That first warm day in the spring is usually what sets off the spring rush. After that last lawn mowing in the fall, your rural lifestyle customers have stowed their mowers in the shed and shut the door for the winter. It’s that glimpse of spring that starts them thinking about getting equipment serviced. That’s when you get the call, and then another and another and you are officially swamped. What’s frustrating is that you’ve been slow all winter and suddenly you’re booked solid six weeks out.

You may never completely eliminate the winter slump and spring rush. However, there are ways to mitigate it by encouraging customers to think ahead and get equipment in the shop when it best suits your dealership’s service schedule.

Make it Easy to Choose Service Packages

Incentives and promotions can encourage customers to have equipment serviced before they store it away for the winter or to drop it off in late winter or early spring for a pre-season tune-up.

There are many types of promotions and incentives that dealers have found successful. The key is to understand what timeframe works best for the lifestyle customer.

Donny Sanders, president of Martin Truck and Tractor, in East Columbus, Miss., says that for his rural lifestyle customers, pre-season promotions work the best.

“We think of winter service as the end-of-the-season service, where customers have their equipment checked before they put it away. But, through the years we’ve learned that the lifestyle customer doesn’t typically respond to fall or winter promotions. They get done cutting the grass in the fall, put the lawn mower in the shed and that is it until the spring. We have found they respond quite well to the pre-season specials that we run.”

B&G Equipment of Paris, Tenn., encourages rural lifestyle customers to leave the tractor with the service department for a week to 10 days. This practice has helped even the shop’s workload, allowing the dealership to work with one less service technician. Tim Brannon (left) and Michael McDaniel (rt.) are from B&G’s service department.

For Martin Truck and Tractor, those winter and pre-season specials involve discounted pick-up and delivery of equipment.

PrairieLand Partners, a dealership with 10 locations in Kansas, also offers pick-up and delivery discounts, with 50% off the charge during the winter months. Jill Meier, service writer at the dealership’s Marion, Kan., location, says that discount is one of its most popular promotions.

“Our lifestyle customers often don’t want to deal with the hassle of bringing equipment in. They don’t have the time or the proper trailer and vehicle to haul the equipment to our shop,” she says. “Allowing us to pick up the equipment during the week in the off-season, when they maybe aren’t even on the premises, means they can have their tractor or mower back and ready to go in the spring.”

PrairieLand Partners emphasizes selling service and has several programs that encourage customers to plan ahead for preventative maintenance. One selling tactic is a service catalog they produce each fall. The catalog lists specific inspection packages for specific types and models of equipment. (See “PrairieLand Partners Promotes Service with 12-Page Catalog” in the adjacent sidebar.) The catalog is professionally designed and printed and is handed out at the service desk with other product brochures as well as mailed to customers.

PrairieLand lists prices in the catalog, so customers aren’t surprised by their invoice when they bring in their utility vehicle or tractor for a pre-season inspection.

Dealer Takeaways

• Offer incentives to encourage equipment service in the fall or winter and to help balance dealership workload.

• Help customers budget for service by establishing and promoting set prices for service and inspection packages.

• Consider personal visits or telephone calls to promote seasonal service packages.

“We have set inspection package prices for the various makes and models of the equipment we sell. By listing this price up front, our customers are more comfortable bringing in their equipment for inspection in the first place,” says Meier.

PrairieLand Partners Promotes Service with 12-Page Catalog

PrairieLand Partners, a 10-store John Deere dealership in Kansas, publishes a 12-page service catalog each fall, focusing on lawn and garden service and inspection packages. It covers utility vehicles, compact and utility tractors, zero-turn mowers, walk-behind equipment, as well as compact construction equipment, such as skid steers.

The catalog provides details and prices for specific models and pieces of equipment, and lists what will be checked in the inspection.

For instance, a complete inspection for a series 1000, 2000, 3000 or 4000 John Deere compact and utility tractor costs $369. An inspection for a series 5000 tractor is $499.95. An inspection covers these tasks:

• Check and clean all filters

• Change engine oil

• Check antifreeze condition and freezing point

• Inspect radiator hoses and clamps

• Check fuel lines for cracks or weathering

• Check battery fluid level and
clean cables

• Adjust fan belt and check pulleys

• Check hydraulic and transmission oil

• Check wheel bolts

• Grease machine

The catalog also describes all of the on-going service promotions that the dealership runs, such as the “1-2-3 Program” for volume discounts on equipment inspections and the hauling discount.

For commercial mowing customers, it also outlines the PARTS OnSite program, which places parts cabinets on site that the dealership stocks regularly.

Developing a professional catalog that focuses solely on service offerings may not be in the budget for many smaller dealerships. However, the catalog gives credibility and shows the importance of service, which can help with the sale.

Other dealerships, like Martin Truck and Tractor, offer free inspections as an incentive.

“By doing these inspections, we often find things that need to be repaired outside of what the owner was originally asking about,” Sanders says. “We will bring this to the attention of the owner and let him make the decision on whether or not we do that repair as well,” says Sanders.

