Ditch the agency, do your own marketing campaigns, save money and get better results. You just need to get started. That’s the message from three dealers, Lee Parish, Ben Garton and Doug Vahrenberg, who shared do-it-yourself marketing strategies at Farm Equipment’s 2018 Dealership Minds Summit.

Lee Parish, owner of Parish Tractor, a Kubota dealership with locations in Poplarville and Hattiesburg, Miss., is building his reputation through Facebook, especially with boosted posts. “About 4 years ago, we really committed to it. Our goal by next year is to have 8,000 followers and our followers are true followers, not a database that we purchased,” he says.

Ben Garton, chief marketing officer for Garton Tractor, a 10-store New Holland and Kubota dealership in California, follows a “get negative” approach when it comes to his advertising programs. “Dive into the details of what you are paying for,” he says.

Doug Vahrenberg owns Vahrenberg Implement, a Massey Ferguson dealership in Higginsville, Mo., and YouTube videos are the cornerstone for his marketing program. “I’ve spent less on advertising in the last 5 years and I’m growing.”

The dealers share details about the steps they take and the results they are achieving.

Lee Parish: Starting Fresh


Lee Parish of Parish Tractor, with locations in Poplarville and Hattiesburg, Miss., has built up a strong following on Facebook by developing engaging content and promoting posts to a targeted audience.

Parish was a regional sales manager for Kubota before transitioning to dealership owner. He wanted to leave the corporate life of travel and liked the idea of owning a small business. That opportunity arose in 2012 back in his home state of Mississippi when Poplarville Sales and Equipment came up for sale.

Like many new and established business owners, his day was a constant mix of demands and responsibilities. “And about that time, here comes in an advertising agent or someone with a TV promotion or a radio promotion and it almost felt like that whatever mood I was in, I would say yes or no to them, and I had no strategy,” he says.

Parish changed his approach by transitioning an accounting employee, Alexis Raybon, to a new role as marketing coordinator. They build a marketing program together and generally set a marketing budget of 1% of the prior year sales figure or against the gross profit for the prior year.

Targeting with Facebook

Parish has been particularly successful with Facebook and boosting his posts to promote his dealership, not just the manufacturer. The boosting function is available to anyone with a business page and lets you pay to have more people see your content.

“Facebook is easy, but it requires much attention …”
— Lee Parish of Parish Tractor

“Organic ‘likes’ on Facebook cost you nothing to gain, but you’ll gain very few and it will take a long time to gather your desired amount of followers. Paid ‘likes’ cost money, but you can gain more followers quickly using this process. It is well worth your investment to pay to reach a wider audience,” Parish says.


Dealer Takaeaways

  • Dealers of all sizes and levels of expertise can take advantage of the many digital marketing tools and networks available.
  • Customize your digital marketing by focusing on a region, demographic and even a certain product model.
  • When working with marketing vendors, drill down into the program details to understand exactly what you are paying for.
  • Cross promote marketing messages across the various social networks.

Parish Tractor starts with creating interesting content, such as a video, sales promotion, employee spotlight or a commercial or graphic. They often turn to Fiverr, an online site for freelance graphic designers.

They follow this process for Facebook posts:

  1. Choose a goal, such as whether you want to gain likes, comments and shares or to engage and chat with potential customers.
  2. Add a button for a person to complete a task, such as to learn more, sign up, send a message, etc. 
  3. Choose an audience based on a region. Then, target further by choosing characteristics, such as their areas of interest (agriculture, gardening, hunting or fishing, etc.) financial and home demographics and other factors.
  4. Set a budget. For instance, if you set a budget of $20 for two days, you’ll spend $10 per day.
  5. Check the post to see who liked the post, but who don’t yet like your page. Send them an invitation to like your page.

“We take a portion of our advertising dollars each month and we allocate it toward boosting posts. I encourage people that if they don’t yet boost posts, to start simple and small,” he says. One strategy they use is to budget $200 a month to promote a specific product. Facebook will allocate that money per day. The team watches how a post is doing for duplicating or changing efforts. 


Facebook has an “Add Button” feature for boosted posts. This is an optional feature that allows people to message you, get directions, sign up for emails, shop or go straight to your website directly from the post. Lee Parish, owner of Parish Tractor, says its no enough to just get likes to your Facebook posts. It’s important to invite those who like your posts to like your page as well.

