Bill Hodgeman has a 14 year history in the farm equipment business, first with Derby Equipment and at Champlain Valley Equipment’s Derby, Vt., store. He started in sales and transitioned to the service department and took on management of the shop 5 years ago at the Derby location.
Having made the successful transition between sales and service, he knows what he’s talking about when he says, “Without the shop and service you cant really sell much.” But when it comes right down to it, it’s all about service.
He faced another transition when Derby Equipment was acquired by CVE in 2008. Going from a relatively small business, today he oversees the day-to-day performance of 10-plus technicians and handles the service and repair for 25 different lines of products. In addition, he has a whole lot more customers to be concerned with.
Nonetheless, Hodgeman estimates he takes 90% of the service calls made to the Derby location. With his office right out front, he says he probably has direct interaction with 90% of the dealership’s in-store customers, as well.
Another big transition for Hodgeman is the type of equipment the dealership is working with. “I think there are fewer farms in the area so we deal with less small equipment. The farms are getting bigger and so is the equipment.” This takes him on the road periodically. “I’ll get out of the office to visit customers, especially the ones who have issues with these large pieces of equipment. I also get out more, especially in the winter when we’re a little slower to see different customers, just to visit and drum up service work.”
With the growing customer base of larger farmers comes the demand for more immediate service. While he’s given out his personal cell phone number to a select few customers, Hodgeman says that most know where he lives. “Sometimes I get a knock on the door. If a customer is down and need to get going, they can always get hold of me or Ben [Hamilton], our parts manager or Josh [Provost], the store manager. So if it’s a Sunday afternoon or something, one of us will help them out.”
Then there’s the matter of the changing technology. This, he says, has been the biggest transition he and his service department has had to make. “From troubleshooting a tractor and even haying equipment, everything we do now we have to do with a laptop. Everything is computerized now, from fuel injection to safety switches, to sensors, it’s just unbelievable. Most customers can’t begin to work on their own equipment.”
Of course, the amount of training he and his department are undergoing is another big change. Whether it’s in-store training, on location in Pennsylvania with New Holland, online through videos and webinars, or monthly training packets and CDs sent by different suppliers, Hodgeman acknowledges that keeping up with constant changes is both extensive and intensive.
Getting bigger means bigger changes, says Hodgeman: a different computer system to learn, more customers to know. He now has annual objectives to meet and monthly sales goals to shoot for. “Basically, we’re continually trying to increase our income, whether it’s by watching expenses or drumming up new business. I have a much better understanding of all of it than I did 2 years ago.”
When all is said and done, Hodgeman sees all the changes adding up to one big positive. “Now, we’ve got Kubota and several more lines of equipment to work with, like Stihl products. It’s definitely better for this particular dealership because we’re a lot more diverse now; we have ATVs, which we never had before. We’ve got a lot more product to sell. It’s all been a good thing. Plus in the shop we’ve had to add on 3 to 4 technicians just because we’ve got more business.”
It’s all a matter of managing the changes.