., went up for sale that Ritchie Implement became a full-line Case IH dealer. Since then, Ritchie’s has added numerous shortlines to supplement its major line, including the likes of Claas, Kubota, Kinze, JCB and, most recently, Bobcat. (Related video: The Defining Moments of Building a Business: Ritchie Implement)
“We’ve seen a lot of change,” Ron says. “So we got used to painting our trucks different colors every two or three years. First Allis Chalmers was sold in 1985 and it went to Deutz. At one time, when Allis Chalmers was going down, we wound up with just Deutz, which was a good product, but the biggest tractor they had was 120 horsepower. We were out of the big equipment business.”
While they were taking on the new dealership in Highland, Case and International Harvester were still settling out their historic merger to become Case IH.
“That was right when everything was changing, when Case and International were joining,” he says. “It took a few years, but we proved that we were good, fair competition, and we built on that. That’s what started our growth. Our dealership benefited from the large equipment Case IH offered.”
In 1998, Ritchie’s added the Darlington, Wis., location and in 2002 it acquired the Barneveld, Wis., location.
“The Darlington location added a huge market area for us,” Ron says. “It’s a whole different landscape. Barneveld offered a new market opportunity. We have a lot more of the compact tractor business now. The presence of a store in certain areas still makes a big difference.”
Ron says it’s important to be accessible to customers in southwestern Wisconsin. “Having 3 locations each within 30 miles of each other is helpful for our clients and necessary to compete in the region.”
A Diverse Lineup
When one equipment market is down, chances are another market will be up — at least in a diverse area like southwestern Wisconsin. Ron says, “You need to always be prepared to meet the needs of customers across different markets to take advantage of an upswing in one market or another.”
Using Diverse Products to Bring in Customers
Ritchie Implement values its multiple shortlines for this reason. “As hard as it is to have several different lines, it has really contributed to our success,” Ron says. “The product selection we have helps us meet our diverse market. That’s a real key to our success in southwest Wisconsin where you have dairy, beef, cash crops and vegetables.”
“Where one area of agriculture isn’t doing so well, like cash grain, we can do really well with the milk and dairy, the beef and other non-cash crop markets,” says Tony Ritchie, Ron’s son, who works in sales and is part of the management team. “One year could be down in one area, but in the next we could be doing well. We’re able to hold things together by focusing on different markets and lines.”
“This year, like most dealers out there, the corn and beans are down and our large combine, sprayer and four-wheel drive tractor equipment business is down,” Ron says. “On the other hand, livestock is steady. They need their skid loaders every day. They need their spreaders and their mixers. They’re putting a lot of hours on their equipment.” More wear and tear on equipment means more service business for Ritchie’s and faster turnover on machines.
Ritchie’s sticks by its various lines so it can provide more choices for its customers. “Maybe an OEM thinks they can give you a pure choice now,” Ron says. “But when we started out, none of them could fulfill all of our needs in our market. So they can’t come in now and tell us to get rid of our shortlines. Those products helped us get to where we are today.”
He adds that Case IH has been good about not pushing Ritchie’s to remove its shortlines, stating the shortlines, in many cases, help to sell the main line.
Ritchie Implement has seen solid growth over the last 3 years, with 2 consecutive years of revenue increasing more than 13%.
“We actually gain a lot of new customers who see a shortline product in the front rows of our lot. We get people in the door looking at our shortlines,” Ron says. “We’ve opened so many doors with customers who come in for one thing, like a Claas chopper, and now we sell that customer Case IH tractors too. We would never have gotten the chance to sell that customer if we didn’t have the shortline.
“We worked hard to get our lines. They didn’t just come and give them to us, and we’ve proven ourselves since we took them on.” Ron says the dealership is as much a team with its many manufacturers as it is with its employees, departments and stores.
Ritchie’s most recent addition to its lineup was the Bobcat line of skid steers in 2013, which Ron says has sold better than he ever expected. “The first year we thought we were only going to sell 30 or 40 units, but we far exceeded our expectations and now we’re on track to double that this year.
