Rural lifestyle equipment manufacturers selling in big box stores is becoming more Ourannual Dealer Business Trends & Outlook report shows that dealers are becoming increasingly concerned over large retailers. The concern over “competition from big box stores” moved way up on the list of dealers’ major concerns for 2014. It jumped from #9 in 2012 to #8 in 2013 and all the way to #4 for 2014.common. However, that doesn’t lessen the blow when it’s one of your manufacturers entering the large retailer arena for the first time or expanding on what they already sell. No more is it just lesser quality equipment available at large retailers, but the same machines you sell.

Dealers who can’t rely on an exclusive product line can tout their next biggest advantage — a highly trained and experienced service department. Here’s my question: What if a rural lifestyler looking at a shiny new machine with a three-year warranty doesn’t rank service as a priority? Or, worse yet, what if that rural lifestyler thinks they can get good service anywhere? If, in their mind, the equipment is a commodity, then service could be, too.

So, if you take equipment and service out of the equation, what’s left when competing with box stores? I asked several dealers who serve on our advisory board that question:

“What I have always believed, and continue to believe, that sets us apart from big box stores is our employees. The big box stores are concerned with just making the transaction and you walking away a happy customer. At our dealership, we are concerned with establishing a relationship with the customer, building on that year after year, and customers feeling confident they are working with the best trained people in the industry,” says Chris Frodel, vice president, Mid-State Equipment, Janesville, Wis.

Eric Roach, general manager, S&H Farm Supply, Joplin, Mo., says, “I would have to say it comes down to the relationships we form with our customers. Customers still like it when you know their name. I tell the people that work for me, ‘Folks can get equipment anywhere, but with us they get equipment from people they trust.’ We built S&H using the trust factor.”

The confidence these dealers show is because they know who they are and what sets them apart. They have developed their own brand. I’m not talking newspaper or TV ads or logos on caps and shirts.

Lisa Bocklage, Rural Lifestyle Dealer’s marketing columnist, describes branding this way: “Branding is a business strategy, not a marketing campaign. The best brands are an extension of the business, how it runs and who runs it.”

She also says that brands are the intersection of identity and image — how you want to be perceived and how you are perceived. So, regardless of whether you purposefully define your brand, it’s out there.

Let’s say you’re not sure about where your dealership brand stands. Bocklage says a first step is to answer this question: How would you like to be perceived as different from your competitors?

That question circles right back to competing with big boxes and the idea that even service can be viewed as a commodity. That doesn’t mean you can’t base your brand on service or your expertise, etc., but you have to know how your approach to service is better or how your salespeople have more expertise and on down the line. Package and polish those attributes and advantages into a dealership brand that wins business.