Pancake breakfasts or barbecues have been the ‘go-to’ draw for many dealerships as a way to encourage customers to come in to see new equipment. Hiawatha Implement had followed the same approach for many years. “It would have been pancakes at a community building in Hiawatha. Past turnout was considered unacceptable. A day was spent preparing and the events were started first thing in the morning and it was difficult to get customers interested,” says Nicholas Blevins, integrated solutions manager for the dealership, which has locations in Hiawatha, Kan., and Mound City, Mo.
Hiawatha Implement and Horizon Equipment teamed up on a New Product Expo at the Civic Arena in St. Joseph, Mo. Dozens of pieces of equipment were on display, including lawn and garden, small ag, production ag and precision ag technology.
The meetings were normally followed up with clinics in the spring and fall — and plans were to do the same thing this year.
“We were planning new technology clinics on GPS tools and Apex (farm management software). I was having a lot of conversations with our new sales manager, Chad Gormley, and we started brainstorming ideas in December. The decision was made to roll the events all up into one big event,” says Blevins. This “big event” needed a completely different approach.
"The priority was getting selected customers in at once to see the tractors and start pressing buttons — see the tractors in real time,” Blevins says. He began researching outside venues that could hold numerous pieces of large equipment and host a large crowd. The Civic Arena in St. Joseph, Mo., was the best choice for size, but was about 40 miles away from Hiawatha — and also in the backyard of another John Deere dealer, Horizon Equipment.
“We sat down with their sales manager and general manager and told them our idea. They jumped on board and it became a team effort,” says Blevins. The two dealerships share a boundary between their territories.
“Discussion focused on the benefits that would be gained. Each dealerships was going to have its own clinic anyway and this way, neither was shutting down all the shops to have the event. Our store can still function during the event,” says Jason Boyd, Horizon’s general manager. Horizon is located in Easton, Mo., about 5 miles east of St. Joseph. “We would normally have just focused on a planter or a combine clinic. Now, we can get all aspects promoted, from lawn and garden to small agriculture to big agriculture.”
Nicholas Blevins is the integrated solutions manager for Hiawatha Implement, which has locations in Hiawatha and Mound City, Kan.
The teams decided on a mid-February New Product Expo, so they needed to work fast to organize and promote it. The dealerships worked together to choose the equipment and decide which dealership would be responsible for delivery. Because of its proximity, Horizon delivered most of the large equipment and drove the equipment to the arena. A scaled drawing was prepared, so all employees would know where the equipment was to be placed. The dealerships also split up the educational sessions. Horizon has more rural lifestyle customers, so they handled the small agriculture and hay presentation. Hiawatha delivered the large agriculture training sessions, which focused on precision agriculture technology, equipment and implementation.
The dealerships kept promotions simple and developed a targeted flyer they mailed or hand delivered to customers who had purchased equipment in the last 3 years.
Expo Covers It All
Jason Boyd is general manager Horizon Equipment of Easton, Mo.
The Expo displayed equipment of interest for all invited customers, along with new technology. New production agriculture equipment on display included an S series combine with John Deere’s new HydraFlex flex draper head, a 4000R series sprayer and 7R and 8R series tractors as well as a 1790 planter and a 2623VT vertical tillage tool.
Small agriculture equipment displays included compact tractors (5000 and 6000 series), subcompact utility tractors (1025R) and hay equipment (MOCO 835 mower condition and a 569 round baler) as well as the new sport and utility Gator vehicles. The Expo also included the 100 series to 900 series of mowers and the 1000 to 4000 series of tractors.
The technology booth display was given the greatest focus by both the dealerships and customers. Included, was the Field Connect soil management system, receivers for guidance systems, rate controllers, and wireless data transfer systems.
“Each cab had the ‘command center’ on the armrest to allow customers to actually engage their skill to interact with the equipment. Customers were encouraged to come and work with the technology and ask questions,” Blevins says.
The dealership teams also took on an impressive schedule of classes given to customers. “We prepared PowerPoint presentations for each clinic and we have enough room for 50 people per clinic,” says Blevins.
The Civic Arena has rooms separate from the show floor where classes were given. Topics included: new technology and planters; Apex and JDLink/myjohndeere.com; hay and small agriculture equipment; and John Deere insurance.
“New products along with data management are the future focus of John Deere and the dealership’s portfolio. The direction of technology focus naturally requires more training for customers. Customers rely on their dealership for information and training and we plan to supply it,” he says.
Both dealerships made sure the event was staffed with experts — about 40 employees from both stores were on the show floor.
“Three to five parts salesmen were at the parts booth and all our agriculture sales team was on the floor with their equipment. We also had 3-5 technicians per store to help people with parts and operation questions,” Blevins says. “We had a sign-in book when customers entered the show and the Hiawatha FFA chapter helped us welcome people and serve coffee.”
Lunch was served both days as well and was be catered by a relative of a Hiawatha manager.
Promoting Small Ag
Art Vonderschmidt sells compact equipment for Hiawatha Implement.
Art Vonderschmidt was one of the salespeople from Hiawatha Implement who staffed the Expo floor. He sells compact equipment for Hiawatha Implement. “I sell as many of the 30-40 horsepower tractors to ag producers as I do to other customers because they are good mowing tractors.”
Vonderschmidt says many rural lifestylers don’t relate to discussions about horsepower, especially since the differences can be minimal. Instead, he focuses on features and other advantages, such as whether a cab can be added to the model. And, he generally starts the sales discussion at the higher end.
“It can be a surprise where the sale ends up, but I always start at higher horsepower compact tractors and go from there,” Vonderschmidt says.
Selling Not the Goal
The dealerships planned for 300-500 attendees per day. “No advertising was done, only invitations were sent to a targeted list,” Blevins says. “No push was made during the event to push customers to buy, especially to minimize any competition between the two dealerships. The primary goal was to educate and answer questions and show products that were available.”
Boyd says his dealership shares the same goal. “Sales would be a bonus, but we just wanted to have something for people to come and see the new products, see them up close. With our events before, we might have had 80 people come through our store. Now, we’re hoping to reach 1,000 or more.”
The final number of attendees ended up closer to 400.
Chad Gormley is sales manager for Hiawatha Implement
“After talking with customers, the major factors that affected attendance were customers hauling grain, tax appointments and producers who were out of town attending the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville. Next year, we will try to plan better. After the event, we sent out customer surveys and received a lot of good feedback on what to change for next year and the positive effects of our materials,” Blevins says.
He defines success this way: “A successful event is measured by the quality of attendance, along with customers being satisfied, feeling comfortable with the equipment and having a successful 2014 growing season.”
Chad Gormley, sales manager says, “You always have to look at the numbers and how many customers showed up, but it’s better to have the right producers attend and feel like they gained some knowledge from the event.”
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