This survey marks the 7th time Rural Lifestyle Dealer has polled dealers, giving our readers the most comprehensive analysis in the industry. A look back at our 2008 survey offers an interesting perspective. Dealers were positive, despite “economic malaise dominating the headlines,” wrote our executive editor Dave Kanicki. What were they positive about? Power hand tools. Six years ago, that category topped the list of 21 product groups that dealers thought would have the same or improved sales from the previous year. The list topper for 2014, zero-turn mowers, weren’t yet recognized as a breakout category 6 years ago.Dealers have spoken and the numbers are in: Our 2014 Dealer Business Trends & Outlook survey forecasts that 2014 will be better than 2013. So, if your 2013 was already good, you’re again making solid gains. And, if your 2013 revenues were down, chin up. You have a good chance of gaining ground this year.

A comparison of these two categories shows how the rural lifestyle market has matured. Today’s rural lifestylers want machines, not just tools — and they want models comparable to those used by professional landscapers.

Dealers have already adapted by devoting salespeople to the segment. Chris Frodel, vice president of Mid-State Equipment, Janesville, Wis., raised the idea of another possible shift in the sales process. Frodel serves on our first-ever editorial advisory board. (See “Rural Lifestyle Dealer Names Editorial Advisory Board” on page 8.)

“We’re restructuring our sales process and making our sales team account managers. This is to ensure we have the right people calling on the right accounts,” Frodel says. “We want them to get out of the old habit of being in the store and get them to start calling on new accounts.”

Eric Roach, general manager of S&H Farm Supply of Joplin, Mo., offers this thought on just what some of those new accounts could be. “If you live in our area and if you have 500 acres or less, you’re a rural lifestyler because you’re not making a living at it.”

That statement indicates the breadth of the market: from homeowners with less than an acre to someone with hundreds of acres.

We were impressed by the honesty and dialogue among the board. They shared their struggles with the details of running a dealership. For instance, we discussed the basic process of sales, such as the need for written procedures and developing rural lifestyle-focused sales processes.

The dealers shared concerns about upholding warranties as a drag on their dealerships — not being reimbursed enough for the time spent. Communication, incentivizing techs and employee management were other concerns.

Rural lifestyle dealers today are in a unique position to grow their dealerships. Jamie Trinchitella, turf salesperson with AgriVision, says this: “Take the Gator [UTV]. It’s astonishing how many of those we can sell. Next year, we’ll sell more and the next year we’ll sell even more.”

However, that growth will only be sustainable if dealers master the basics, the details of being efficient. There’s no time to waste as you tighten up your dealership’s policies and procedures. “You’ve got to be fast. It’s all about speed and being able to adapt,” says Roach.

We look forward to working with our advisory board this year to share those strategies for efficiency and excellence. And, thank you to all the dealers who participated in our 2014 survey. Here’s to a profitable 2014!