To read the introduction to this "Greatest Mistake" series click here.
“In 2001, we purchased 6 locations from 4 owner groups in Utah and Idaho over the course of 4 months (Mistake #1). To manage the new stores we hired people from outside the company (Mistake #2). Viewing travel as an expense, we limited the travel between the old stores and the new stores (Mistake #3). The stores performed poorly for years. Eventually we ran out of patience, fired the general manager and started over from scratch with 5 people steeped in the company culture traveling to the new stores — every week — until we got things turned around. It took time, but today we are very proud of those stores and their performance.
“Mistake #1 — We tried to do too much at once. The 6 new locations doubled our size. All the locations were different. We didn’t have the manpower, nor the acquisition expertise, to pull off something so complicated.
“Mistake #2 — No one from our existing business moved to the new area. As a result, there was no sense of our culture present in any of the new stores. The managers we hired from the outside did their best, but they never fully grasped our way of thinking about the business (probably because we didn’t have it defined clearly enough ourselves).
“Mistake #3 — Prior to these acquisitions, we had historically pulled together our key managers regularly for meetings. That’s easy when everyone can drive to the meeting. It seems expensive when travel includes plane tickets and hotels, so we skipped it. As a result, our way of thinking never translated to the new stores.
“Lessons learned? 1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. 2. Culture transfers best when people steeped in the culture lead the acquired stores. 3. Travelling out to build community, culture and learning in an organization is an important investment, not an expense. 4. The biggest lesson learned was the value of a clearly defined, easy to communicate culture.
“Prior to these acquisitions, our culture wasn’t clearly defined, so it wasn’t easy to communicate. The largest benefit of going through the crucible of turning these stores around was that the effort led us to clearly define our culture and refine our understanding of how the business works and our philosophy of the business. This understanding has led to our successful growth over the past 10 years.”
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.