Advice from the Dealership of the Year:
‘Don’t Roll Equipment’
Ron Ritchie, CEO and co-owner of Ritchie Implement of Cobb, Wis., is vehemently against “rolling” equipment. Rolling equipment, as he defines it, is when you take in a 1-year-old planter, tractor or combine and give away a brand new one for a small percentage of the value of the new equipment.
Ron says one of the biggest problems is that manufacturers are confusing the concept with preselling. “My idea of preselling is when you talk to the producers about their future needs for their operation,” he says. “Inventory control is critical to the customer, dealership and manufacturer.
“I like to keep our customers on a 2-3 year trade cycle, maybe even a little longer. We want a good, marketable piece of equipment for a trade-in. We like to take trades, but when you’re in a down market like what we’re seeing right now, you’ll hurt when you have way too much in your used equipment. I’m not in the business to lose money,” Ron continues.
“If you roll someone’s combine or tractor in today’s market, you’re going to be upside down in a hurry,” he says. “That’s a really scary move to roll equipment for a low dollar amount every year.
“We all know you have to be careful of what you put into used equipment. We make sure to ask the salesperson who is evaluating the trade if they know where they can go with the item and if they have a prospect in mind. Used equipment is the biggest problem in this industry right now, and rolling equipment has been a contributing factor to this problem.”
Kevin Depies, sales and management for Ritchie’s, says the dealership tries to form partnerships with customers and explain how healthy trade cycles benefit everyone. “We explain how we’re going to get their cost per hour to where it needs to be while not trading up every year and we explain how the situation affects us, which makes them feel like partners,” he says. “They don’t want to see us in a bad spot at the end of the day any more than we’d want to see them in a bad spot.”
Keeping some of the older equipment out in the field, rather than rolling it every year for new equipment, also helps Ritchie’s take on more service work. “We do a lot of proactive maintenance and a very aggressive winter service special,” Depies says.
“It’s brought a lot of new customers to our business,” Ron continues. “When we were looking to pick up Bobcat, I thought that in 2015 and 2016 we could see a downturn for some of our large equipment, so it’s complementing our service and our parts business, as well as our business in total.
“We have a nice group of products to sell and that has gotten us through downturns in different markets. We usually have something that hits the mark for us.”
What the Judges Say ...
“They generate $1,225,000 per employee, clearly outdistancing all others this year” ... “The best ROA, the best market share and the best absorption rate” ... “Has a strong succession plan” ... “Has worked hard over the past 3 years to improve and increase the size of the facilities and all 3 locations.”
Ritchie Implement was one of the first North American dealers for Claas when it took on the line in 1997. “When Claas was coming to North America, the self-propelled forage harvester business was just starting to evolve. Nobody around here had one. We heard a lot about Claas and they had the machine ready to go,” Ron says.
While Claas started as a specialty product for the dealer, it’s been a significant growth area. Though Ritchie’s only sells Claas from the Cobb location, the dealership is a market leader for Claas and 30% of Cobb’s wholegoods sales come from the manufacturer, as well as 40% of its parts.
While both Claas and Ritchie Implement have grown over the years, Ron appreciates that the manufacturer hasn’t grown too big to still recognize its dealers. “We like to deal with the companies that like to deal with us,” he says.
“We worked hard to get our lines. They didn’t just come and give them to us...” — Ron Ritchie, CEO and co-owner
Creating Product Specialists
With 22 shortlines in total, it would be impossible for every salesperson to know everything about every piece of equipment Ritchie Implement carries. So, rather than having accounts for each salesperson, each specializes in a few products.
This started 15 years ago when Ritchie’s first took on Claas. “We started with a Claas specialist for forage harvesters. Today, everything’s become more technical so we need specialists we can go to who know how to configure the machine and work with it.
