Pictured Above: A dealership team in transition: David Stockwood (left) is Heritage Tractor’s new marketing manager. Derick McGhee (center) has the new position of integrated solutions manager. Mike Fraser is retiring from his position as executive vice president.
Heritage Tractor is hoping this spring fulfills the promise of last spring.
“Last April and May, we were going great guns. Grass was growing. The commercial people loved it,” says Mike Fraser, Heritage Tractor’s executive vice president. Then, the 2011 drought became the 2012 drought. Fraser says the only way a dealership can survive, regardless of the challenges, is to be proactive.
“We’re going after business. We want to make sure we drive business and be successful, no matter what,” says Fraser. “Spring is where hope is at its zenith. That’s when emotion comes into equipment purchases.”
Heritage Tractor is based in Baldwin City, Kan., with 10 locations in northeast Kansas and northwestern Missouri. Its rural lifestyle equipment lines include John Deere, John Deere Landscapes, Polaris, Honda and Stihl. The dealership serves rural lifestylers, commercial landscapers and production farmers. It is less than 50 miles from the metropolitan areas of Lawrence, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo.
This spring, the dealership is continuing its strategy of aggressive marketing to convince rural lifestylers that now is the time to purchase equipment. The dealership is also coping with an ongoing concern for many dealerships: finding employees and transitioning leadership duties.
Spring Marketing Plan Rolls Out
The dealership wrapped up 2012 with a holiday season push on retail products. Derick McGhee, marketing manager, used online marketing including website banner ads, coupon sites and social media to bring holiday shoppers into the dealership.
“We did see our retail sales numbers go up and our departments did a better job of stocking,” he says.
Baldwin City, Kan.
Founded: 1998, with stores also in Atchison, Lawrence, Topeka and Paola, Kan. and Clinton and Harrisonville, Mo. Heritage recently acquired another John Deere dealership and added its locations of Kansas City, Kearney and Platte City, Mo.
Location: On a main highway on the outskirts of Baldwin City, Kan., and near metro areas of Lawrence, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo.
Lines: John Deere, John Deere Landscapes, Frontier, Honda, Land Pride, Schaben Industries, Stihl and Polaris
Challenge & Solution: Heritage’s marketing and sales strategies highlight new products, solutions and special promotions to get customers back into the buying mode after two years of a drought. On the management side, the dealership tries to promote employees from within to fill positions and retain team members.
The dealership is continuing those marketing tactics and boosting its advertising to get rural lifestylers excited about purchasing equipment — and getting back to work on their properties. McGhee developed a media plan that outlines print, online, radio and TV advertising. He is working with JWT Action, a marketing agency that supports John Deere dealers and others, to develop the ads.
“It’s a diverse lineup. There’s not one solution because the customer segments we serve are so diverse,” McGhee says. The campaign kicked off in March and included advertising during the NCAA’s “March Madness” tournament. Advertising will be strong through May, slow somewhat in the summer, and build back up again in the fall. He is using corporate marketing pieces, but customizing them when he can. For instance, radio ads include the Heritage “jingle,” a musical version of the tagline, “Legendary products. Extraordinary service. That’s our Heritage.”
McGhee says smaller, rural newspapers have brought more success than larger, metro newspapers.
“People are still interested in hometown news,” he says.
Reach Customers Directly
In keeping with its proactive approach, Heritage uses several direct marketing methods. For instance, this spring, the sales and marketing team will start mining its customer database. They’ll pull names of customers who have made recent purchases and contact them through direct mail or phone calls regarding equipment upgrades.
The parts department is making similar outreach calls to customers to promote monthly service and parts specials. For instance, in April, the dealership offers utility vehicle and ATV tune-up specials. The May special is for discounted mower blade sharpening. The dealership has also established a “Top 30” list of its largest parts buyers. Parts people call these customers each month to let them know about parts specials.
Mike Fraser led strategic planning at Heritage Tractor and is now retiring. He says he achieved his goal of helping the dealership be more proactive.
One unique way the dealership promotes its service and parts specials is through its calendar. Instead of generic country scenes, the dealership held a photo contest where customers sent in photos of their own farms. The photos are featured on the calendar, along with the specials. Unlike many company calendars, Heritage’s calendars don’t sit in a stack on the service counter collecting dust. Heritage printed about 6,000 copies of the calendar — and all were handed out by early February.
