Pictured Above: Colorado farmer Todd Olander (l), also has business holdings in custom cutting and new malting business to supply craft breweries and distilleries. Kendall Havran is a 12-year veteran of the ag machinery business at Altorfer Ag in Iowa. The pair met for the first time at Agritechnica, where the conversation was recorded at the gallery-level of the Claas exhibit.
Todd Olander, 1,500-acre Farmer, Loveland, Colo.
Kendall Havran, Sales Representative, Altorfer Ag, West Branch, Iowa
Kendall Havran: How would I define your role as a farmer? I think it’s about finding ways to save money; how to keep that grain in the tank at high quality and fuel efficiencies — huge items that go to the bottom line. What do you think is important on the dealer’s side?
Todd Olander: Your job as a machinery dealer, from my seat, is about great service and communicating. Then, making sure farmers know what’s out there. For example, we didn’t have any intentions of buying a new forage harvester 2 years ago when we were using 2 10-row machines. Our dealer sales rep brought a 12-row out to the farm so we could try. Normally, we’d take a wait-and-see approach on new machinery to figure out what the tweaks are, but he knocked on the door and showed us and we were happy.
Havran: If you asked me how a farmer can get the most of his dealer and vice-versa, I’d say to make sure the farmer understands how the inside of the dealership works. The salesperson who sells you the new piece of equipment should tell you exactly where and how to proceed -– here is the name of your parts contact, here’s service, here’s sales. And for parts — whether there’s a drop box or if they need to come in. And then what they’ll find in the operator’s manual and what they can get answered on YouTube. Every color of dealership is different, but at our place, you’d call a centralized dispatch with an urgent service matter and they’ll know because of GPS which of the service trucks is nearest to the farm to send out.
Olander: As a farmer, what matters most to me is service. We need someone who understands the machine, how to calibrate it and how all the electronics work. And we need the service done promptly. I’m always interested in how things work, so I want to be there when the tech comes and seeing how he’s going to improve its performance. Yeah, it would be fair to say that service keeps me linked to a dealer, and a bad one could be the reason to go somewhere else.
Havran: Service will make or break a deal.
“We didn’t have any intentions of buying a new forage harvester 2 years ago. Our dealer sales rep brought a 12-row out to the farm so we could try ... he knocked on the door and showed us and we were happy…”
Olander: It will. It’s great when you call the dealer and they just “know” they need to be there, and they’re going to work through the night, if necessary, to get you up and running. That’s happened multiple times.
Havran: The most profitable, successful customers of ours are the ones who hunt for efficiency. They want to figure out what is possible, maybe with fewer machines. Recently, I had a customer who switched brands to buy a combine from us. Later, he said it wouldn’t matter what the value of that machine was in 2 years – because of what they were gaining with efficiency right now in getting the harvest done quicker. He once challenged me about whether I knew what it cost him to run. I said sure and he said, “No, I’m talking about my combine, my helper, my tractors, my grain carts, etc. I have it down to a per-hour cost.” Big numbers. He told me to understand costs per hour, including the hired men and everything. Everything has a cost and those who look at it that way can see how a major capital investment can save them.
Olander: I’m willing to pay extra for the relationships. When the dealer knows what’s important to you; and vice-versa. Obviously, dealers want to make a sale but at the same time, they’re interested in what we’re doing; the problems they can solve. That’s the way we run our malting business. We’re trying to solve a problem and find greater efficiencies. If the dealer can do that for me, we’re going to stick with them.
Havran: I think one secret to success is training the customer and what they can expect from us right away. People can get upset. But there’s always a solution even in the busiest times. Is it a part they need right away, or do they need a service tech because it’s a downed unit? We can work around whatever that is and help them. It’s all about communication.
Olander: Yeah, just being able to speak to someone goes a long way. We’ve had a lot of dealer turnover. Some don’t even answer the phone, even for parts, which is crazy. At least when it’s blue equipment, we can call up the red place and get the same parts. A lot of times, we don’t even try to contact certain stores because they don’t answer the phone. Are those dealers there for us? Are they going to get the job done? On the other end, we’ve also got dealers who bring parts to us. Some live nearby and they’ll just bring it by that same night. Not having to drive a half-hour to get a part and come back again saves us a ton of time. When somebody’s willing to go the extra mile, we’re going to support that.
“The most profitable, successful customers of ours are the ones who hunt for efficiency. The customer said it wouldn’t matter what the value of that machine was in two years – because of what they were gaining with efficiency right now in getting the harvest done quicker…”
Havran: When it comes to us staying on top of everything and coming up with ideas and solutions for farmers, it’s all changing so quickly. We talked about the combine; we’re also offering a higher horsepower tractor that fits a niche. So, we’re getting into discussions consolidating the numbers of tractors or running one larger combine vs. 2-3. Not only to see if they’re getting what they need in parts and service from us, but the hands-on approach is needed to learn from that customer. We’ve got to ask the questions about what they’re trying to accomplish, the number of acres, etc.
Olander: We’re not necessarily relying on anybody to come show us how to improve our operation and become more efficient. We trying to figure that out on our own. Then we’ll reach out and see if people can help.
A lot of times, we’ll ask our dealers, “Can you guys get this? It isn’t a product that’s on your lot, but can you figure out how to get it here?” They usually come through.
Havran: Yes, that’s typical. The customer is so well-informed today because of the internet. A lot of times they are teaching us something. All those avenues out there for research is a good thing for our business as a dealer. And operationally, the YouTube videos that are out there — that’s been a huge time saver for everyone to get the answer before the callback.
Olander: It all comes back to those relationships and communication and service. Just make sure we can continue to harvest when we need to harvest. If dealers can come to us with the service or the right tools, or just make sure that it’s all maintained before harvest comes around, that’s super helpful. It’s simple stuff really.
Havran: But hard to execute on a consistent basis. Relationship, service and reliability — and then communicate, communicate, communicate.