If good fences make good neighbors, then post hole diggers can be a rural lifestyler’s best friend. These labor-saving tools have also been good friends to equipment dealers for decades. With the options offered by the new generation of post hole diggers, homeowners and dealers have more reasons to get to know this equipment.

Today, diggers come in different sizes and styles, namely, PTO-driven and hydraulic versions, each of which has advantages that suit different customer needs. Product knowledge and understanding how the customer will use the post hole digger will help dealers improve their sales efforts.

The hydraulic digger fits the demographic of J Gross Equipment’s customers. The Aberdeen, S.D., dealership has been selling them since they started business in 1989. The advantages of the hydraulic digger are efficiency, versatility and mobility, says Shane Hardie of the sales team.

“Efficiency and mobility are big for our buyers. Hydraulic post hole diggers fit on the front of a skid loader and the whole thing sits on a trailer,” says Hardie.

Henderson Implement, formerly known as Boone County Equipment, serves both ag and rural lifestyle markets, so it carries the two types of diggers to serve customers with different needs. According to Eric Farrens in the sales department, 75-80% of the dealership’s customers come in knowing what they want. Nevertheless, the sales staff queries customers about how the diggers will be used to determine what they really need.

Similarly, Todd Gilliland, co-owner of Farm Implement and Supply in Plainview, Kan., says his staff solicits information from customers in order to better assist them.

Gene Johnson (left), store manager at Farm Implement and Supply, Plainview, Kan., demonstrates the benefits of a post hole digger to a rural lifestyle customer.

“If a customer wants a digger, we ask what size they need. We sell the right digger. We look at pounds per torque and the machine it’s being hooked up to in order to determine if they need the standard or heavy-duty model,” Gilliland says.

Coleman Equipment in Bonner Springs, Kan., also carries both types, but, according to John Coleman, of the sales department, they sell more hydraulic diggers because they fit on skid steer loaders.

“Most of our customers use a loader, even farmers with bigger tractors, 50 horsepower and up,” he says. “The drawback with the PTO is they’re awkward and are hard to hook up and store.”

Ninety-five percent of the post hole diggers sold at Farm Implement are hydraulic for the same reasons. Even on tractors, Gilliland notes, “it’s just easier to hook up.” Many of his customers are retired couples with small operations, so they have an additional concern: price. That’s why his staff asks customers, “How many holes are you digging?”

If the customer doesn’t dig a lot of holes and wants to save money, the PTO might be a better choice because PTO units cost less, he explains.

Stock to Sell

Sales are predetermined by the end user, says Hardie. Because a customer knows if he needs an auger or not — and because $2,500-$2,800 is “not a major expense” — he says augers are easy to sell.

Danuser’s EP series heavy-duty auger system is mounted to a skid steer quick attach front-end loader using an offset mount allowing the operator to see the auger.

“I sold 12-15 [Edge augers] last fall with no sales pitch,” he says. “They sell themselves.”

If customers are unsure, he relies on personal experience to guide them. Before he started selling farm equipment, Hardie logged 13 years working for an electrical contractor, during which time he personally dug 4,000 holes, so he recognizes equipment quality and durability.

“We don’t spend a lot of time pushing them,” Hardie indicates. Instead, he relies on the reputation of the digger and his dealership. “There are no middle-of-the-road attachments.”

“We chose CE Attachments because it’s a brand with a solid reputation for quality and durability — characteristics important to our customers.” The company’s 1650 CL model is built tough, Hardie explains, which is why it accounts for 9.9 out of every 10 sales. It also fits a lot of machines, making it a versatile choice to stock, says Hardie.

While Farrens doesn’t necessarily believe that augers sell themselves, he says his customers either want them or they don’t.

“You can’t talk a guy into it if he doesn’t have a need in [the next] 30-60 days,” Farrens says.

But if he does need it, you better have it in stock. They are an impulse item, Gilliland believes, so it’s important to have them on hand. Farm Implement has as many as 25 in stock at any time.

