When the New Year began, Willis Schmitt faced a choice he hadn’t had to make in 4 decades — finding a mainline equipment supplier.
Schmitt Implement in Holy Cross, Iowa, was unceremoniously dumped by Deere & Co. last December, ending a 40-year relationship. The last pieces of this broken relationship — spare parts — were carried out the door last spring.
Willis Schmitt (left) and his son, Jack Schmitt, of Schmitt Implement, are trying to get their dealership on track with a new tractor supplier. Buhler Versatile. “It’s going to be tough bringing busines back the way it was,” Willis says.
Schmitt says he never got any thanks from Deere for the 40 years he spent as their equipment dealer. “Nothing was said. They were ruthless about it. They don’t care who they hurt.”
But when the conversation shifts to current events, there’s a hint of excitement in Schmitt’s voice. After being turned down by Case IH and Massey Ferguson brands, Schmitt signed a contract to sell Buhler Manufacturing’s Versatile tractors.
He only did so after interviewing more than a dozen Versatile dealers about their satisfaction levels with the products and company.
Schmitt also picked up Simplicity mowers to shore up the lawn-and-garden business he lost with Deere’s exit. He’d been selling 150 lawn-and-garden tractors a year. Vermeer hay equipment is also being considered.
Versatile was chosen for many reasons, Schmitt says, including the fact that the nearest dealer is 45 miles away and Buhler offered a large territory on all sides. Schmitt Implement has also been carrying Buhler grain augers, rear blades and snow blowers for 3 decades.
Having Versatile fills out the power range that the dealership wanted to offer customers. Versatile (190-535 horsepower), TYM (23-100 horsepower) and Valtra (75-191 horsepower) comprise the full lineup.
“They’re a well-built tractor, with a 3-year warranty, and I think they’re just as good, if not better, than Deere’s tractors,” says Schmitt, who co-owns the dealership with his son and his wife, along with a second location in Tipton, Iowa, that carries Massey Ferguson, Fendt and White ag equipment brands.
Schmitt says Buhler’s actions speak volumes. The company delivered a sign to the dealership almost immediately, free of charge, and it was installed before Schmitt’s spring open house. Territory reps have visited frequently, delivering literature, paying mileage costs for staff trips to distant prospects, and the company has placed advertisements in local farm publications about Versatile’s arrival in the area.
Schmitt took delivery of a 435-horsepower tractor a month ago, and 2 more have been ordered, along with a shipment of spare parts. “They’re very willing to help us get started,” Schmitt told Farm Equipment. “The territory rep has been very helpful. Any problems that we have are taken care of.”
Schmitt has insisted his dealership’s business relationship with Deere was fairly profitable, and that his contract was cancelled because he hadn’t met Deere’s market share goals of late.
Schmitt says things began to go sour in 2006, when Deere brought a new contract to him. After reading it, he sent it to his lawyer, who set the old and new contracts side by side.
“He said, ‘Don’t sign it. There’s not one good thing in that new contract for the dealership, it’s all for the company,’” Schmitt recalls. “Right before Christmas, a territory rep asked us about signing it and I said the lawyer can’t finish all the comparisons by then. He said if you don’t sign it, you’re out. You’ll never get a chance to sign it again.”
Schmitt still maintains Deere can’t define market share, making it impossible for dealers being targeted for cancellation to defend themselves. He’s still considering legal action, but the biggest challenge he’s facing now is getting the dealership back on course. Sales and service work nearly stopped during the winter months as the wholegoods and parts were shipped out.
Another blow was the cancellation of the dealership’s Farm Plan consumer financing program. Schmitt’s attempts to re-sign have been unsuccessful, even though many competing farm stores in his area have the option. Schmitt says he received 2 different rejection letters from the financier in one day — one saying his business had been closed, the other saying his finances weren’t good enough.
“My answer is that we’re not closed and our finances are good enough. We’ve lost some customers that said they will go someplace else because we don’t have it,” he says.
“I think business is starting to come back,” Schmitt says. “It’s going to be tough bringing it back to where it had been, but it will happen.”