McGhee says they have also looked at ways to make service buying more modern. Customers can now schedule service through Heritage’s new website. Other changes make it easier for customers to locate equipment online. (See the sidebar “Reduce ‘Clicks’ to Make Online Shopping Easier”.)
“It’s about evolving into how the customer does business today.”
Push New Equipment Lines
Heritage is promoting product lines added last year to capture as many new segments as possible.
Honda rototillers and walk-behind lawn mowers are new products that help Heritage sell to customers with smaller properties to maintain.
“The expanded lines give us new reasons to go back to our customers,” says Fraser.
The new John Deere QuikTrak commercial stand-on mower is one product they think will make a big difference in the commercial segment. This is the first year John Deere dealers will offer this mower, which is manufactured through a partnership with Wright Manufacturing.
“John Deere’s totally revamped commercial lawn mower offering is starting to appear. It’s a new direction for John Deere to go after this commercial business,” says Fraser. “This one piece of equipment will bring a significant advantage for our dealership going forward.”
The dealership will also have another chance to promote Honda walk-behind mowers and tillers, which were added last year. This equipment helps them reach customers with smaller areas to maintain. For rural lifestylers with larger acreages, they’ll present customers with equipment to help repair drought damage, such as seeders, sprayers and chain saws.
• Every new product offering gives you a new reason to reach out to customers. Sell in terms of solutions, not specifications.
• Develop a year-round marketing plan. Build in various advertising methods, but don’t forget straightforward methods, like calling customers to let them know about specials.
• Recruit and retain employees by offering career opportunities. Look for ways to promote from within the dealership.
Heritage’s partnership with John Deere Landscapes is another drought-repair selling strategy. McGhee says these add-on products of seed and fertilizer won’t be at the forefront of promotions, but they do offer selling opportunities.
“Our goal is by stocking and supporting the customer in this way it will drive sales of turf restoration equipment and our other products that we carry. There is not really a hidden agenda, just the customer experience is greater by engaging them in this way,” says McGhee.
Reduce ‘Clicks’ to Make Online Shopping Easier
Heritage Tractor’s website had the elements of a good website: appealing design, product listings and photos, location and contact information, promotions and updated content. There was one problem, though. Customers had to “click” too many times to get to the exact information they wanted — and many were giving up and leaving the site. In online marketing terms, that’s referred to as “bounce rate.”
“We looked at how long customers were staying on the site, where they were exiting and how many ‘clicks’ to get to where they wanted to be. When they wanted to shop for a lawn mower, it was taking 10 clicks to find a used mower,” says David Stockwood, the new marketing manager.
“Our old site was visually good, but we are always looking for new ways to improve ourselves. We wanted to make it easier for our customers to find equipment and to make it a more enjoyable experience to be on our site.”
Late last year, the Heritage team began working with Dealer Spike, a digital advertising and web solutions company. Dealer Spike works with dealers in the agricultural, auto, power sports and recreational vehicle industries.
Stockwood says Heritage talked through what they wanted its site to do and Dealer Spike offered ideas based on other sites it had designed. The two companies collaborated through phone calls, emails and through online screen sharing. Some of the work was more tedious, such as verifying every model listed.
“We took a lot of ideas from the old site and combined them with new ways for customers to navigate” he says.
A major change on the new site is tabs for “pre-owned inventory” and “new model showroom.”
“Whatever we did, we needed to make sure those were front and center,” Stockwood says.
They reorganized information to reduce layers and added a tab for precision agriculture. They also adjusted how the front page displays. Now, all of the dealership’s equipment lines are visible on the front page. A scrolling slide show of images helps the dealership showcase equipment and specials.
Stockwood says they are now evaluating how customers are using the site. “Every day our stats look better,” he says.
This will be the first spring season that the dealership will be selling the new recreational version of the John Deere Gator, the RSX. Also, new for the quarter is the four-seater XUV utility vehicle.
Not everything on Heritage’s lot will be new, however. Fraser says that ordering last year was based on a typical year. And, the year was anything but typical.
“Our sales decreased dramatically last year. We did offer incentives for the older models, but there was still little activity. We were aggressive in our ordering, so we have had to carry over a lot of equipment.”
