Faivre Implement’s dealership magazine pays off with better relationships, new customers.

“Neighbor to Neighbor” is more than just a marketing tagline for Faivre Implement, a John Deere dealership with two Wisconsin locations: Stevens Point and Westfield. It is the philosophy behind the dealership’s ambitious communication initiative: Neighbors magazine.

Ruth Johnson, Faivre Implement’s marketing director and editor for Neighbors magazine, explains why Faivre Implement’s president, Jim Faivre, launched a magazine and what it has meant for his dealership.

Ruth Johnson, Faivre Implement’s marketing director and editor for the dealership’s magazine, Neighbors. She’s on location for a story about Duckett Holsteins & Genetic Futures.
Ruth Johnson, Faivre Implement’s marketing director and editor for the dealership’s magazine, Neighbors. She’s on location for a story about Duckett Holsteins & Genetic Futures.

The Origin of Neighbors Magazine

Johnson says Faivre was concerned about the decline in local newspapers and other area media. She describes him as a “born entrepreneur,” who was searching for innovative ways and new marketing approaches to reach the growing lawn and garden segment, while strengthening bonds with Faivre Implement’s ag customers.

He was impressed with online magazines like John Deere’s The Furrow and Homestead. Faivre also admired the online magazine, Trainfest Express. Johnson created and edited the magazine for Trainfest, the country’s largest operating model railroad show. He approached her about producing an online magazine for his dealership, similar to The Furrow and Homestead with a focus on local, area-based stories, rather than worldwide.

Quality Brings Success

The key to success of a project like this is commitment to quality, says Johnson. One of the first questions she asked Jim was, “Are you willing to create a magazine that doesn’t have John Deere on every page?” She advised him that the magazine should be about great graphics, interesting photos and well-written stories. Even the dealership ads should be stories.

They discussed ways to keep the magazine cost-effective, both in production and staff time. Johnson advised they follow the successful online format of Trainfest Express.

We discussed the challenges and costs involved in introducing new media and, ultimately, decided the best course was online, digital publishing. I recommended we publish issues monthly initially to establish impact and identity, even though the first year was non-stop work.”           

She worked with the staff to scout out ideas and set an editorial calendar for story planning.

“Championing agriculture and celebrating rural life is a common theme that runs through every issue of Neighbors because, even though half of our readers may be 'city folk,' they are still Midwesterners and embrace their roots," says Johnson.

Johnson worked with John Deere corporate to ensure the overall design would be professional and the stories easy to read.

“As a John Deere dealership, Neighbor’s creative image needed to match John Deere’s company standards. I followed their graphic standards, which revolve around basic, traditional styles, lots of photos, limited type fonts and maintaining a limited color scheme.

“Since today’s audience is visually oriented, I layout the photos first, write the captions, and then finish the story around the photos. That helps lead the reader’s interest into the story,” says Johnson.

She also knew that the magazine needed more than great stories and design to be successful. They needed to reach the right audience.

“Like most dealerships, there was not an existing database of email addresses so I started from scratch. It took nearly a year to build what is now over 11,000 email addresses, collected from current customers, salesperson contacts, and home and trade shows.  We also offered whoever signed up for our online Neighbors magazine, a chance to win a John Deere JD 110 lawn tractor.

“To avoid being pegged as ‘spammers,’ I use Constant Contact to notify our readers by email when new issues are ready to read online.”

How the Magazine has Grown

Neighbors’ Technology Tools

Design: Ruth Johnson, editor, initially designed the magazine using Word, saved it as an Adobe Acrobat file and uploaded it for transformation to online format through Issuu. Layouts are now being transferred to InDesign, with the remainder of the process still the same.

Online magazine: Johnson uses Constant Contact to deliver a professional email that notifies readers when new issues are available and links to the magazine’s online presence.

Print magazine: Spectra Print, Stevens Point, produces Neighbors’ printed version, mails subscription copies and delivers printed bulk copies to Faivre Implement for distribution to its two locations.

“We released our first 32-page issue of Neighbors in March 2011 to our customers for whom we had emails and grew it to 36 pages with the second issue,” Johnson says. “People who newly discover the magazine, refer to it as one of the ‘best kept secrets’ they’ve found because it was not highly publicized, originally conceived under the guise of a glorified newsletter.

“With our 13th issue, March 2012, we decided to publish bi-monthly instead of monthly due to feedback from our readers who stopped by our booth at this year’s five home/trade shows where Faivre Implement has exhibited. An incredible number of people said they read Neighbors cover to cover but were worried because they did not have time to read the whole magazine before the next one came out.”

“Neighbors soon took on a life of its own, spreading through fan sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. The columnists and many of the people featured in the magazine also have strong fan bases, which boosts readership. For instance, the magazine’s Flying Feather columnist, who is a Gypsy Vanner Horse breeder, has 25,000 Facebook fans.

“From the beginning, we had requests from area businesses who wanted to advertise in our magazine and readers who wanted to purchase print subscriptions,” Johnson says. They met both requests with the March 2012 issue. The magazine, now at 48 pages, is mailed to subscribers as well as posted online and sold in area stores.

Neighbor’s web presence currently is tied to Faivre Implement’s website, which displays links to current and past issues. They will soon be releasing www.neighborswi.com. However, it will still be connected to Faivre Implement’s website.

Johnson also actively promotes the magazine and dealership on social media. Neighbors and Faivre Implement each have Facebook and Twitter pages and Neighbors is posted on Pinterest. (Pinterest allows people to “pin” online images and videos they find interesting.)

Dealership Benefits

Jim Faivre, president of Faivre Implement, shows off carrots from a Neighbors story about Paul Miller Farms.
Jim Faivre, president of Faivre Implement, shows off carrots from a Neighbors story about Paul Miller Farms.

“Jim gets feedback from our readers almost daily who tell him how much they enjoy the magazine and are happy that the dealership is doing something so unique and interesting,” says Johnson. “We experience a steady flow of ‘new faces' and according to Jim, the magazine has opened doors for some of our past customers who have returned.

“We attribute this phenomenon to the fact that our readers have adopted the magazine, and subsequently us, as their neighbors, attaining a personal level of trust that is so needed in our often-impersonal world.”

Area and trade-related media often re-publish Neighbors’ stories, which have also helped build Faivre Implement’s awareness level.

Jim Faivre offers these comments on the success of the new publication:

"People like to be associated with forward-thinking, successful businesses and that is the image Neighbors magazine and using social media, builds for us in the minds of our customers.

Neighbors’ exceptional quality yet friendly approach endears us to the hearts and minds of new and old customers, both agricultural and lawn and garden, way beyond what we expected. Many past customers have returned to our ranks and I know this because they stop and tell me how much they like Neighbors and then ask to look at equipment. Some of them I haven't dealt with for years. We can track many sales directly to the magazine's impact including a recent tractor and skid steer to a new customer."

For more information, contact Ruth Johnson, 715-592-4300, ruth@faivre.com.