Great Plains' new conference center designed to train dealers, build brand loyalty
Many steps go into developing new farm and landscape equipment, Roy Applequist said, among them concepts, research, drawings, testing and tweaking.
The founder and president of Salina-based Great Plains Manufacturing, Applequist said training is usually among the final phases before his products are shipped around the nation and world, and it's vital to the company's success.
"We have to do that very well, and we need loyalty from our dealers," he said.
Less than a month ago, Great Plains unveiled a major upgrade in the effort to teach the ins and outs of virtually everything the two-division company makes -- a high-tech, two-story, 15,000-square-foot conference center at company headquarters, 1525 E. North.
The center is designed to turn dealers, salesmen, assembly technicians, parts employees and repairmen into experts.
"It's awesome," said Tom Evans, the Great Plains division's vice president of sales.
"I beat on Roy for years to do that, and Roy beat expectations," Evans said. "It helps our image immensely. Dealers come in here now and say, 'Wow.' (The center) has finish and polish to it. It looks like a first-class operation, and it is."
Dealer Loren Glascock, owner of Glascock Equipment, Veedersburg, Ind., echoes those sentiments. He was in the first group to attend a sales meeting during the week of Jan. 9.
"It's fantastic; first class all the way," he said.
The company, which employs 1,300 people, with more than half of those in Salina, makes tillage, planting, landscaping and other products in its Great Plains and LandPride divisions.
Training is critical
Training has always been paramount to Applequist.
"Custom service is critical. Farmers pay a lot of money for these machines," Applequist said. "We try to establish relationships with the end user and the dealer."
Oftentimes, dealers will also carry competitors' products, he said, and the more they know about Great Plains products, the better.
Four of Glascock's technicians were on their way back to Indiana on Thursday after a service meeting at Great Plains in Salina.
"If I didn't think they would all get something out of it, we would not have sent four people," he said. "We might have sent one."
Until Jan. 8, those attending Great Plains training sessions were invited to sit in a small room to watch videos and listen to Great Plains staff explain the nuances of their products. Much of it is highly technical equipment aimed at precision tasks and specific farming practices.
Bleachers were set up in the manufacturing plants to show the equipment, and that caused work delays.
"It's a problem to interrupt production," Applequist said.
The upgrade is an improvement, Glascock said.
"They had a good facility before, but it was nothing like it is now," he said.
Seating for 100 people
Trainees still tour the plant, but those are walk-throughs after they've learned how to sell and service Great Plains and LandPride equipment from the comfort of an arena with theater seating for up to 100 people.
The center has four break-out classrooms where more technical training is done.
The company employs 25 salesmen in the Great Plains division and 40 direct salesmen in the LandPride division, and a number of service technicians for both divisions.
"Your audience is tuned in and the guys are right there," Evans said. "When you're in a flat room, you tend to lose the guys in the back."
The arena has a door large enough to accommodate every product the company makes. While trainees look at the physical products in front of them, they watch videos of the equipment in action on four large screens.
Every person at the training has a chair and desk area, with power available to plug in laptop computers or other digital gear.
Acoustics in the conference center are impeccable, said Evans, who spends a lot of time at the lectern.
Video conference benefits
The conference center contains the necessary connections to include audiences at remote locations as far as halfway around the world if need be, saving time, travel and money.
"A week ago, I drove 650 miles for a meeting in Arkansas. That was three days shot," Evans said.
"We can see audiences and they can see us," he said. The connections are good enough to gauge audience reaction in training at other locations, Evans said
January is typically a busy training month, Applequist said. During the first weeks of operation, the center has hosted more than 300 people for training, he said.
The company will utilize the new facility year-round. For instance, the LandPride Division's regional meeting is in March, and a national sales meeting is set for July.
"So it's gonna get used," Applequist said. "We're always coming out with new products."
Available for others
The center may be available for other events, Applequist said. Several community organizations regularly have meetings at Great Plains.
"We're really pleased," he said. "The conference center has worked well for us."
Reporter Tim Unruh can be reached at 822-1419 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story Link: http://www.saljournal.com/news/story/great-plains-conference-center-2212