This is the third installment in Rural Lifestyle Dealer’s “Season-to-Season” feature with Heritage Tractor. Challenges this summer: Find new ways to partner with customers on equipment, parts and service.

The summer sales season may have been delayed by a late spring, but the customers in Heritage Tractor’s territory are in the buying mode. The team is now making sure those equipment, service and parts dollars are spent at its 10 locations in northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri.

“You can buy equipment from anybody, but not every company offers solutions. The quality equipment from John Deere does not engage a customer solely with Heritage Tractor. You still have the opportunity to go to another ‘green’ dealer,” says Derick McGhee, Heritage’s integrated solutions manager. McGhee’s new position was created this past spring to develop branding and relationship-building programs.

This summer, the dealership team is leveraging special events and new service and parts programs to cement customer relationships and grow revenues.

Optimistic Shoppers Provide Opportunity

What a difference a year makes.

“Last year we had an entire season moved forward. What should have started in March, started in February and then the drought came and nobody was spending any dollars,” says McGhee, referring to last year’s early spring and sales-devastating drought.

This spring, the area received much-needed moisture, but the cooler temperatures delayed spring mowing and outside projects. McGhee says the dealership can’t get sidetracked by the unpredictable weather.

Heritage Tractor,
Baldwin City, Kan.

Founded: 1998, with stores also in Atchison, Kansas City, Kearney, Lawrence, Topeka and Paola, Kan. and Clinton, Harrisonville, 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 Tractor strives to convince customers to both purchase John Deere and purchase from the dealership. Special events and new service and parts programs promote the dealership as a brand.

“From a sales point of view, it’s important to look at trends. You can’t look at just month to month or even year to year, but about how your business is trending,” he says. “We focus largely on specific model segment growth, market share and gross margin trends. These metrics truly allow us to forecast and measure our business. The consistency of these metrics allows us to gauge year-after-year performance.”

And, the trend looks good. “This spring has been strong for sales. We’ve seen a lot more premium buyers than in years past and seeing a lot more of the big box store type purchases,” says McGhee, referring to increased sales of its X300 Select Series lawn tractor over its D100 series of lawn tractors. They are also seeing more attachment upgrades being purchased, such as dump carts, rear blades and loaders.

Ready to Purchase

Heritage Tractor’s Drive Green event at its Harrisonville, Mo., location brought in new and existing customers. Some were just looking, but others were serious about buying. For instance, Everett Fields of Urich, Mo., is a retired farmer and truck driver. He recently sold the equipment from his sideline contract baling business. He has been a Heritage customer at the Clinton, Mo., location.

Heritage Tractor held two Drive Green events for rural lifestylers this past spring. Carefully timed advertising and direct marketing help draw in customers.

“I’ve farmed all my life and I’ve always had a tractor,” Fields says. “If I’m buying, it’s going to be green. My dad owned John Deeres, my brother owned John Deeres and I’ve owned John Deeres.”

These days, he’s mainly looking for a tractor to mow his acreage. He’ll use his existing Bush Hog mower, but will probably purchase a loader as well.

Kevin Jones, of Smithville, Mo., is new to the rural lifestyle and has never owned a tractor before. He and his family own 11 acres and need equipment to mow and clear trees.

“I’m looking at engine response, comfort and the ease of adding attachments,” he says. He had been working with the sales team at the Platte City location and came over to the event at Harrisonville. Eventually, he may consider purchasing a loader, too.

Dave Vandeberg is part of the landscaping crew for Calvary Bible College in Kansas City, Mo. He mows 68 acres for the college. The college leases two 72-in. John Deere riding mowers. This year, the lease includes a parts cabinet, which he considers a major benefit since he maintains the machines.

Vandeberg says his dealer relationship is more important than the manufacturer. He drives 5 miles farther to work with the Harrisonville dealership.

“I’m on and other discussion groups. People are always asking ‘Which mower is the best?’ My standard response is the one where you have the best relationship with your dealer. Machines are going to break down and I need a dealer who is going to take care of us,” Vandeberg says.

Top sellers this season for rural lifestylers also include the X500 and X700 series lawn tractors and the 1 series subcompact utility tractors. Commercial cutters are especially interested in the new QuikTrak stand-on mowers. Heritage is seeing strong interest in used equipment, too, with the dealership’s new website driving that interest.

“We’re seeing an increase in email and Internet leads for used equipment. That has really picked up in the last few months. We might get 6-10 leads a day. A lot of people are feeling positive and a lot more are interested in checking out equipment and spending dollars this year,” says David Stockwood, marketing manager.

The new website features pre-owned inventory prominently on the home page. Customers can browse inventory, request a quote or send in an email request.

New Service Offering

Heritage is building on its strong sales with a new service program.

“We’re putting together extended maintenance plans on the integrated solutions side of the business. We always run winter specials, but we wanted to put together some extended maintenance options and brand those unique to our dealer organization,” McGhee says. “We see it as a great opportunity to engage with customers after the sale.”

The new program for rural lifestylers bundles several years of maintenance with discounts, along with pickup and delivery discounts. McGhee is developing a special name for the program and other elements to generate interest and make sure it’s linked to the Heritage brand. A similar program is being developed for the commercial landscapers that will offer extended maintenance and priority service response times.

Dave Vandeberg (right) is part of the landscaping crew for Calvary Bible College in Kansas City. He tested out new mowers with his friends, Daron (left), Alex (middle) and Trevor.

McGhee sought input from customers to develop the program. “I had discussions with customers and visited commercial landscapers to find out the best way to fulfill their needs and go beyond what their expectations are for Heritage Tractor.”