“People want to dig holes today — maybe it’s a nice day or they have help on hand. If they have to wait two weeks to get an auger, they’ll either lose the mood or go elsewhere to get it. Keeping them in stock results in sales,” Gilliland says.

Even those who plan ahead can’t wait a few extra days for a digger if an emergency occurs. Storms and wildlife may knock down fences or things can go awry in the middle of a project.

“Some farmers build fences with Amish crews,” Farrens explains. “If something breaks or goes wrong, they can’t afford downtime, the same as in construction. If they have to wait, they shut down.”

J Gross Equipment has been selling post hole diggers since starting business in 1989. J Gross employees, from left to right: Jeff Ross, Bryce Smid, Greg Kopecky, Mark Schaeffer and Shane Hardie.

Therefore, it’s imperative to have inventory in stock, or minimally, the ability to acquire products quickly.

Being able to supply post hole diggers when customers want them is critical. As Farrens explains, ag dealerships are already at a disadvantage because of store hours. “We lose sales to the guy who gets off work at 5, the weekend warrior, the impulse buyer, when we’re not open.”

Reliability is crucial and comes in many forms, from inventory availability to product performance. Farm Implement is a third-generation family company and Gilliland has been in this business all his life. They chose the Rhino brand because the product is good and the manufacturer stands behind its products.

Henderson, based in Columbia, Mo., since 1937, already did business with Danuser, so choosing its diggers was an easy decision. “It’s a partnership based on reputation,” Farrens states. “The customer isn’t buying just an auger; he’s buying Danuser… and he’s buying Henderson.”

Letting customers know about service is vital because it’s an advantage a dealer can offer. “You can’t call [competing box stores] for help if something goes wrong. They’re selling cheaper, which hurts our sales because people gamble on cheaper if they don’t use them a lot. But cheap brands can’t be repaired like ours can,” Farrens says.

Henderson’s prices aren’t much higher than large retailers, according to Farrens. Even if their prices aren’t the lowest, they can still get the sale by offering more.

“We sell service: delivery, setup, repair,” he says.

Not only is it important to remind customers of the service they get by purchasing a digger from a dealership, it’s also essential simply to remind customers that the dealership carries them. Keeping a few augers on tractors offers a visual reminder, Farrens suggests.

Farm Implement keeps one set up outside on a rack or skid steer.

“People want to see it,” Gilliland says. They also want to see literature that lists sizes and other detailed information, so he makes sure to keep brochures in the showroom.

For Sale or Rent

For some dealers, rental is a liability that leads to problems. For others, rental is a good introduction to a sale.

Dealer Takeaways

• Stocking a quality post hole digger prevents problems for the customer.

• Stock a variety of post hole diggers, light, medium and heavy duty augers, and a variety of bit sizes to capture more sales.

• Renting post hole diggers or packaging them with tractor purchases is a gateway to increasing sales.

• Watch for seasonal sales opportunities for fencing, landscaping and remodeling projects.

Often, small farmers or rural lifestylers rent augers because they think they’ll need it only once. They can rent for a day or a weekend; they can even keep it for a week.

“If they use it once or twice, they usually end up wanting to buy,” Coleman says.

In the majority of cases, a customer will discover many uses for a digger, from fence posts to footings to holes for trees.

“People find they need them more than expected,” Gilliland says. Located in “tornado alley” in Kansas, Farm Implement sees many customers with fences in need of repair after trees fall on them. “We sell more augers for fixing old fences than for putting in new fences.”

“They’re going to find more stuff to do than they anticipated,” Hardie insists. He says it’s smart business to sell to customers interested in renting. His question to rental customers is, “Why keep renting?” Instead, he suggests building equity by purchasing an auger. Having a digger on site also saves valuable time.

“People want to get things done efficiently. They have other things to do,” Hardie says.

