Your rural lifestyle visitors may have little or no experience in operating farm equipment. And while their knowledge of farming operations is limited, their desire is incredible. And they enter your store seeking answers from you the expert.

Be a Safety Champion

Lifestylers assume that the “slow-moving” farm equipment presents little danger. It is your job and your responsibility, however, to explain how to safely operate the equipment. And you must drive home that the equipment is a tool, not a toy.

Delivery of the new tractor should include instructions on seat belts (“always wear them”) and rollbars (“don’t take them off”). And while it may seem obvious, make sure that they know never to travel with the loaded bucket or forks raised to their highest position.

One of the most important things you offer to customers is operation know-how. First, each employee must be an ambassador of safe equipment operations and understand every piece of equipment on the lot. Lifestylers who watch an employee misoperate equipment will assume that’s the way to do it, and will emulate those actions on their own land.

"One of the most important things you offer is safety and operation know-how."

Whether it’s with a tractor, zero-turn mower or small power equipment, each customer deserves a training session on the proper handling of the equipment they purchased. Suppliers offer videos and other resources to help.

Safety Training & Return Visits

The training the lifestyler receives at the time of purchase is often forgotten by the time the equipment arrives, and bad habits develop easily. Underscoring the importance of safe operation can be done in a fun way that will drive home the earlier lessons.

Conducting a monthly seminar for recent buyers (send an RSVP card to make it an exclusive invitation) that coincides with the seasonal use of products is an excellent way to get customers involved and educated — and coming back to your store. Such seminars often include a video followed by a field demo. Small group formats are ideal since they encourage questions and full participation.

One of the best examples I’ve seen is at Klenk’s Tractor, Marshall, Texas. Realizing lifestylers’ lack of operating knowledge, John Klenk started “Klenk’s Tractor Driving Academy,” which he offers on nights and weekends. Klenk starts with the basics and assumes they know nothing about driving a tractor.

“It starts with a walk-around of the tractor,” says Klenk, noting that he uses terms like “pre-takeoff checklist” since many lifestyle customers are commercial pilots. I always ask, ‘How many seats are on the tractor?’ They usually come up with the correct answer,” he says. Only after this point is understood does he allow them to turn the key and start driving.

After starting slow, drivers are allowed to gradually increase speed until they’re driving at the speed for the tasks they wish to complete. He also spends a lot of time on operations foreign to them, such as PTO speed. “They’re smart and will catch up quickly,” he says.

His course includes flat ground and some rolling terrain, “much like what they’ll encounter on their own place,” he says. “Most customers are concerned about hills, and we spend as much as time as necessary to get them comfortable and safe on them.”

Your concern over customers’ safety and walking them through the operation of equipment can differentiate your dealership from other choices in town. Customers recognize when a sales force is well-versed in the operation of equipment that they sell. When they feel that this knowledge and experience is found only at your store, you’ll find them continually coming back.

Originally published in the Fall 2007 issue of Rural Lifestyle Dealer.