Mike Lessiter, Editor/PublisherIn preparing for our 30th year in business in 2011, we brainstormed how we might push the envelope to start off our next 30. The “Dealership Minds” coverage on Birkey’s Farm Stores in this edition is one of those projects.

We’ve always prided ourselves on our “dirty-boots” approach. Just like you, our effectiveness stems from being out in the field with our customers (and our customers’ customers). It’s why, even though we’re a small company by publishing standards, we spend more on editorial travel than anyone in our segment of the farm equipment industry.

As you saw starting with the gatefold cover, this issue is altogether different as we take you “inside” Birkey’s Farm Stores — an Illinois-based dealer group we thought we knew well. Ron Birkey was among the first dealer execs we met after acquiring Farm Equipment in 2004, and he and his team are frequent contributors to our articles and surveys. We’ve attended their sales meetings, staff barbecues and even bunked in with them at a hunting event. (The good, bad and ugly are all on display when you share an 8-person bunkhouse, by the way.) 

But you don’t really know what makes someone tick until you work a day in their shoes. We got a little closer to that with this project, as we set out to understand how each cog in a successful dealership “machine” truly functions.

This 9-reporter effort was an aggressive undertaking for our company. In addition to plenty of pre-trip meetings, it also involved 2,223 miles of road travel, 21.3 gigabytes and 180 pages of notes. And a hefty meal and bar tab at Michael’s Restaurant in Bloomington, Ill.

You’ll learn more about Birkey’s in this issue's articles, but here are some observations: 

No Management ‘Flavors of the Day.’ With 6 minority stockholders, ideas must pass an arduous “sniff test.” While naturally bringing caution, it also keeps staff from chasing a rabbit down a hole.

Focused Thinking. Definite themes kept bubbling up in our interviews, almost at a “mantra” status. Clearly, managers are communicating what’s most important, with their marching orders in synch. There’s no crossing of the fingers and hoping for results — milestones and expectations are clearly defined.

No Silent Partners. Birkey’s owners have been required to be in the trenches with employees and customers. This eliminates board pressure or influence from those who don’t know what they’re talking about. Subordination to the interests of the business, not to one’s location or pet department, is also paramount.

Sure & Steady. Birkey’s doesn’t seek heroics; just steady production that continually moves the business forward. It’s another sign of the trust team members place in one another.

Behind the Numbers. Birkey’s works diligently not only to share numbers, but also to explain what they mean. It’s no surprise then that employees realize how they can move the needle when they show up for work each day.

Throughout this project, Birkey’s openness surprised even our own staff. There was no guarding of a playbook, nor any secrets for that matter. What this company does best is execute — at every step of the way. 

Regardless of whether you’re a big or small dealership, we hope these pages provide a chance to reflect on your own business, and what it takes to truly keep your farm customers productive. We hope you’ll pass it around the dealership, too.