By nearly everyone's account, 2013 was another good year for the farm equipment industry. There's much to be thankful for, for sure, as we look in the rear-view mirror. But then again, this is an industry built on a foundation of finding a better way, so the new year also brings an inclination to dream a little about what "could be."
Recent conversations with dealers got me thinking about what - if we could - we'd change about the farm equipment business in this new year. Here's just a few that come to mind:
Deep Six the Market Share Metric (Again)
The greatest idiocy of 2013, one dealer told me, was watching manufacturers and dealers push new wholegoods on an "overbought" customer base. "Used inventories have gone from scary to downright dangerous," he added. But that's what you get from chasing market share at all costs, and only our New Year's-type optimism has this perennial headache cited as an opportunity for change.
High market shares at eroded margins is like getting the prettiest date for the prom only to learn on dance night that she's already left for the convent. You might have initially felt good about your deal, and even earned a few pats on the back, but that's about it. Regardless of what is being dangled in front of you, doing business for market share is just a Pyrrhic victory.
Slippin' on the Capitol Steps
How much time you got? It seems common sense has been dead for so long that we don't dare think it can be resuscitated. For starters, there's government shutdowns, health care insurance land mines, paralysis over "food stamp" programs (once known as the Farm Bill). Why can't we hold our "representatives" accountable for choices that perpetuate needless uncertainty, or worse, outright shake confidence for reinvestment and job creation?
Many Mouths to Feed
If we want to feed a growing world population, trade policy that moves North America's ag commodities is vital. To the naysayers who cry self-interest, let's remind them how trade transfers technologies (not to mention a plethora of used combines and tractors) to developing nations to more quickly leapfrog ahead as they produce their own food.
Address "Pure" Motives?
It's naïve to think farmers don't know what's going on at the OEM-dealer level, including the "whys" for a major line insisting on "brand-pure" dealerships. And I think they even see the "whys" as a dealer succumbs to those demands. Is it beyond possibility that majors' tactics are affecting brand loyalty? (see p. 38). There is a lot of talking out of both sides of the mouth when it comes to the "priority" placed on the customer.
Who's to Blame? Hmmm. How About Ag?
Farming continues to take it on the chin. The wackos have always had the loudest voice, but now they have a larger stage too. It's not just on the stage of public opinion; we hear of half-baked initiatives leaving the station (including here in my home state) that would legislate/regulate farming right out of business. I'm convinced the situation would be worse if not for dealers' community support and corporate citizenship, because single-entity farms can't do it alone.
Can't fault a guy for dreaming. Wishing you, your families and your businesses a healthy and prosperous 2014!
P.S. Add your thoughts, and your own itemized "wish list," in the comments section below.