This year, Rural Lifestyle Dealer marks its fifth year of publishing. We are proud to have been chronicling the rural lifestyle market from its early stages. People have credited us for bringing the term “rural lifestyle” into the vernacular of dealers and manufacturers. We knew then and we know now: Dealers have questions about how to serve rural lifestyle customers, and Rural Lifestyle Dealer provides strategies to succeed.

The “rural lifestyle” category includes hobby farmers, outdoors enthusiasts, large property owners, landscapers and others. Dealers can’t win their business by selling the same ol’ way.

Here are the top five things we’ve learned about rural lifestylers since we started publishing Rural Lifestyle Dealer:

1. This is a significant market and it demands attention from dealers.

Data from the Assn. of Equipment Manufacturers shows that last year, dealers sold more than 95,000 tractors in the under-40 horsepower range. The total dollar values might be less than those for large row-crop tractors, but the sheer numbers indicate its importance to dealers.

2. Life in the country is a dream come true.

Part of the dream is for rural lifestylers to maintain their properties themselves. However, they have options for where they can buy equipment. Dealers have had to sharpen their marketing skills and show why they’re different and better than competitors, especially “Big Box” stores.

3. Online marketing is a critical business strategy.

Online marketing is more important than ever in winning the rural lifestyle business. According to Google, 97% of U.S. Internet users look online for local goods and services before they purchase. They’re visiting your website 24/7 and they’re building — or not building — a relationship with you through Facebook and Twitter.

4. It’s imperative to create a “customer experience” through innovative retail and merchandising strategies.

Merchandising, point-of-purchase displays, special events and more create excitement about a purchase. Our 2012 Dealership of the Year, Mid-State Equipment, is among the best at delivering that great customer experience. Read about their success on page 8.

5. The equipment dealer is an advisor.

Although buyers have many places to gather information, they still trust you to help them make the right decision. They need information about how a piece of equipment can work on their properties. Our reader surveys indicate that 85% of the time, it’s the dealer that drives the final purchase decision. Your expertise and service after the sale sets you apart and above.

The rural lifestylers we feature on page 18 in this issue reflect that exact sentiment when they explain why they buy from one particular dealership: “They treat us like we’re their number one customer.”

These first five years are only the beginning. Our latest survey shows that dealers expect continued growth.

Thank you for taking the ride with us these last five years. From our President Mike Lessiter, “We saw a need and a void for information for this market. We’re proud to serve dealers and help them succeed.”

Our first editorial’s headline was, “The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be.” That’s true. The future is what you make it. As we start our sixth year, we’re here to help.