Selling Equipment

Parish also takes advantage of Facebook’s “shop” tool for selling equipment directly from the page. “If you don’t have an e-commerce site set up, you can still create the product listing and then direct them to your contact page on your website,” he says.

“Facebook is an easy, useful, and necessary application for your business. As easy as it is, it requires much attention and is one of the most important aspects of social media you will utilize,” Parish says.

Ben Garton: Leading the Marketing

1537_DMS_JL_20181.jpgBen Garton of Garton Tractor, which has 10 locations in Calif., uses a variety of online tools for marketing, project management and more. “Hyper-focused” marketing helps him reach his market of specialty crop producers.

Garton is chief marketing officer (CMO) and part of the fourth generation of Garton Tractor, a 10-store Kubota, Hitachi, New Holland and Takeuchi dealership in California. He took over CMO duties in 2013 and transitioned marketing decisions to a central role.

Garton explains how they work up a marketing plan. “Our marketing goals boil down from our manufacturers’ goals for the year and financial goals for the year. If we have product segments that aren’t performing, we’ll put marketing funds behind those. Our vendors and suppliers also have new products enter the market, so we will try to keep enough flexibility to accommodate those,” he says.

Garton bases his marketing budget on the prior year’s expenditures and decides from there whether to adjust funds for a certain area. He generally budgets $500 per location for digital marketing and expects that number will increase.

Getting Negative

Garton practices a “get negative” approach when it comes to digital marketing and says he dives into the details. For instance, he learned one marketing vendor was spending over half of his keyword budget on “Garton,” even though the name is well-known in the area and he was already achieving good organic (not paid) search ranking.

Another had incorrectly pulled demographic data and another digital campaign led to mixed search results of Claas Jaguar forage harvesters and Jaguar sports cars. He now uses negative keywords, excluding certain search terms. The dealership also blocks employees’ IP addresses in their Google Ads campaigns, to avoid paying for employees to view the ads.

They have a critical eye when it comes to OEM marketing programs. “We always try to participate in the programs they offer, but participating doesn’t mean just paying the money and forgetting about it. We try to be active in helping them design their creative to make sure they’re targeting what we feel is the right audience. If we are seeing bad leads come in, we let them know.

“Participate with your vendor and critique the programs …”
— Ben Garton of Garton Tractor

“We use co-op where we can, but our branding within our local community comes first. When you are forced to use pre-canned or co-op content, it really limits us,” Garton says.

‘Hyper-focusing’ Campaigns

Another strategy Garton follows is a “hyper-focus” approach to marketing. “We really stumbled into it on accident. I got the idea of selling an individual product due to the high dollar amount. It worked really well, so now we tend to do a hyper-focused campaign on two or three high dollar inventory items,” he says.

He creates a special page on the dealership website for the equipment and includes photos, specifications and product brochures. A Google AdWords campaign and social media posts link back to that web page.

Tools to Use

Garton shares more marketing tools and tips:

•Get three bids for design projects: OEM agency, local agency and consider outsourcing using a service like 99designs or Upwork. 

•Consider using online tools, such as Trello for managing projects; Alexa for website comparisons; Upwork for a variety of special projects; and Tableau for data analysis.

“You don’t need to be the expert in everything, but you need to know someone who is,” he says.

Doug Vahrenberg: Selling Through Videos


YouTube educational videos are a focus for Doug Vahrenberg of Vahrenberg Implement, Higginsville, Mo. He has produced more than 170 YouTube videos and now uses the money earned from his channel to fund his other marketing efforts.

Vahrenberg is the third generation owner of Vahrenberg Implement, a Massey Ferguson dealership in Higginsville, Mo. The dealership faces some tough competition — 45 tractor dealerships within a 45-mile radius of the dealership.

Vahrenberg is a competitor in another realm as well — fishing. He’s a professional bass tournament angler, competing in the Bassmasters Open Tournament series. Vahrenberg says he often received questions from other anglers looking for tips, so he decided to create short educational videos. The marketing manager for one of his sponsoring companies asked why he wasn’t doing the same for his dealership.

That was in 2011 and he has since published more than 170 videos to his YouTube Channel and his videos have more than 5,000,000 minutes of watch time. “I started out answering questions, so customers can make the best educated decision. I do give away information, but it helps create a better image for my dealership. I want to have control of my dealership’s image and taking marketing into my own hands allows me to create my own unique identity,” Vahrenberg says.