“We found that focusing on one product is a very big help to our sales team. The specialist is factory trained on the product and we know who to ask if there are questions,” Ron says. (Related video: Specializing in Products by Salespeople)
Over the last 5 years, Ritchie’s has been spreading the product specialist system around to its other products. “Now we need specialists for all of our equipment lines,” he says.
The usefulness of the system proved particularly true when Ritchie’s took on Bobcat and hired an employee designated as the Bobcat specialist. Having a committed and knowledgeable salesperson for the new line was key to surpassing first-year sales expectations for the line, says Ron.
“We’ll have two salespeople call on the same customer, if necessary,” says Kevin Depies, sales and management. “That way, we know we’re giving our customer the best information.”
Ritchie Implement Inc., Video Interviews
Watch exclusive videos with Ritchie Implement. Filmed on location by Farm Equipment editors, these videos are sponsored by CDK Global Heavy Equipment.
Video themes include:
- Benefits of Living Close for 24/7 Service
- Building Success with Shortlines
- The Dangers of Rolling vs. Preselling Equipment
- Dealership Metrics to Monitor
- The Defining Moments of Building a Business
- Managing Cashflow
- Maintaining a Sense of Urgency Among Employees
- Making Employees Part of the Family
- Specializing in Products
- Communication Leads to Fast Results
- Using Financing Plans to Sell Equipment
Serving Large & Small Producers
“Ritchie knows how to support and take care of its key customers,” says Rick Rank, Case IH senior director of regional sales. “But having said that, they also know how to take care of the small, independent customer and they’re important to them too.”
Ritchie’s broad scope of customers also reflects the many markets and lines the dealership serves. The dealership’s motto is “big enough to serve you, small enough to know you,” and Ritchie’s strives to treat all its customers with this philosophy.
“It goes without saying,” says Ron. “Everyone is treated the same when they walk in our door. We value all of our customers regardless of size. We are fortunate we have a diverse customer base in our area.”
To do this, Ron says it’s important to train and stress with employees from the beginning that they need to treat each customer who comes to the dealership with the same level of service. “We instill that in our employees more than anything,” he says. “It’s especially important now when we aren’t selling as much big equipment. If it wasn’t for all of our customers, we wouldn’t be here today. We talk to our employees all the time to make sure they recognize everyone who walks in our dealership.”
Teamwork & Communication
To support its broad customer base and varied equipment lines, the dealership credits the growth of the business to the dedication of its employees. Teamwork and communication across departments and stores is key. “This is something we strive to improve on a daily basis,” says Ron. (Related video: Communication Leads to Fast Results)
“You hear at meetings about dealers who have a lot of miles between dealership locations and the challenge is to communicate,” he says. For Ron, Jon and Connie, this is a matter of visiting the Barneveld and Darlington stores often, as well as simply making a phone call or sending an email. “We’re in constant communication with each location and department,” Ron says. “If something’s going on, we want to know about it.”
When Ritchie Implement took on the Bobcat line of skid steers 1.5 years ago, the dealership expected to sell 30-40 the first year. In 2014, they sold 50 and Ron Ritchie, CEO and co-owner of Ritchie Implement, affirms the line brought in new customers for the dealership to sell other lines and service.
“At Ritchie’s, our goal is to take care of issues as they occur,” Depies adds. “Hopefully the problems are resolved and aired out before they boil into bigger ones.”
“We meet a lot, especially before the seasons,” Tony says. “We sold some big planters this year and we tried to meet with everyone — sales, service and parts — so we could be prepared.”
“It’s also important to meet about the day-to-day operations with everyone,” Depies adds. “We don’t just come in and sit in our office. We are constantly walking up and down the dealership talking with our people.”
“Don’t lose focus on your customers, no matter their size...” — Tony Ritchie, sales and management
Part of the dealership’s success with communication is due to the fact that they send employees back and forth to different locations. Each Wednesday morning, every salesperson from all 3 stores meets at the Cobb location to make sure everyone is on the same page.