After a few rentals, many customers realize they should buy their own digger. If they don’t, Coleman Equipment staff calls customers with a long-term rental to suggest a purchase. “If they have it a month, we call. Clearly, they have a big need for an auger and should consider buying,” Coleman says.

That’s where a dealer’s flexibility comes in. By keeping a lot of diggers in its rental fleet, Coleman Equipment can cover rentals and sales.

“We sell out of our rental fleet. Converting a rental to a purchase saves the customer money,” he says.

Turning a rental into a sale is an affordable option for customers and a profitable one for dealers. Some customers ask for slightly used equipment at a discount, Coleman says. If he can make a 50% return on rental, Coleman offers a discount for purchase.

“We like to pass along the savings; it encourages some customers to buy.”

Offer a Package Deal

Another incentive to encourage sales is to offer a package deal. Coleman sometimes includes a post hole digger in a tractor package if it fits the needs of his customer. The family business founded by his grandfather in 1940 started as a Case dealership, but now sells Kubota. Tractor sales comprise a significant part of its business.

Adding an attachment to a tractor sale is a natural. That’s why Henderson employees talk about attachments when they sell tractors. Most of Henderson’s customers are medium to large farms, Farrens says, so he asks how they plan to use them in order to suggest the right tools.

Customers often buy a tractor for a specific purpose. In those instances, they often buy the attachments they need at the same time. By qualifying a customer, he can offer the best deal with a custom package.

“If they’re buying a tractor, we usually get that [auger] sale,” Farrens says.

Because skid steers are J Gross’ “bread and butter” and because they want to be a one-stop shop for their customers, they also put together package deals sometimes even throwing in an attachment at cost to get the sale.

The top three things that go with skid steer loaders are buckets, pallet forks and augers, says Gilliland, who sells an average of 25 diggers a year. He compares the New Holland bi-directional tractors that Farm Implement carries with skid loaders, and says they sell a lot of diggers to go on the front of them.

Attachment sales may not provide a huge margin, Hardie notes, but they supplement business and create residual sales because bits and hydraulic hoses wear out.

Bits offer opportunities for big sales, Coleman confirms. Many of his customers buy augers with 12-inch bits, but also may need 18-inch bits. That gives the dealership an additional sales opportunity.

Henderson’s customers generally buy at least two sizes of bits, Farrens says. The most common are 18 inches and 24 inches, but some customers also buy 36-inch or 42-inch tapered bits to dig rounded holes for planting trees.

Similarly, Rhino augers are sold with 9-inch bits, although 12- and 15-inch are also popular.

“We couldn’t keep the doors open [by] selling just augers, but they’re good for add-on sales,” Gilliland agrees.

Seasonal Sales Opportunities

Augers are typically used for digging holes for trees, fences and footings for decks, piers or utility poles — projects that need to be completed before winter temperatures freeze the ground.

Spring and summer are the biggest seasons for Kansas dealers Coleman Equipment and Farm Implement, but not just because of temperature.

“Customers aren’t working in the winter, but spring is a big sales time, especially after a bad winter that knocks out fences,” Gilliland explains. Sales are contingent on weather. Rain can wash out a fence. Fall can also be a busy time, particularly for farmers trying to replace corral posts before the cold weather strikes.

For Henderson, winter can add seasonal sales.

Although production farmers buy equipment whenever they have available funds, the hobby farmer waits until winter to buy, hoping for a deal because “sales are slow and they think salesmen are starving.”

Farrens turns that to his advantage by informing customers that because steel, fuel and iron are going up in price, auger prices will follow. Therefore, the time to buy is now.

Whatever the sales pitch, Gilliland recognizes that the more people who are authorized to sell diggers, the more sales will result.

Farm Implement and Supply has three to four salespeople, but they also empower parts counter people to sell, he says. “They have the prices, the product knowledge and the personal experience to sell.”

They’re putting it all together to make sales; post hole diggers are often sold over the parts counter at Farm Implement. Make it easy to sell, Gilliland summarizes, and the sales will come.