Setting Up

Vahrenberg has found a cost-effective and efficient approach for video production. He uses a GoPro video camera and PowerDirector video editing system. He sets the camera on a tripod when he is talking to the camera and also uses the tripod when he is shooting images higher up on the equipment. He has shorter tripods that he uses when he’s holding the camera for other shots and suction cup and clamp-type mounts for attaching the camera to the equipment. 

Creating Content

Video topics are generally based on customer questions, new products, what’s popular in the market, etc. His most popular video is one of the Rhino Ag LP Plow, with over 732,000 minutes of watch time. “People walk in the door and they just buy it. And I know they’ve watched the video because they comment about it. It’s not only the high priced equipment, but the little equipment that can add margin and revenue to your business that you would not capture before,” Vahrenberg says.

He’s found another benefit for the videos. “It makes me a better salesman because I know more about that product because of the research I have to do for the video. So it’s a win-win situation producing them,” Vahrenberg says.

“YouTube videos help me create a better image for my dealership …”
— Doug Vahrenburg of Vahrenburg Implement

Recently, he has gone back and added better titles, descriptions and a thumbnail image (instead of just a video screen shot), to help with search engine optimization and viewer interest.

“The other thing is to make sure your keywords fit your video. If it doesn’t work, change it around and see if it helps increase your viewership,” he says. 

Cross-promotion brings more benefits. He shares his video links on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, his Google Plus page and dealership newsletters. The videos are also promoted in the store, where he runs condensed versions of the videos on a DVD player near the parts counter.

Monetizing Videos

The channel’s viewership has captured the attention of YouTube advertisers, bringing revenue back to Vahrenberg. “To be honest, I hated videos with ads in them, but I had to figure out how to support the time and effort. I wasn’t getting support from OEM manufacturers to produce videos even though I was helping them sell product around the world. On YouTube, about every video has ads, so I was like, ‘Why resist it?’” he says. 

Extending Reach

Vahrenberg now uses that revenue to pay for his Google AdWords campaign. He first started working with the program in 2017 through Rhino Ag. The monthly fee was $200 and he saw big results. He approached AGCO’s ad agency, but the fee was much more than he wanted to pay. “Being already on YouTube, I kept getting deals about AdWords and I finally just took the time to research it. Their program at that time was if you spent $50, they would give you an extra $100 in Google AdWords.”


After Doug Vahrenberg, owner of Vahrenberg Implement, was told by his OEM’s ad agency that a Google Ad Word campaign would cost $1,500 a month, he opted to do it himself. In the first month he spent $50, plus the $100 free promotion. The results were 6,491 views, 93 clicks and 2 verified calls from the Google Ad. After 8 months, still spending $50 a month, he had 47 verified calls and over people were spending over 100 second per visit on his website.

Now, he budgets $50 a month and adds $50 from YouTube revenues and is seeing big results. “In the last 30 days from AdWords, I have over 75,000 page views and 58,000 impressions and I’ve had 4,000 clicks to my website,” he says. Vahrenberg explains the terminology: A page view is what Google counts in your reports every time a user views a page displaying Google ads. We count one page view regardless of the number of ads displayed on that page. An impression is counted for each ad request where at least one ad has begun to load on the user’s device. It’s the number of ad units (for content ads) or search queries (for search ads) that loaded ads. A click is counted the number of times a user clicks on an ad.

Adding Tools

Vahrenberg’s focus on educating the customer through YouTube and his website posed a dilemma. “My site was getting a lot of congestion on it, so I created a ProBoards forum (www.vitractorworld.proboards.com). Customers can learn everything in a single place. I also do comparisons, showing like models from other brands. That’s probably one of the missed things in this industry,” he says. 

Finding Your Focus

Vahrenberg says his marketing efforts require some late nights and he boosts his production efforts during the slow times at the dealership. YouTube videos work well for him, but he says dealers need to figure out what works for them and pursue it.

“It’s kind of like servicing your own tractor. If you’re not comfortable doing it, there are people that will do it for you, but it’s going to cost you. Based on your budget and how much you want to spend, you can do some of the research and YouTube can be your best friend. Just like me selling tractors, there are people out there teaching you how to do some of these marketing programs,” he says.


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