Q. Manufacturers often talk up “dealer development.” What can farm equipment manufacturers do to actually help you be more successful in sales and service? What are your best manufacturers doing to help you in this regard?

A.“Being a former dealer development employee for Deere, and now a Deere dealership employee for the last 3 years, I don’t believe that dealer development’s focus is best served trying to directly impact the sales and service activities of a dealership. Most dealerships do well in these areas and the manufacturer’s product-support efforts will have more of an impact. But if done correctly, I do believe dealer development’s value lies in its ability to improve a dealership not on the front lines, but behind the scenes by providing resources in the areas of human resources, financial analysis, process evaluation, and management training. Behind-the-scenes improvements should lead to a more professionally managed organization, more capable of attracting and maintaining quality employees and providing an excellent customer experience.”

— Jared Knudson, aftermarket manager, Kern Machinery, Bakersfield, Calif.

A.“I feel it would very helpful if John Deere would help to sponsor  ‘20 groups’ of dealers so we could share ‘best-practice’ ways of doing business. So far we’re just getting a lot of push to get bigger but not shown how to do it. We do meet with dealer development people who ask questions and do business plans with dealerships.”

— Steve Lefeld, Kenn-Feld Group, VanWert, Ohio

A.“Every brand would like to have the best dealer organization and grow it. The secret to this success is one word: profit. It is THE tool, and the only tool that builds up dealers and dealer organizations. It’s the least-offered tool to dealers. Some major companies seem to rent a dealer organization rather than develop one, as they’re now selling subcompacts and other smaller tractors through mass-merchant farm supply chains. We dealers are tough to come by. Not very many new ones fall off turnip trucks nowadays with $1 million to invest in an industry that scares the pants off bankers when they read the NAEDA Cost of Doing Business surveys. We’re an older, rare breed for the manufacturers to develop. Dealer development’s biggest challenge will be 10-20 years from now. The median age of farm equipment dealers is around 60.

— Tim Brannon, owner, B&G Equipment Inc., Paris, Tenn.

A.“Many of the employees we get have little background in project planning, time management, and/or marketing. John Deere understands these needs. However, filling them with training is more difficult than just a two-hour DLM. And employees’ available time to apply what they learn before they forget complicates the issue.”

— Dennis Estes, manager, Heartland Farm & Lawn, Higginsville, Mo.

A.“Case IH has dedicated product specialists for tractors, combines, planters, sprayers and tillage tools. These specialists cover a specific region and are available to assist the dealers in growing their business. They provide assistance in product knowledge, dealer/customer training, demonstrations and closing sales. Our experience is that these individuals have aided greatly in our ability to be more successful in sales. Utilizing company-sponsored programs for off-season work has been a big asset for our service departments. Improving our ability to capture off-season work helps us tremendously during the peak planting and harvest seasons.

— Mark Foster, ag division manager, Birkey’s Farm Store, Attica, Ind.

A.“An analysis of industry sales within our sales-and-service area would be helpful. If there are sales that we’re not aware of, shame on us. But we’re on top of the deals and lose them because of uncompetitive products or prices, then it’s the supplier’s fault and we shouldn’t be blamed.”

— James Sommer, Service Motor Co., Dale, Wis.

A.“They’ve gone over the edge in demanding exclusivity of their products. Almost every other mature business is promoting the supermarket concept — not exclusivity. The buying public wants same-site shopping availability of multiple brands. Go figure.”

— John Fleet, owner, Fleet Brothers Inc., Hartfield, Va.

A.“The first thing they could do is leave the equipment models alone instead of changing them every year. That won't happen because the maturity of our market necessitates the recycling of demand with continued introduction of new models with ever-increasing frequency. We need more uniformity in replacement parts and service techniques across the models. Deere does a very nice job of “forcing” training on us. It’s a necessity in terms of efficiency and customer satisfaction, and it forces us to continue our education. They also offer quite a scope of appropriate training courses. The shortline manufacturers fall short on parts department training, but come close on sales and service training.”

— James L. Taylor, vice president, Hillsboro Equipment, Hillsboro, Wis. 

A.“Take care of the little things for the small dealer. Remember, they don’t have a large staff, so anything that frees them up to deal with the customer is beneficial. Most manufacturers want you serving them. They should be serving the dealer.”

— Sidney Whitehurst, owner, Sid’s Trading Post, Iuka, Miss.

A.“I think the best thing a manufacturer can do is have honest communication. In some cases, dealers may not like what they hear but they still need to hear it. No one has a crystal ball, but if the manufacturer has a plan to develop a distribution channel, they should share it. Then dealers who are interested can take part, and the ones who don’t can look for other opportunities. In parts and service they can help by offering training and information to develop a profitable aftermarket business. Parts and service managers may need help understanding how to run a profitable department. Dealers must also step up and change how they do things. Manufacturers could also reward dealers on metrics other than sales volume or market share, such as inventory turns, profitability, growth, return on assets and net income.”

— Kelly Mathison, marketing manager, ag division, Enns Brothers, Oak Bluff, Manitoba 

A.“Manufacturers should provide better training for every department in the dealership at an affordable cost. Our mainline’s program has become extremely expensive for training that’s only marginal. They also need to provide incentives and planning for dealers to update facilities and rolling stock.”

— Shawn Skaggs, general manager, Livingston Machinery Co., Chickasha, Okla.

A.“Manufacturers should provide regional training centers and increase the number of classes, offer more webinars and focus on dealers that are willing to invest in their people and capital assets.”

— Brion Torgerson, CEO, Torgerson's, Great Falls, Mont.

A.“They can hold meetings or offer schools during down times throughout the year, in locations close by, if possible. And one-day schools work better. Classes on the Internet should be in the early morning or later at night.”

— Jan Schraufnagel, Schraufnagel Implement, Lomira, Wis.

A.“How about keeping the playing field ‘level’ for all dealers?”

— Tom Morawetz, president, Evergreen Farm & Garden, Orono, Ontario

A.“I would like to have the manufacturers tell me, in simple terms, how much they want for their product. Take the money they spend on programs and the people they pay to think of them and put it into quality products. And then pay the dealer to take care of the customer warranties. Dealers lose out on more sales because of customer dissatisfaction.”

— John M Schaff , Foley Implement Co., Foley, Ala.

A.“The only thing major manufacturers want is multiple dealerships and one or two orders a year so they can reduce employees and production so they can save costs, not giving a hoot about single dealers that got them where they’re at. By doing this the stockholders might get a half-percent increase. It’s getting almost impossible to make it without shortlines. Dealer development means get big or get out.”

— Gary Lindsey, Lindsey Implement Inc., Williston, N.D.