While it’s not always advisable to dwell in the past, it is important to know where you (or your business, or the industry) came from and how your history impacts who and what you are today. In our office, there’s a long bookshelf lined with all the past issues of Farm Equipment and bound archives of Implement & Tractor dating back to 1959.

About once a month when I need to find something to highlight for our Implement & Tractor Archive feature on the Trending Now page of Farm Equipment or the closing segment of Ag Equipment Intelligence’s On the Record, I walk over to the shelf pick a volume at random and start paging through it.

I never know exactly what I’m looking for, but I always find something. I love history and could probably spend a whole day sifting through the old issues. There’s always something that I can connect or compare to the current state of the industry. This time around I found numbers to back up what I’ve heard numerous times since I joined the Farm Equipment staff.

While the 1980s farm crisis was hard on farmers, it was brutal on farm equipment dealers — with one out four dealers going out of business or merged out of business during the decade. In the September 1982 issue of Implement & Tractor, editor Bill Fogarty wrote about the number of dealers who had left the business based on a survey the Farm Equipment Manufacturers Assn. did of the regional dealer associations. In the 18 months from January 1981 to June 1982, 675 dealers went out of business either because of bankruptcy or choosing to exit the business.

In that editorial Fogarty estimates there were about 10,000 farm and/or industrial equipment dealers in North America at the time. He suggests that “675 dealers is a relatively small percentage, considering how difficult business conditions have been in the past 18 months.” The percentage might be low, but 675 is still a lot of businesses to close up shop if you ask me. I never doubted the stories I’ve been told about the 1980s, but coming across these numbers was eye opening to me.

A lot of your employees — and even managers — today don’t have first-hand knowledge of what the 1980s were like for farm equipment business. Your oldest millennial employees were only 9 or 10 as the ‘80s came to a close. Talk to them about it. My guess is, they’ll enjoy hearing the stories. Your dealership made it through the 1980s, which means you were doing something right. I’m sure it wasn’t without struggles. Most of the younger generation hasn’t yet lived through such hardship.

What are the lessons you learned in business (either from first-hand experience or that were passed down to you), that will be vital for the next generation to know as they take on leadership roles in the dealership?

Number of Dealers Lost

  1981 Jan.-June 1982
Allis-Chalmers 41 18
John Deere 27.5 16
Ford Tractor 27.5 12
International Harvester 105 50
Massey-Ferguson 62 50
White Farm 30 12
Shortlines 29 23
Not Identified 36 17
Others 9 8
Totals 426 229