The service departments from all 3 stores recently started meeting quarterly, and Tony says no one is afraid to ask for help from another store. “If we have a tech that left here for the Barneveld region, we make sure we utilize him there instead of sending another guy right behind him when the first guy could have taken care of both issues,” he says.
“We’ve got to work together as a team,” Ron tells everyone. “We are not in competition among our locations.
“With modern technology, it’s easy to stay in touch with each location,” he says. “I feel like I pretty much know what’s going on all the time.”
The sales group at Ritchie’s is in constant communication with each other to let everyone know who is working with which customer on what product. This, Ron says, helps the stores keep from competing with each other. “It helps make sure the same customer doesn’t show up at a different store and get priced differently for the same product,” he says.
The dealership also sends out a schedule each day for its trucking fleet. “Each location knows where the trucks are going and how much they’re carrying,” Ron says. “If they need something sent out, they know which truck they can add it to so we’re saving time by not sending two trucks out to the same location when one could’ve done the job.”
Ritchie Implement’s dedicated team mentality helps achieve the emergency, 24-hour, 7-days a week service to customers they want to deliver.
Ritchie Implement recently renovated its shop in Cobb, Wis., adding two cranes as well as heated floors and air conditioning to help keep up employee morale. The dealership plans for the future and always looks for new ways to invest back into the business.
Tony recalls how he dealt with an emergency situation recently, “A farmer had a hay merger break down around 10 p.m. on a Friday night. He needed to make hay and it was going to rain on Saturday, so he had to be out in his field. It was an easy fix and our tech had him up and going by about 10:45.” (Related video: Benefits of Living Close for 24/7 Service)
“Word of mouth is still our best sales tool,” Ron adds.
“Take care of your customers and you will win them over,” Tony says.
“And then you can sell that. Maybe you’re not the cheapest guy in the world, but you will service them well when they need it the most,” says Ron.
Part of what makes this possible is that the Ritchie’s — Ron, Jon, Tony and Jon’s daughter Chelsie Klaas, who handles finance, HR and marketing for the dealership — each live within a mile of the dealership. In fact, the culture was built when Ron would walk over and leave a part outside the door for a farmer who needed an emergency, late-night repair. His on-foot commute is all but 50 yards.
The dealership also has an emergency weekend schedule so every employee knows who is “on call” and when.
“We can pull from all the stores for the emergency service, which also helps it from becoming a burden on any one single employee,” Ron says. “Years ago, when it was just Jon, our dad and I, we had to do it all. But since we’ve gotten bigger and added more people, we have more resources to pull from to share the load.”
Maintaining a Sense of Urgency
The dealership credits its employees as the key to its success and growth. Ritchie’s management says the employees are self-motivated, highly trained and a well equipped staff. “Each and every one of them excels during seasonal demands, even when the season calls for 10-hour work days, 6-7 days a week,” Connie says.
Communication between departments and between stores is essential for keeping a sense of urgency and providing the highest level of service possible to its customers.
“Sense of urgency is absolutely key to success,” Depies says. “If people get comfortable and lose that sense of urgency, you lose the business drive and everything that ties to it.” (Related video: Maintaining a Sense of Urgency Among Employees)
“There are people who will say, ‘Well, it will get done tomorrow,’ ” Ron says. “But that doesn’t work here. It has to get done now, and we make it happen to keep our customers up and running.”
“Another special part of making this work is management doesn’t just preach sense of urgency and then run out the door at 4:59,” Depies says. “Jon is down in Darlington every Sunday when we have seasonal hours, making sure he’s with the team when they’re there. Morale can fall when everyone is tired and going on 10 days straight of 10-hour days. But when they come in and see Jon sitting at his desk, answering phones, looking up parts and being a team player, it makes that drive to be on a winning team a lot easier.”
“Just a couple weeks ago, we had a customer who brought in a sprayer that was down,” Ron says. “The customer needed it the same day, so I personally went to the store where they were working on it to talk with the employees and let them know how important it is that we get this job done the same day. And most important, I let them know how much I appreciate their hard work.”
