Janeth and Tom Tomlin’s life in the country began 13 years ago with the purchase of five acres about 30 miles south of San Antonio, Texas.
Tom and Janeth own a heavy equipment repair business, so Tom was already familiar with many kinds of tractors.
“I work on about every farm tractor that’s out there. I like Mahindras because they are heavy duty and ‘old school.’ They don’t have a lot of plastic parts,” Tom says. He wanted something they could use on their acreage as well as with their business.
Still, before purchasing, they researched other manufacturers, including walking the line-up of equipment at a large rodeo near San Antonio in February 2006. They walked up and down the rows, but no one seemed interested in helping.
“They just sat there talking to their buddies and didn’t get out of their chairs. That happened at two or three places,” Tom says. But, it didn’t happen at Bill’s Tractor’s display.
The dealership is the country’s largest Mahindra dealership, with locations in San Antonio and near Austin.
“They were just so nice,” says Janeth. Tom already knew of their good reputation from his own customers. The next day they went to the dealership and began their relationship with salesperson Nancy Turner.
Meet Rural Lifestylers
Tom and Janeth Tomlin
Occupation: Tom and Janeth Tomlin own a heavy equipment repair business.
Property: The Tomlins own five acres about 30 miles south of San Antonio, Texas. The property was undeveloped and overrun with weeds and mesquite trees when they purchased it in 1989. They cleared the land to showcase old trees and fields. Landscaping around their home includes flower beds, a pool and a patio area, with a 700- pound barbecue pit made from the leg of an old water tower.
Equipment: Mahindra 5530 tractor with loader and pallet fork; Howse shred- der; Hustler FasTrak zero-turn mower; Stihl chain saw and Stihl leaf blower. Tom Tomlin built other attachments, including a box blade, rake and plow.
Janeth says Turner asked about their acreage and who would be using the tractor. She learned about Tom’s requirements: dependability, quality and parts availability.
“He wanted something that you would turn the key and it would start right away and work until you put it away at night,” Janeth says. Janeth conveyed that she wanted something “girl friendly.”
“I was a city girl. I didn’t know what all the levers were for. It was intimidating.”
They purchased their first tractor that day, a Mahindra 4110 with loader and bucket. They also bought a 6-foot Howse shredder. Tom had something else in mind to make the purchase even more special. He worked with Nancy to have “Happy Valentine’s Day, Janeth” painted on the loader bucket.
“When we came back, they had the tractor out front, with the loader bucket in the air,” says Tom. Everybody had a good laugh, he says.
Clearing the Land
The couple was now ready to continue the work they had begun on their acreage. The tract had been cleared 20 years earlier by the previous owner, but had become overgrown again. They rented a backhoe and track loader for the early stages of the clearing, since the trees were so dense. They cleared enough area to move in a recreational vehicle in which they lived temporarily. They had sewer and electricity installed; had a well dug; and had loads of topsoil and gravel delivered. They used the tractor and loader to haul limbs, smooth out soil for the yard and gravel for the driveway, and to help with fence repairs. Janeth says she learned to use the equipment through trial and error, with Tom’s help.
In September 2006, the Tomlins were back at Bill’s. Janeth wanted a zero-turn-radius mower to make it easier to mow around their home. Turner talked through the options and they purchased a Hustler FasTrak. The following spring, they were again back at Bill’s, this time to trade in their 4110 and loader for a 4530 with loader. Tom wanted more horsepower. He also purchased a pallet fork attachment for his equipment repair business, which he uses to move engines from the pickup into the shop.
• Never ignore a customer. The person who seems to be window shopping may actually be ready to buy.
• Think ahead and know why your customer would buy a second tractor and a third.
• Tractors are a big purchase for most rural lifestylers. Find ways to make it an event and build your relationship with them in the process.
• Something as straightforward as being friendly and ready to sell can lead to record-setting sales.
This time, the loader message read, “Happy Birthday, Janeth.”
Tom says the dealership treats them well at trade-in time, too.
“We think we’ve been treated fairly. They’ve always been good to us,” Tom says. His diligent maintenance helps with the trade-in value.
“Our tractors are in top shape when it comes to maintenance. We’ve never had to do any repairs on any of the tractors. They’ve been the best that’s out there,” Janeth says.
Tom adds that his tractor was in such good shape that it was sold to another buyer the day they brought it in.
Maintaining Their Rural Home
Over the next few years, the Tomlins kept clearing and landscaping their acreage, moving from the RV to a mobile home to their permanent home as well as building a shop for their business. They also built a patio area that Janeth calls “Margaritaville.” Their Mahindra came in handy when she wanted to move a 700-pound barbecue pit that Tom had built from the leg of an old water tower.
Nancy Turner, a salesperson for Bill’s Tractor of San Antonio, Texas, wins customers by greeting them immediately when they enter the dealership, lis- tening to their needs and finding ways to make the purchase fun.
Bill’s Tractor of San Antonio, Texas, has sold more than 6,000 Mahindra tractors since it opened in 1992. Dealership owners are Bill and Betsy Bailes (rt.) and their son, Rick (left). Rick credits the Mahindra line and the dealership’s friendly and customer-focused attitude for its success.
“A couple of times I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ But the more blood, sweat and tears you put in, it becomes your home,” Janeth says.
