To read the introduction to this "Greatest Mistake" series click here.

“When asked to share a mistake I’ve made with other dealers, I was challenged to find a lesson learned that was instructive.

“Recognizing ours remains largely a people business, the success or failure of an acquisition can rest as much on staffing and culture as any other single factor.

“There are 3 areas where I seem to always find something new to learn: employee management, manufacturer relations and customer satisfaction. On one particular early acquisition, customer satisfaction came under duress as a result of my failures in employee management. First, in the tumult of changeover, I failed to adequately perform quality checks on the staff and offered everyone jobs. Our first couple of years were plagued by employee turnover as we dealt with drug use, workers’ comp abuse, unethical behaviors and low motivation. It became clear why the prior owner had difficulty staying profitable; the culture that existed was one of entitlement and laissez faire wherein customer satisfaction was the responsibility of the managers. A structure of accountability simply didn’t exist.

“My failure to adequately check out each employee became apparent fairly quickly after we closed on the business. In one particular case, a neighbor of an employee called to make sure I knew a tech spent hours at a time at home. Brief detective work showed he was charging the time against work orders and/or travel time. Yet another tech had a history of afternoon workers comp accidents that were driving our experience modification rating up. Through interviews it was determined that he often smoked marijuana offsite during lunch. And yet another employee was caught stockpiling supplies behind the shop where he would recover them after hours, perhaps for moonlighting projects.

“Through 6 acquisitions, we’ve certainly had our challenges and learned lessons. However, the one mistake of failing to adequately validate personnel qualifications — determining up front those best suited to join our team and adapt to our culture, and then hiring remaining staff fresh — caused significant extra work, business losses and negative customer relations that we had to overcome.”

Keith Kreps, Executive Vice President, RDO Equipment, Fargo, N.D. (2010 Dealership of the Year)

“My biggest failure occurred in the lead-up to the used equipment market crash in November 2013.

Leo Johnson, President, Johnson Tractor Inc. (2012 Dealership of the Year)

“The fact that I’ve been in the same farm equipment dealership for 38 years may not equate to success as much as stamina.

Brian Carpenter, General Manager, Champlain Valley Equipment, Middlebury, Vt. (2009 Dealership of the Year)

“When asked to share a mistake I’ve made with other dealers, I was challenged to find a lesson learned that was instructive.

Tom Rosztoczy, CEO, Stotz Equipment Co., Avondale, Ariz. (2013 Dealership of the Year)

“In 2001, we purchased 6 locations from 4 owner groups in Utah and Idaho over the course of 4 months (Mistake #1).

Kent Buchholz, Finance Manager & Sales, Kennedy Implement, Philip, S.D. (2012 Dealership of the Year)

“Own everything you do or don’t do. Good or bad times don’t matter; every decision made, or not made, must be owned up to.

Steve Cubbage, President, Record Harvest, Nevada, Mo. (2007 Dealership of the Year)

“If there’s one mistake those of us in the precision ag business make, it’s falling into the trap of thinking there’ll always be something new and better to sell tomorrow — the ‘next big thing.’

Don Van Houweling, Owner, Van Wall Equipment, Perry, Iowa (2016 Dealership of the Year)

“As I look back at my most significant mistakes, I’d say that I’ve entered into sales agreements with companies that didn’t possess the capabilities financially or from a management standpoint to support our goal of being the ‘Clear First Choice.’

Ron Ritchie, CEO, Ritchie Implement Inc., Cobb, Wis. (2015 Dealership of the Year)

“Our team is always looking to the future. We use our mistakes as an opportunity to learn and move on.

Tom Janson, Janson Equipment, Reese, Mich., (2011 Dealership of the Year)

“I don’t dwell on mistakes but instead look forward on how best to improve my business.