“We attempt to meet with our people and make sure they all know how much we appreciate them. They need to know that we see they’re putting in the extra time and that it’s not going unnoticed,” Klaas says.
“The next day after we’d delivered the sprayer, the customer called me and he was very happy with how we took care of him,” Ron says. “The customer told us, ‘You might not have had the lowest price, but you really took care of me on this project and got me up and running when I needed it.’ This resulted in a new sprayer sale.”
The per-employee revenue of $1.2 million is a reflection of Ritchie Implement’s employee self-motivation. The dealership maintains that this is a big reason why its parts and service business has grown. Ritchie Implement’s solid absorption rate of 95.1% is also attributable to the sense of urgency and its highly dedicated employees.
Case IH’s Rank says the dealership’s service helps bring in and keep customers, which is also reflected in its numbers. “They have a large population of machines out there and they recruit service business in order to maintain their high absorption,” he says. “Their service helps them retain customers to maintain that absorption rate. With things slowing down these days in the ag economy, the service and parts keep the dealership running well.”
Finding Creative Ways to Finance
To accommodate those customers who need and want a new piece of equipment but don’t think they can justify it in their operation, Ritchie Implement is creative with financing.
Using Financing Plans to Sell Equipment
“We are proactive on the finance side of the sale,” Depies says. “We research the best option for the customer and the best program out there for his or her individual needs, whether that’s a lease, suppliers’ financing, financing with outside companies or taking advantage of cash discounts. At that point, it’s all about the customer and getting him the best pricing program we can.”
“Not every customer has the same financing needs,” Tony points out. And Ritchie’s works to meet the individual and varied needs of its customers.
“It’s creative financing,” Ron says. “I always remind our salespeople at our Wednesday meetings that you have to try to figure out a way to help our customers be successful.”
Ritchie Implement does about 80% of its financing deals through Case IH.
“CNH Capital has been a great partner. Their quick response time allows us to close deals in a timely fashion,” Tony says.
Ritchie Implement’s Cobb, Wis., location serves as the headquarters for the dealership and handles all HR, accounting and marketing. But the dealership also seeks frequent input from its other locations.
“Ritchie’s has a very strong leader in Ron, but at the same time, he empowers his group,” Rank says. “Everything doesn’t have to run through Ron. The store managers and sales managers make decisions as well.”
One example is its system for trade-in values. Salespeople at each location send trade-in evaluations to the management group — Ron, Jon, Tony and Depies — who review and approve them. Ron says they can quickly respond to the salespeople, yet still have more than one set of eyes on the trades.
“If we don’t get a quick response to the customer, he’s going to find someplace else to go,” Ron says. “We don’t want to make this review process too hard or cumbersome.”
The dealership’s centralized structure requires constant communication and its dealer management system (HBS Systems) is critical to maintaining a seamless flow of information. To improve it even more, Ritchie’s brought in an instructor from HBS to train the staff to better utilize the software.
“A couple of people who have worked here for years, but who had never received any formal training, said they didn’t know they could do so much with the system,” Connie says. “As the company adds more programs to our dealer management system, it’s so much easier to learn to use them in person rather than just through an email the supplier sends along. We strive to keep up on the latest and greatest advancements in the software to take full advantage of it.”
“Good communication means issues get resolved and aired out before they boil into a bigger issue...” — Kevin Depies, sales and management
Growing a Family Business
When Ron, Jon and Connie’s parents opened the dealership, they were young children and they grew up around the dealership their whole lives. Ron jokes they were educated with PhDs, or “Papa had a dealership.”
As the business has grown, the next generation has entered the business with Ron’s son, Tony, and Jon’s daughter, Chelsie, working at the Cobb location. Ritchie’s has also brought in managerial talent from outside the family.
Ritchie’s treats all of its employees like family, Depies says. “When Ron goes to the other locations, he stops and talks to everyone. That instills a sense of family and a feeling of ownership as part of the business,” he says. (Related video: Making Employees Part of the Family)
“We never want anyone to feel like they’re just a number,” Ron adds. In fact, Connie has personally brought in doughnuts every morning for over 20 years. The tradition started when her mother baked treats for the morning break. This is now done at all the locations.