Heritage wants to make sure the program delivers on its promise, so they are working with John Deere to integrate these new service agreements into its existing business management system. “We better deliver the first time to the customer, so it’s vital to have a tracking system in place,” McGhee says.

Parts Program Speeds Delivery

This commitment to delivery is evident in Heritage’s new parts program. The dealership has equipped a special van and hired a driver to deliver parts to its northern locations one day and to southern locations the next day. The program helps with inventory management and customer service.

“As our organization continues to grow, we have continual challenges as it relates to inventory. We want to maximize our inventory dollars and make better use of what’s sitting on the shelf.

Retired farmer Everett Fields checks out equipment at a Drive Green event. He recently sold all his equipment and needs a tractor mainly for mowing.

“John Deere has a good system to get inventory, but when a customer is standing across the parts counter they want that part yesterday,” McGhee says.

He says each location will always stock common parts, such as mower blades. But, for higher priced items, like a transmission for a compact tractor or cab windows, they can stock 1 or 2 for the organization.

The new parts route ensures customers receive the part in a timely manner and avoid rush shipping charges. Heritage’s vice president of parts oversees the deliveries, which are tracked in the existing business system.

“We didn’t re-invent the wheel. Some other dealers are already doing this, but we fit it into our business model,” McGhee says.

Special Events Build Relationships

Heritage takes a similar approach to its special events, such as the Drive Green demo events for rural lifestylers. They have the usual elements, such as food, tents, signs, lots of equipment to demo, and salespeople on hand. However, Jerry Stanton, John Deere project manager and instructor for tactical marketing, describes it this way: “They do everything first class.”

Stanton attends Drive Green events nationwide, offering customer training and dealership support.

He says Heritage is especially good at advertising, relating to the rural lifestyle customer and making sure they have lots of equipment to test drive.

“They look at the compact utility customer as a true business with great opportunity for them,” Stanton says.

Marketing manager David Stockwood advertises the dealership’s special events in several ways, including radio advertising, direct mail post cards and phone calls. As an incentive, the dealership offered $500 off the purchase of a tractor.

Dealer Takeaways

• Be creative with parts and service packages to offer a compelling solution for your customer.

• Think of your dealership as a brand, not just the equipment you sell.

• Find ways to extend the reach of a special event, such as phone calls before and thank you notes after the event.

• Leverage your entire dealership team for sales support and internal training.

Finding the right timing to market special events can be tricky. Stockwood says it’s best to start contacting people about 10 days before the event.

“We want to keep it top of mind, but I know that I don’t plan my weekends a month ahead.”

Follow-up is also built into the event planning. For instance, Stockwood sends thank you notes to customers who entered to win the national Drive Green giveaway, a 1023E tractor with loader and rear grooming mower.

“I want them to know we appreciated them coming and hope they enjoyed their time at the event.

It also is a way to support our busy salespeople,” he says, referring to the follow-up contact being made early and the sales team following up later.

Integrating New Stores

In addition to its special events and new customer programs, Heritage Tractor also integrated three new stores when it acquired Fries Lawn & Leisure this spring. The acquisition gives better access to commercial landscapers in the Kansas City area.

McGhee says any acquisition brings challenges. “They were not on our same business system. There was a learning curve with our sales and service processes. You will never grow consistently if you don’t have processes.”

The store’s existing manager stayed, which eased the transition for the employees and the dealership. Sales and management employees from Heritage’s other locations trained the staff on Heritage’s processes and shadowed them for a few days in the store. There was also online training with John Deere educational programs.

Transitioning the business system took several weeks as data was entered into Heritage’s existing system and the old system was discontinued.

Stockwood notified customers of the acquisition through ads in the local newspaper, signage in the stores and through social media. The Drive Green events also gave salespeople a chance to talk about the acquisition and the Heritage brand.

“We wanted to bring the new locations under the Heritage Tractor umbrella and deliver the same Heritage Tractor experience that we strive for in our other locations,” McGhee says.

Salesperson’s View of Customer Service

JD St.Clair began his career as a service technician and it’s that service mentality that guides him in his current role as a salesperson. He’s based at Heritage Tractor’s Harrisonville, Mo., location.

“Anybody can sell someone equipment, but if you can take care of them with service and parts you’ve got a long-time customer,” St.Clair says. After a sale, he introduces his customers to contacts in the service and parts department.

“You have to leverage your team. You can’t rely just on yourself or you’ll run yourself ragged.”

St.Clair sells to ag and rural lifestyle equipment customers and says rural lifestylers offer unique challenges. They often do significant research before coming into the dealership, but still need help in finding the right machine for them.

“Nine times out of 10 they know more about the product than you do. They know exactly what they want, but you have to make sure it’s exactly what they need because if it doesn’t work, they’ll be upset with you.”

St.Clair relies on demos and special events to show off the equipment and to build rapport. He participates in more than 10 large events a year and many smaller ones. The Harrisonville dealership hosts three large demo events a year and Heritage participates in a large landscaper event at Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. They look for non-traditional ways to find people with property, who might need tractors, trailers or other equipment. For instance, they displayed equipment at a large auction for expensive classic and collector cars.

St.Clair knows that people may just come to the events for the free food or giveaways — and he’s OK with that.

“I leverage the free food to no end and don’t worry about it. If they are here, they took the time to be here and our name is getting out there,” he says. It’s a way to show off the equipment’s advantages to new customers. For existing customers, it’s a way to upsell new equipment.

He says rural lifestylers are ready to buy this season.

“They’re seeing the economy get better and they like the financing. We’ve been pushing it hard,” he says.

St.Clair has been particularly successful with customer referrals. “You build trust and then you have a good track record and they believe what you’re talking about.”