Most business owners — and more specifically farm equipment dealers — would likely tell you that customer service and experience are important to the overall success of the business. I’d venture to say every dealer I’ve spoken with has prided themselves on the quality of service they provide the customer. It’s common practice for dealers and manufacturers to send surveys out to customers after a purchase or service appointment to gage their satisfaction.

For the amount of effort and attention put on customer service, you’d expect it to carry some weight when it comes to contract reviews with the manufacturer. Ho-Bo Tractor Co. was surprised to learn that it doesn’t. The single-store John Deere dealership in Lake City, Fla., was recognized last month with a Top Dealer Award by SATISFYD, the company that works with John Deere dealers to conduct customer satisfaction surveys. In addition to being named a Top Dealer, Ho-Bo was also honored with a Certificate of Excellence, which recognizes the 10 top performing dealers. The news was exciting, but confusing, to John and Melanie Howard, who own part of the dealership. You see, just 2 months before receiving the honor they were notified that John Deere would not be renewing their contract. They only had 180 days left as a John Deere dealership. “When did [Deere] stop caring about customer experience,” says Melanie Howard. True to the survey results, Ho-Bo's customers are sticking with them. “We had a lot of customers tell us, ‘We come here fore the service. It doesn’t matter if it’s green or orange,” she says.

According to the Howards, the only reason given was that they weren’t meeting market share. But as with many similar dealers that have gone before them, Deere had be squeezing their area of responsibility for years. Currently, they don’t cover a single territory here they have 100% of the county. There are 3 counties that they have 70-85% of in their AOR, but they are counties with very little agriculture any more. As for the other counties in their AOR, they are responsible for 30% or less of the county. So, while Ho-Bo sold equipment to customers all over, very little of it counted toward their market share. The Howards say the dealership was in good shape financially (the only late payment ever sent to Deere was because they had no power, internet access, etc., following hurricanes this past fall). They also struggled to get the equipment they needed — and had a demand for — from Deere, they say.

Deere told the Howards they’d only approve selling the business to one specific dealership group, and the Howards say the offer the other dealership group made was insulting. So for now, they are staying the course and are in talks with another manufacturer about taking on a different line and working on transferring their inventory to other Deere dealers who need it. 

Curious about who the other dealers who made the top 10 were, I went back to the news item we posted on the award back in March. With the exception of 2 dealerships — one of which is a construction equipment dealership — they were all small, 1-3 store operations (somewhat of a rare breed among Deere dealers these days).

SATISFYD Top 10 Dealers

  1. Haug Implement Co.
  2. Blackmount Equipment Inc.
  3. Stanton Equipment Inc.
  4. Leslie Equipment Co.
  5. Hurst Farm Supply Inc.
  6. S.H. Dayton Ltd.
  7. Neff Co.
  8. Ho-Bo Tractor Co. Inc.
  9. J. B. Mertz & Son Inc.
  10. Greenland Equipment Ltd.

My message here of course is not to throw customer service out the window. Despite this cautionary tale, it does in fact matter. And Ho-Bo Tractor’s customers will likely stick with them and carry them through when they are able to land a contract with a new manufacturer. If it weren’t for loyal and satisfied customers, Ho-Bo would be throwing in the towel. Instead, there’s at least a glimmer of hope for all three generations of the Howard family who come to work each day.