October 30, 2012

Much to my wife’s dismay, I’m about to hit the road again tomorrow after only a couple nights back home. (OK, to be honest, the only problem is the fact that last week’s bag is still on the floor while I’m packing up another one.)


Jim Irwin, retired exec from Case IH, explains 40 years of change in farm equipment dealerships to Farm Equipment magazine.

Last week’s trip to North Dakota reflected so much of what we value about the farm equipment business. Executive Editor Dave Kanicki and I made several stops on our way to Titan Machinery’s Annual Pheasant Hunt. These trips to your place of business remind us how fortunate we are to work in agriculture, and also why this industry is in good hands as ingenuity, innovation, integrity and work ethic drive it forward.

Besides the chance to once again observe the powerful, authentic dealership culture David Meyer and Peter Christianson have built at Titan, one of the highlights of this year’s hunt was the time in the lodge with Jim Irwin, who retired in 2005 from Case IH after 40 years of working on the front-line with dealers. You see, we’re working right now on a historical view of farm equipment dealers from retired major-line execs, featuring interviews with Irwin and others. This special report chronicles not only how different today’s industry is from that of a generation ago, but also how the song has remained the same in many ways, too. It’s an article we’ve been rolling around for 7 years now, and it’s coming your way in the next edition (SHOWCASE).

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In this special report, the retired execs share the changes they saw coming (and flat-out surprised them) as well as the obstacles their dealer friends are sure to face in the days ahead. Some of the words of Irwin, who was known for steadying the wheel for thousands of dealers through the mergers of Case-International Harvester and again with Case-New Holland, were still echoing in my head days later.

We’d been talking about the long-gone days of “accidental success,” and also how high demand has likely masked some dealer sins as of late. “Corn and soybean prices won’t remain at record levels forever, and interest rates will not stay this low,” he says. “And as this happens, and the risks of the business increase along with higher-priced equipment, the cost of a mistake can be extremely high.” The inventory troubles that devastated the industry in the 1980s could happen again if dealers aren’t disciplined and on high alert, he added.

It’s clear from these interviews that recalling the past is necessary to keep some from stumbling into the same pitfalls that crushed dealers a generation ago. As the maxim goes, “Those who are unaware of history are destined to repeat it.” This report on our industry’s elder statesmen will address the past, and our new Dealership Minds Summit (planned for and driven by the Dealership of the Year Alumni) is intended to guide your present and future. We hope you’ll join your peers in Kansas City in January to help chart a vision for the industry’s “next chapter.”

 

Mike Lessiter,
Editor/Publisher
Farm Equipment
mlessiter@lesspub.com