They returned again and again to see Turner, purchasing a Stihl chain saw and a Stihl leaf blower.
“I’m a shopper. I love power tools. A lot of times we’ll go into Bill’s at the beginning of the summer to see the new tools and what might be on clearance.
“Nancy is ‘Johnny-on-the-spot’ with whatever we need. They treat us like we’re their number one customer,” Janeth says. “When I go to town I have a hellacious list. And if I’m making the trip to San Antonio, I want to bring back everything on my list.”
Their most recent trade-in was in 2008. They traded in the 4530, loader, and pallet fork attachment for their third Mahindra, a 5530.
Of course, the loader had a special message: “Merry Christmas, Janeth.”
Why the trade-in?
“I drove by and saw the new one. It was good looking and has a little bit more power. You can never have enough power,” Tom says.
Mani Iyer, Mahindra USA president (rt) and Cleo Franklin, vice president of marketing and strategic planning (left) present Bill and Betsy Bailes of Bill’s Tractor with the President’s Excellence Award in 2011. The dealership also was recognized for excel- lence in oil and parts sales.
User-friendly equipment is still important to Janeth. She is more experienced operating the machinery, but now copes with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. She continues to work outside as long as she feels well. She also makes jewelry and they like to travel. In addition to country life, Tom has a passion for racing top fuel motorcycles.
“I told him it was time to retire that thing. He’s crazy,” Janeth says.
A Country Day
The Tomlins continue to make their equipment work hard, as maintenance never ends. They clear fences of wild grape vines and enhance their patio area. They make time to relax around their pool with their family.
Their home is also the playground for their dogs, an English mastiff, a bull mastiff, two German Rottweilers and a miniature dachshund. This summer, their mastiffs, Nicki and Spike, gave them 15 pups.
“It’s a good life and it’s great for the kids. Fun times at mamo and grandpa’s house,” Janeth says.
Sometimes, their rural neighbors come over to visit and talk about what problems they might be having with their tractors.
“I tell them, ‘Go see Bill’s Tractor,’ ” Janeth says.
Doing What It Takes to Win a Customer
Nancy Turner jokes that her title is “best sales rep ever.” She may be joking, but one of her rural lifestyle customers would agree.
“She’s the best. She knows her product,” says Janeth Tomlin. Janeth and her husband, Tom, have purchased tractors, attachments, power tools and more from Turner at Bill’s Tractor. The Mahindra deal- ership has locations in Austin and San Antonio, Texas.
Bill and Betsy Bailes started the dealership in 1992. Bill had worked as a high school ag mechanics teacher and then owned a Volkswagen service center. His dealership started with one Mahindra tractor dropped off at their 50-acre farm in Adkins, Texas. Now, with just two locations, Bill’s Tractor is a record-setting dealership. In 2006, Mahindra honored the dealership for selling more tractors than any other dealer in company history at 487 units. They smashed that record in 2007 when they sold more than 825 units. In 20 years of selling the Mahindra line, Bill’s Tractor has sold more than 6,000 tractors.
“I don’t know what the magic is,” says Rick Bailes, son of Bill and Betsy. He does say that the dealership’s attitude plays a big role in winning and keeping customers.
“When a customer comes in, they are treated like a friend or family. My parents are passionate about helping them.”
He also credits advertising and “word-of-mouth” recommendations for brand awareness.
“Mahindra has a good product, a heavy product. It’s been a great product for us,” Rick says.
Building the Relationship
The Tomlins were already familiar with the Mahindra line and first visited with the team from Bill’s Tractor at a rodeo, where the dealership had a display. They were interested enough to visit the dealership the next day.
“The first meeting with Tom was a little lengthy because Tom knows a lot about equipment. He took his time,” says Turner. She won him over based on the tractor’s dependability, quality and Bill’s ser vice.
But, there was a catch. “He told me that he wanted me to paint ‘Happy Valentine’s Day, Janeth’ on the loader or he wasn’t buying it,” Turner says. So, while the couple ran errands, Turner had the service crew paint the message. They had the tractor out front and loader lifted so Janeth could see the message.
“She just started yelling,” Turner says. They all had a good laugh and then loaded up the tractor. Since then, the Tomlins have returned for two more tractors, complete with messages, “Happy Birthday” for the second and “Merry Christmas” for the third.
Turner says they try to make the sales process fun for their rural lifestyle customers.
“Bill started this business working with the small farmer and that has led us to working with a lot of different people in a lot of different walks of life. It’s fun learning that your customer has a new baby or they went to Alaska. This makes our day go a little easier and helps us pass the day with a smile on our face,” Turner says.
Ready to Sell
Turner and the team at Bill’s Tractor are always ready to sell.
“We don’t let our customers roam on their own. We meet them in the lobby or on the front lot not long after they get here. It’s very important to listen to what the customer plans to do with the equipment, find out how much land they have, and what type of soil they might be in. This helps us determine the horse power and if they need four- wheel drive or if four-wheel drive is just a want and not a need.
“We definitely let our customers make their own decisions based on what they are telling us, but we suggest things that have worked for others to help make things easier. Farming is not an easy thing to do and that includes our weekend farmers and ranchers,” says Turner. “We want our customers to return. We are here to help, and, in return, that’s how we make our living.”