Sanders says this typically results in an additional 25-30% in sales per service ticket. Plus, he says that noticing a major problem early, before the homeowner experiences a breakdown, gives the dealership the opportunity to talk trade-in on a new machine in a more relaxed situation.

“If they bring us equipment in the off-season, we have plenty of time to work with it. And if there is a problem, we will bring it to the owner’s attention. They are not rushed to make a decision, so they can go ahead and fix the problem or they might say, ‘Wait a minute, if I am going to spend that kind of money, I might consider trading in the machine for a newer model.’ ”

Incentives Balance Workload

Offering incentives for customers to have their equipment serviced in the winter months, also balances the workload in the shop. For the customer, this helps eliminate long waits during the season and possibly even emergency service fees. For the dealer, it helps keep the shop profitable throughout the entire year.

Tim Brannon, owner of B&G Equipment in Paris, Tenn., says his dealership offers year-round parts and labor discounts to its lifestyle customers who are willing to leave equipment at the shop for a week or 10 days. Since about 40% of their business is large, full-time agricultural producers, they have found that this system provides the flexibility to serve both customer segments better.

“This is the best system we have found that allows us to balance our service load between the professional farmers, who we have to keep up and running, and the lifestyle customer, who doesn’t depend on his equipment to make a living.”

Brannon says they will offer a 10% discount on parts and labor during the winter months and a 5% discount in the summer if the customer lets them determine the timeframe of the repair.

He also acknowledges that common wisdom says that you should not discount your labor. However, this system has actually allowed the dealership to save labor costs.

“This has allowed us to keep the workload steadier and we have found that we can run with one less technician,” Brannon says.

Not having to rush jobs out the door for rural lifestyle customers also helps Brannon take advantage of the most favorable parts freight prices from manufacturers.

“If we aren’t on a particular schedule to fix a customer’s tractor, and we have to order an expensive part for its repair, we can now include it with a stock order and take advantage of the manufacturer’s freight program or other discounts that they have. Or we can combine orders and instead of ordering a $35 part and having it shipped next day, we can place it on a stock order as some manufacturers will offer reduced freight or won’t charge freight at all.”

For some dealerships, incentives aren’t enough to get people through the door. They need more aggressive selling methods.

PrairieLand Partners’ professionally produced service catalog helps put service on par with the rest of the offerings of the Kansas-based dealership.

Washington Tractor, for instance, has a lot of competition in its region. The dealership is located in Lynden, Wash., and is a full-line John Deere dealer serving both the agricultural and lifestyle market. Lynden is located about 100 miles north of Seattle. The city has a population of about 12,000 people.

“We are in a small town here and we have a lot of competition. There is an International dealership, a Ford dealership and a Kubota dealership all in close proximity to ours,” says Sharon Van Dalen, the dealership’s service administrator.

One of the things they hope to begin doing soon to increase service business is to have a customer service representative call on existing ag and lifestyle customers to check in and cement the relationship.

“We hope to have a customer service representative go out and personally visit customers to visit with them about our winter specials and show them that there are some good deals to be had if they plan ahead,” she says.

Several dealers say this personal touch — whether it’s an in-person phone call or an actual visit — is an important, but sometimes overlooked, part of the service sale. Developing these relationships makes people feel good about their decision to invest in sales and service.

Sell Service at Equipment Sales

PrairieLand’s Meier says they also sometimes sell service packages at the time of the initial sale.

“Selling service packages with the initial sale allows the customer to wrap the cost of the service in with the financing,” she says. “Usually, this means two or three inspection services, and we typically limit it to the warranty period of the machine, so that we can take advantage of the warranty window.”

PrairieLand also encourages its customers to bring in multiple pieces of equipment for service. Customers who participate in the “1-2-3 Program” can get cumulative inspection discounts. Customers pay full price for the first inspection, but for the second, they receive a 15% discount on both the first and second inspection. For the third piece, they receive a 20% inspection discount on all three pieces of equipment.

Use Print, Online Promos

There is not one magic solution for getting the word out to customers regarding the various programs, packages and incentives that dealers offer. The most common method is direct mail, which may include coupons that customers must redeem to take advantage of the program. The coupon approach helps dealers measure the effectiveness of each direct mail campaign. Many dealerships will stagger the mailings to avoid the potential onslaught of service calls.

Social media is another growing method for promoting service specials. Many dealerships use Facebook pages to advertise specials. Traditional media outlets are an option as well. Newspaper and radio advertisements, placed and timed strategically, can be very effective in getting service business through the door.

For instance, PrairieLand’s Meier says they run radio advertisements specifically targeted to the lifestyle customer, specifically focused on service.

“In our radio ads, we stress the fact that we can pick up and haul any size or piece of equipment and we also talk about fast parts availability,” she says

Radio advertising appeals to a larger audience than the typical agricultural customer that they normally see in the dealership and helps encourage the large property owner to call on them for service.