One of the most obvious changes in today’s dealer world since retired Case IH exec Jim Irwin started is the emphasis on forecasting, planning and pre-selling.

When he first started working with International Harvester dealers, he recalls, “You’d go to a motel in Omaha once a year for a 2-week period and schedule meetings with all your dealers. In the morning, you’d talk with the dealer about the coming programs, new products, policy changes and parts/service programs. In the afternoon, you’d sit down and you’d write out an annual order.”

There wasn’t a lot of planning, he says, describing it as more akin to, ‘You sold 10 last year, can you sell a couple more? It was an annual ordering event, with one discussion a year and that was it.

That method was still in play through the mid-1970s, he says, but business steadily evolved to quarterly, semi-annual and then to today’s 12-month rolling programs. “Dealers have some very sophisticated forecasting models today and can work with their manufacturers on precisely when their customers need the product. No one can afford to pay for equipment sitting on the yard. The quicker you cut the time from when it’s built to delivery to the customer, that’s when the company and dealer both win. And it’s also good for the customer to get exactly what they want, with the latest technology.”

Irwin says that the only way to never repeat the 1980s again is to plan, forecast and presell. “Because the 1980s could happen again if dealers don’t watch their inventory levels. Interest rates will have to go up and if the ag market turned for the worse, things will change in a big hurry, particularly with the dollar equivalent of equipment we have today.”