Coufal-Prater Equipment puts education first when building relationships with rural lifestyle customers. The dealership holds an in-store rural lifestyler clinic and participates in area educational opportunities with the goal of becoming a trusted source of information. Safety is one of the key topics presented.

“These aren’t sales pitches. We’re offering a service to the community and, hopefully, people find value in the practical education that they will be exposed to,” says Jason Gouge, director of sales and marketing. Coufal-Prater is a John Deere dealership with 5 locations in Texas.

The new in-store event is their Tractor College. The other educational events include participating in Texas A&M’s Ranch Management University and the Texas Extension Service’s Pizza Ranch program for elementary students.

Tractor College Targets Rural Lifestylers

Coufal Prater held its first Tractor College last fall. “It was a rainy day and we had 12-15 people standing around tractors and not one person left. It’s hard to draw crowds for events and for someone to spend time with us, in the rain, told us that this approach had the potential to be a winner,” says Gouge. “Tractor College helps deal with the stigma that we’re just a large ag dealer and that you won’t fit in if you’re a first-time buyer or a weekend farmer.

“We’ve held the college 3 times and we’ve spread it out over the year. In fact, the nature of having it randomly proves that there are no pressure tactics. We want to let them know that we can help them make a good decision.” 

The last session drew nearly 40 people. The format includes displaying subcompact, compact and utility tractors. Gouge and the team have prepared information, but try to make the presentation informal. “I encourage questions along the way. It makes the presentation better and people often don’t remember to come back to ask a question at the very end,” says Gouge.

He says they stay away from model numbers and features, but instead talk about what jobs can be done with the tractor and implements and how to choose the best horsepower for their needs.

“Whether you’re a city dweller or live on a family farm, everyone seems to be doing their best to do online research before making a big purchase decision. No one wants to come to a place with big equipment and admit they really don’t know how to match horsepower with the vision of what they want to do with it and then match horsepower back to the implement. They can find some information online, but it’s not the same as talking with someone who works with it every day,” Gouge says. They also present information on such attachments as shredders, post hole diggers, box blades and front-end loaders.

“Along the way we’re talking about safety and not just about how to hook up the implement. We explain what can happen in different scenarios, such as how a PTO can be dangerous to work around if you’re not aware of best safety practices, ” he says.

The most recent Tractor College was held with the Drive Green sales event, but set up separately. “We’re in the business to sell tractors and we do it with integrity. It’s not designed as a 'bait and switch.' Customers can walk out of here with free information,” he says.

The dealership offers a special incentive for local high school and technical college students to attend the event. The students can complete an exam after the event to qualify for a $750 scholarship or one of two $500 scholarships.

Partnering with Educational Institutions

Tom Ezzell oversees used equipment for the dealership and helps coordinate special events. He takes the dealership’s approach to education on the road and has presented at Texas A&M’s Ranch Management University for the last 5 years. The 4-day event, which is held each spring and fall, targets new or inexperienced ranchers and landowners and covers the fundamentals of soils and soil fertility, forage establishment, pasture management and utilization by livestock. Basic livestock management practices are also discussed.  

“Many of the people attending have bought equipment at an auction and the tractors don’t have ROPS (rollover protection systems) and PTO shields are missing. They are buying something they don’t understand,” Ezzell says.

He explains the possible dangers of PTOs; how to factor in the centrifugal force of attachments and its effect on the distance needed to safely stop a tractor; how to safely attach implements; safe operation of loaders; and the dangers of taking children along for tractor rides.

“It’s practical, common sense knowledge, but I talk to them about the dangerous effects of not following common sense,” he says.

Ezzell talks through similar safety rules, but adapts them for fourth graders when he takes part in the county extension’s Pizza Ranch program. The program talks about the agriculture behind pizza — dairy, wheat and vegetable production.

“Some of the kids have not been exposed to farms, but others have relatives who farm,” he says. He presents to more than 1,000 students over the course of two days.

“Coufal-Prater has always been community-minded. We’re more than a tractor dealership. We’re part of the community and we won’t exist if the community doesn’t support us,” says Ezzell.