If forecasts for 2013 net farm income and cash receipts are accurate, it looks as if the ag equipment business could see its first softening since 2009. In this business, that’s a pretty good run of solid sales years for both dealers and manufacturers.

On the other hand, I haven’t spoken with a dealer or equipment manufacturer in recent weeks who sees the sky falling either. A few have even said they could use a breather and offered that a “bit” of slowdown wouldn’t be all-bad at this point in time.

From what I can see, if a “bit” of a slowdown occurs, dealers should take advantage of it to focus on employee skills and development, especially those of its next generation of managers.

Last week, I spent some time visiting a very successful smaller, but growing, dealership that recently acquired a couple of new stores and is in the process of integrating them into the group. During visits like this, I try to look beyond the quantifiable performance measures that dealers like to read about and get at the culture of the business.

One of the store managers I spent several hours with couldn’t say enough about the “coaching” he’s received during the past few years from the ownership team. “Before we were acquired, I was a salesman and that’s how I viewed this business. During the last year before they bought us, I was kind of thrown into a management position and I’ll be the first to tell you that I really didn’t have much of an idea of what I was doing or what I was supposed to be doing.”

Without prodding he freely admits it’s the coaching he’s received from the other store managers and owners that created the environment that has allowed him to succeed and grow. “The level of professionalism these guys brought to the business is amazing,” he says.

He says they’ve supported him through times when others may have given up on him. “They’ve coached me, but never second guessed my decisions. If I could have done things better or maybe considered another way, we talk about it and keep moving forward.”

As a smaller dealer who doesn’t have the resources of larger dealerships to cover up too many mistakes, I’d say this dealership is demonstrating an enormous amount of vision in preparing its young managers for future growth.

As a top level manager or owner, would your young managers say this about you? Do you give them room to screw up while they’re learning and growing into their new responsibilities?

Or are you too busy to really groom the next generation of managers and leaders and then wonder what’s wrong with the next generation?

The single biggest differentiator that I’ve observed between the many dealerships I’ve visited is the quality of its managers — top and middle.

So, if things do slow up some in 2014, you can sit back and count your sales from last year, or sit down and do a little coaching with your younger staff. I wonder which one will pay bigger dividends down the road?

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