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During the past week I have traveled from Saskatoon to San Antonio meeting and talking to dealers of all brands and all descriptions. From single-store owners to mega dealers (among the largest in North America), there is a common thread that ties them all together. That thread is optimism!
It is heart-warming to hear the optimism exude about the past year and about the future. Many dealers are making plans to grow and expand their operations. Others are seeking ways to improve current operations in order to provide a higher level of service to existing customers. Never before, in my lifetime at least, (and that is beginning to be a pretty long stretch of time) have I witnessed this level of optimism and the belief that things are good and likely to stay that way for a while. What a great, exciting time to be in Agriculture and in the equipment industry. (See my article from February 2011).
Another reason for my personal enthusiasm is observing how the relationship between the manufacturer/suppliers and their dealer network is maturing into more of a partnership approach in many instances. For example, at one of the meetings I attended recently, a great deal of time was devoted to discussing how both dealer and supplier would focus more on meeting customer expectations collaboratively going forward. And lots of excellent seminars and tools were offered. I find it very rewarding to see the partnership approach in action!
Although optimism abounds these days, that doesn’t mean we can overlook some issues that bring reality clearly into view. During my discussions with dealers, it became very apparent that we are not out of the woods yet when it comes to finding, hiring and retaining highly qualified people. This was a universal theme among dealers of all sizes and descriptions. One large-equipment dealer told me that they would hire nearly a hundred new technicians tomorrow if they could find them. They are actually contemplating starting their own training program. Obviously, not every dealer is quite in that situation, but it appears many dealers would hire more techs if possible.
It is not only technicians that dealers are concerned about finding. Many are looking for highly-motivated and intelligent managerial talent as well. A number of medium-to-large-sized dealers I have visited with are seeking department managers and even COOs or CEOs to take over management of the new enterprises that are being created through mergers and consolidation of ownership.
Another theme I have heard more about recently is technology. People are curious about the impact now and into the future for their operations. On one hand, dealers are excited to think about the use of technology both on the farm and in the dealership to help operate the equipment, collect data and even assist with reducing downtime by monitoring machine performance remotely. They are excited about the opportunities it opens up to improve sales, service and even expand into data management and analysis.
Yes, I believe technology will offer a number of new opportunities as mentioned above, but it also raises expectations of the customer. While listening to a rather large farmer’s description of his plans for growth, he specifically mentioned the type of relationship he will expect from his suppliers (i.e. equipment dealer) in the future. It was very obvious that the stakes are rising. That producer used the term “partner” several times when describing his expectations. Partnership will no longer mean simply “sell me a piece of equipment and keep it running.” Going forward they will expect input that will assist them in making better decisions and improving their efficiency, production, marketing and ultimately their profitability. The optimism is great but must still be supported by a good healthy dose of reality. Consider that a very large percentage of agricultural output is provided by very, very few producers today and many of them intend to get even larger in the future. That means each one of those customers becomes even more precious and important to you as a dealer. I like that old-saying that, “opportunity often comes disguised in work clothes.” While we hopefully will continue to be optimistic about our industry, let’s also keep in mind that it will take some good old-fashioned hard work to allow the success to grow! Agriculture is alive and doing well from Saskatoon to San Antonio and all areas in between. I am excited about the prospects and hope you are as well. — And that’s the way I see it!