"What dealers want from us, and I'm sure from other shortliners, are programs more like their major line suppliers. So, we try to craft our programs to be more like them and that's been successful — but it comes at quite a cost."

— Rusty Fowler, CEO, Krone North America

The secret to shortline farm equipment manufacturers' success has always been being more inventive and staying a step ahead of their full-line ag equipment competitors when it comes to products and technology. To stay in the game, they've had to bring something different — something better — to the table to set themselves apart from the "big boys." Now they're being told to be more like the "big boys."

What this means, according to the specialty equipment manufacturers Farm Equipment interviewed for this special report, is that dealers want the same type of financial, training and customer support from their shortlines as their primary suppliers offer. But they still want the innovation, forward-thinking and personal touch that the specialty equipment manufacturers have always been known for.

It's a tall order!

But the dealers say their rising expectations for equipment suppliers only reflect what their customers are demanding of them.

As farm machinery becomes more complex and costly, farmers want and need more in-depth training to get every advantage that the new equipment has to offer. They need to be convinced that investing in high priced equipment translates into a lower cost per acre.

As a result, the dealer's selling process is becoming more technical and complex. In many cases, shortline manufacturers are being asked to engage farmers directly on behalf of the dealer. They're requiring their suppliers make themselves directly available to answer any questions from the farmer that they can't answer.

Product knowledge is no longer enough. Proven agronomic (bottom-line) results are what farm customers are looking for.

Five specialty equipment executives sat down with Farm Equipment editors and talked about how they're responding to their dealers' changing needs and what they see coming down the road that will impact how dealers do business.