“The family feel is part of the reason we’re able to retain employees for so long,” Depies says.
Ritchie’s has given out seven 25-year awards in the amount of $5,000 a piece to employees in the last 10 years, and Connie says the low employee turnover is a big reason they’re successful.
Investing in the Future
“You can see a future for Ritchie Implement going forward,” Rank says. “They don’t have blinders on. They’re looking to the future and investing in it.”
Ritchie’s has been renovating and updating its locations over the last 3 years and has plans to continue doing so going forward. The dealership recently modernized its Cobb location, adding a 12,000 square foot shop with two overhead cranes and air conditioning. It expanded the accounting department and added a large, 2-story exhibition room for showcasing large equipment indoors. It also added a second floor meeting space.
“They’ve invested in the dealership,” Rank continues. “They’ve taken an older building and put in the attributes that we look for in a class act dealership. They’ve taken that to heart and they’ve done really well.”
“We keep putting back into the business,” Ron says. “Every year we’re doing something. Keeping our rolling stock up to date and keeping our buildings well maintained. That’s very important.”
Ritchie Implement’s Cobb, Wis., location serves as the headquarters for the dealership, providing centralized HR, marketing and accounting services for all 3 locations. All locations’ service and sales employees meet regularly at the Cobb location, keeping management in tune with the entire AOR.
“We were bursting at the seams when we renovated the Cobb location,” Connie says. “We were either going to need to cut back on what we were selling or we needed to build on.”
“We closely monitor our cash,” Ron says. “We like to know where we’re at and what we can do without overextending ourselves because you can get in a bind if interest rates go up and you have to borrow money.
“We like to have a strong cash position,” he says. “It’s kept us strong for the next opportunity that might arise so we can do it again, whether that’s an acquisition or investing money back into our business to stay modern. (Related video: Managing Cashflow)
“We don’t have a set formula for reinvestment. If we need to do it, we do it. People know that if you’re investing in your business you will be around for a while and they will want to keep doing business with you,” he says. “We kept our growth slow, but steady. We don’t overextend ourselves. We hope to add more locations in the next few years. Not a lot, but we’d like to surround ourselves.”
“If you grow too big too fast, you can become too bureaucratic, where it’s too much paperwork to get anything done and you lose your sense of urgency and your effectiveness,” Depies says.
Ritchie’s believes there are times when it’s more difficult to pull the throttle back than to push it down.
“That might be the case now more than ever,” Ron says. “Don’t grow outside your means.”
Planning for Succession
Ritchie Implement is in the beginning phases of planning for the next generation of the dealership, with Tony and Chelsie taking on increasing management roles.
“It isn’t going to end when Ron, Jon and Connie decide to retire,” Rank says. “They’re developing talent to continue in that area of Wisconsin and support the brand and their customers.”
“With Tony and Chelsie coming into the dealership, it brings us up to a whole new level,” Connie says. “They’ve got energy and are passionate about the business. It’s great to see what they have done and will continue to do to take the dealership into the next growth period.”
The succession plan may be a work in progress, but Connie says it’s been in the works forever. “It’s a natural thing for us. Kevin has been a great addition in a key management role. We also have other children working elsewhere or who are still in college, but might come back to the dealership,” she says.
“Our goal is to keep it a family business,” adds Ron.
After Tony and Chelsie completed their business degrees, they received outside experience before returning to the dealership. Tony worked for Case IH for 2.5 years, first as an intern in combine marketing and then full time with sales support, before returning. He learned to see the industry from the manufacturer’s perspective and keeps those views in mind when working at the dealership. Chelsie received her MBA in finance and worked in the financial services industry for 5 years in Madison, Wis.
It is important for the next generation to receive outside experience before returning to the dealership in management roles, Ron says.