Just about the time that “dealer” or “brand” purity appeared to have become a non-issue for farm equipment dealers, it is once again raising its ugly head.

According to Case IH dealers who attended the firm’s February dealer meeting in Florida, company execs made it clear that it expects (demands) that its retailers dump several of the biggest and best known specialty equipment makers’ products. You can read about some of the details in this issue of E-Watch.

I say it had become a bit of a non-issue because, according to Farm Equipment’s annual Dealer Business Trends & Outlook survey, dealer purity efforts by manufacturers had dropped from #6 on dealers’ list of biggest concerns in 2007 to #15 by 2012. It has stayed at that spot ever since.

Now, whether or not a company can coerce its dealers to drop other equipment lines is not the question here — because we all know that if the majors want to badly enough, they’ll figure out a way to do it, whether or not it hurts their dealers — I think the bigger question is why.

This is a stupid question, right? After all it’s obvious why the majors want their dealers to carry only their brand. Stupid or not, the fact of the matter is dealer purity not only hurts their dealers — the people who are their direct connection with their customers — but it also stifles competition, which is the driving force behind innovation.

As much as the major farm equipment manufacturers want us to believe they are the innovators in this industry, there are very few people who know anything about ag machinery who won’t agree that “true” innovation comes from the shortlines.

Without the shortlines, the majors would be stuck copying from each other and then arguing who came up with the idea first.

Instead, they now “borrow” the best ideas from their smaller competitors who survive and thrive by bringing cutting edge products to market on a regular basis. Differentiation is the hallmark of the most innovative specialty equipment manufacturers. The majors seem to differentiate themselves by painting their equipment a different color.

Furthermore, as astute businessmen, dealers don’t carry products that their customers don’t want. If their major suppliers were capable of providing every product their customers want and need — and they were as good or better than that of the shortline — I’m pretty sure that most dealers would be content to carry only one line of equipment.

As our survey of farmers’ level of brand loyalty demonstrated, (see “Farmers Still Loyal to Their Brands,” Farm Equipment, January 2014) most farmers would also like to buy only their preferred color of ag machinery. But they don’t because they want the best for their operation and the best equipment often comes from a shortline manufacturer.

As dealers have told us time and again, if they didn’t carry shortlines, they would never be able to get farmers loyal to another brand of equipment into their dealerships. Often, it’s products from a specialty equipment maker that attracts those potential “conquest sales” into the competitive dealer’s store. Once they walk in, a rapport can be established and the dealer has a shot of turning a conversation into a relationship.

I believe if it weren’t for the competition from the shortlines, we would not see the major equipment manufacturers investing in new product development at the level they are today. You see, shortline equipment makers must believe that customers always come first. The majors can say it, but the real question is do they believe it?