In this installment of our 5 Questions With… series, we sat down with Mike Rittler, head of Retail Card Services at TD Bank, to learn about what TD Bank does and examine the results of a dealer survey they conducted at the 2022 Equip Expo. Rittler goes over his key takeaways from the survey data and what dealers can learn from it.

Can you tell me a little bit about TD Bank and its presence in the rural lifestyle market?

Rittler: At TD Bank, one of our business units is called Retail Card Services, and we offer promotional sales and finance to a lot of retailers. The verticals we work in primarily are furniture, jewelry, luxury, online and of course, lawn and garden — everything from tractors to Cub Cadet and Toro. We do trailers from Forest River and other landscape trailers or contractor trailers as well.

Our proprietary card, which is called the Yard Card, is one of the largest in the country that’s offered through independent distributors. We’ve been doing that for over 20 years. We’ve also signed up a bunch of manufacturers and made their products available on that card as well. Through our financing programs, we have pretty good reach into the rural lifestyle equipment industry. 

How have your rural lifestyle dealer customers’ needs changed over the course of the pandemic?

This is a pretty general trend, and I think it really accelerated through the pandemic: being able to offer the very same experience in-store or online and being able to move seamlessly between them. It became more prevalent during the pandemic to buy equipment online, and it’s still very important. A lot of research is being done online on equipment around what that piece of equipment will cost and what kind of financing can be available from dealers. It becomes a critical part of the journey before they even get to the store. It becomes one seamless process for the customer to be able to research, decide and then the dealer makes the sale. 

Mike Rittler

Source: TD Bank

The other piece is that financing can be a really good tool, and the dealers who really understand that can drive business by being smart with how they use financing. They can drive additional purchases that complement what’s being sold. If someone’s buying one piece of equipment, and there’s 2-3 accessories that might go with that equipment that make it more useful, using financing effectively can help somebody see how they can walk out with what they originally came in for, plus these other accessories that’ll make that piece of equipment more valuable. We can get dealers a credit line, they can cover all that and explain to the customer that it’s going be this much of a payment and so on and so forth. It’s very important to expand the cart, if you will, for what’s being purchased.

We were introduced when I came across the results of a dealer survey you conducted at the 2022 Equip Expo, can you tell me more about that?

This is the first time we’ve done one in the rural lifestyle market. We call these our stealth surveys. We talked to a number of lawn and garden equipment dealers and asked 6-7 questions to take their pulse on how they’re feeling about the industry, get their outlook about expected sales, what kind of concerns they may have, those types of things. We’ve been doing these for a number of years in the furniture space, and we love the results we get.

dealer concerns chart

What we typically do is we have baseline questions we’ll ask every time so that we can really understand from a trend standpoint the sentiment that’s coming through. But then we’ll have some more, “at the moment” type questions, things that are relevant now — for instance, supply chain disruptions. 47% of the respondents said supply chain disruption is one of the big areas that concerns them.

Were there any findings in the survey that surprised you?

I was pleasantly surprised folks said lawn and garden purchasing will remain steady, and the ones who thought it would increase in the next year was 66%. This was really strong given the level of uncertainty that’s out there. There’s different indicators pointing in different directions. Employment is high, jobs are still being added, there’s a potential recession and you’ve got inflation. It’s not all pointing in one direction.

The other one that caught my eye and made me very happy was when we asked, “Do you offer financing?”— 83% said yes.

It’s not just a form of payment, which a lot of people think it is. It really can be a very important tool in your tool belt for closing sales make if you use it properly. So I think that the fact that 83% are offering financing is really healthy.

It’s important to really help folks understand how it can be a tool that can help you sell more. Whether it’s on the consumer side or the contractor side, it can show customers what’s possible when you can break those payments to be more digestible.

What’s your top takeaway from the survey for rural lifestyle dealers?

The most important piece of the survey is where we ask what could impact their business the most in the next few months and 47% saying supply chain disruption. Inventory management is what’s going to be a critical factor for success and failure in 2023. Knowing who your suppliers are, knowing your equipment availability, making sure you have a really good handle on what the demand’s going to be so you’re not under buying, but also not overbuying. 

Everybody feels pretty optimistic, but we need to focus on not getting stuck with a large amount of inventory or stuck without the inventory we need. Managing those disruptions in the supply chain and inventory management is going to be the most important thing.