The strategic plan that Fraser developed at year-end is now measuring how the teams are achieving set goals. The location managers presented goals to each store earlier this year and results are being measured monthly.
“We are taking the silos out of the business. We want everybody to understand what we are all trying to do and how it relates to our touch points with customers,” Fraser says. “We want everyone to know how sales, parts and service are interconnected.
“When the plan is working in all the areas, we have an outstanding chance of making our goals come alive,” Fraser says.
Build Leaders From Within
Fraser has led the company’s strategic planning since he joined the company three years ago. He had been Hallmark’s vice president of sales for 30 years. Now, Fraser is retiring and Heritage Tractor is searching for someone else to step in. He says it was never his plan to have a second career at the dealership, but to lead it in a new direction.
“I accomplished what I wanted to do. I came on board to add expertise. We will continue to evolve like that.”
Fraser says one thing the company won’t do is hire a replacement just to fill a void. He says his management duties will be assumed by others on the team until the dealership can find the right person. Promoting from within the dealership is one possibility.
That philosophy has brought about another transition. Derick McGhee is moving on from his role as marketing manager to the new role of integrated solutions manager.
“John Deere has identified a need in the dealer channel to address the solutions side of the business,” McGhee says. “It’s part of the vision for the long term to address how are we solving customers’ problems and ensuring that they get the Heritage Tractor and John Deere experience.”
This will be the first season for selling the new QuikTrak stand-on mower. Heritage Tractor expects it to help increase its commercial business.
Fraser says this new role in the company will leverage technology.
“Equipment is getting more and more technologically advanced. That’s where the business is headed,” says Fraser. “The dealer of tomorrow will be built through people like Derick. He will bring valued-added services to customers that are beyond steel, like technology, risk management and agronomy solutions. We want to be the total provider of solutions and the dealer of choice for more than buying equipment.”
Much of the technology today is geared toward production agriculture equipment but McGhee says there are applications for the rural lifestyle market, especially for commercial landscapers.
“We want to provide a business case for them on how they can maximize their equipment investment and we want to make it easy for them to buy,” McGhee says. This might include setting up ongoing maintenance plans and making them aware of warranty and financing options.
He says the technology will eventually make its way to rural lifestyle equipment.
“The rural lifestyle equipment is not yet as advanced, but could you put a GPS on a zero-turn and guide it? Solutions like that are too expensive now, but the time will come,” he says.
Recruit Employees by Offering Careers
David Stockwood, Heritage’s former marketing intern, has been named the new marketing manager. He’s a recent graduate of Missouri State Univ. with a degree in international business management. Stockwood says several factors influenced his decision to join the dealership, including its philosophy of promoting employees from within.
Jason Meyer of Heritage Tractor’s parts department calls customers to tell them about parts and service specials.
“It’s a stable company and the people are great. You can start a career here instead of bouncing around,” he says.
Fraser says the dealership is always looking for good employees, from service technicians to management.
“We’re constantly looking for good people to staff us in a way that meets our expectations,” he says. One obstacle is that good employees already have jobs and are not searching job listings. Another is trying to understand what is important to an employee.
“We can’t compete with how much we pay an hour. There will always be someone else offering 50 cents more,” Fraser says. “Everybody is wired differently, so it’s about figuring out what floats their boat.”
McGhee says they have to push the company’s strengths.
“We’re going to be here long term. John Deere is number one in the industry. I ask them, ‘What would it feel like to work for number two?’” he says.
Acquisition Gives Heritage Metro Connection
The dealership is undergoing more changes. It recently acquired Fries Lawn & Leisure, another John Deere dealership that had three locations closer to Kansas City. Transition plans are underway. Fraser says the acquisition supports John Deere’s corporate direction toward larger stores. For Heritage, the acquisition brings them closer to yet another segment, the metro consumer. It also offers more opportunities to reach a larger commercial landscaper market.
“This will be our first experience in the metro area. It goes back again to being proactive and serving customers,” Fraser says.
Acquisitions, new products and spring offer new potential and possibilities.
“It’s an exciting time of the year for us. Nothing today stands between us and having a successful year. I think this feeling comes from growing up on a farm. You don’t know what the year is going to hold and we always look at how we can make it better,” McGhee says.