Dealers have spoken and the rural lifestyle market outlook is good — not outstanding — but good. This is according to results from our sixth annual Dealer Business Trends & Outlook survey. A majority of dealers say 2013 results should be as good as or better than last year, but no significant increases in revenue.

I think we’d all take “as good as or better” after surviving a record-setting drought and nearly falling off a fiscal cliff.

However, the year gives you 12 months of opportunities to improve that outlook even further at your dealership. I think it comes down to not taking “no” for an answer from the economy, the weather or other obstacles blocking your dealership’s growth. Instead, find ways to say to customers, “Yes, we offer that.” Heritage Tractor, of Baldwin City, Kan., took that approach when it faced the second year of a drought. The dealership team, armed with its two-year and five-year strategic plan, has this attitude:

“We dig deeper and look at actions to get us on track or deal with things out of our control, like the drought. We don’t just take the fork in the road that says ‘Woe is me,’ ” says Mike Fraser, Heritage Tractor’s executive vice president.

Those actions involved adding new business segments, such as Honda walk-behind mowers and generators and John Deere Landscapes, to find customers who were still buying, even if they weren’t mowing.

Read more of Heritage’s business strategies in our “Season-to-Season” feature. We’ll return to Heritage throughout the year to see how they meet the challenges each season throws at them.

The idea of knowing what your customers want is an ongoing challenge for all businesses. In our exclusive interview with Tractor Supply, President and Chief Executive Officer Greg Sandfort shares how the company learns about its customers. They’ve taken that knowledge and focused their business model on “consumable, usable and edible “products, at value prices.

Sandfort shares comments, too, about the importance of knowing what the company isn’t, including its decision to not add a service component.

That fact brings up an interesting finding from our Business Trends & Outlook survey. Competition from Tractor Supply and similar stores ranked number eight of 10 on dealers’ roster of concerns for 2013. Dealers are coexisting with large competitors, with service being the holy grail of differentiation.

We’ll take a closer look at other strategies that differentiate you from the competition, help you operate more efficiently, and achieve your goals in our new “Best Practices” online series. We’ll talk to dealers with field-tested approaches and experts with new ideas to tackle some of your most pressing management issues. Sign up for our eBrief newsletter at to have the series delivered to your inbox. We’ll also post them online.