Zimmerer Kubota & Equipment was founded in 1979. Its main location is in Fort Worth, Texas, and additional stores are located in Cleburne, Denton, Decatur and Gainesville, Texas.
Equipment dealerships are under more pressure than ever to maximize the electronic end of their business, as they work to turn customer inquiries into sales or find actionable trends within the sales data they collect.
This means the robustness of a dealership’s website and computer system is more crucial than ever, as they both play a role in helping dealers extend their reach in the marketplace.
For Zimmerer Kubota & Equipment, major overhauls of its website and computer network are paying big dividends for the 5-location dealer group.
“We spent about $100,000 in 1998 on a computer system. That just killed me, but we’d never be where we are today if we didn’t,” says Zimmerer Kubota dealer principal Sam Zimmerer.
A First Step
Computer systems are an important tool for any multi-store dealership and it’s no different for employees at Zimmerer Kubota’s 5 locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Zimmerer Kubota & Equipment
Founded: 1979, with a 26,000 square-foot main location in Fort Worth, Texas, and added locations in Cleburne (1986), Denton (1989), Decatur (1999) and Gainesville (2011), Texas
Ownership: Cousins Sam and Larry Zimmerer, 25% each; Larry’s brother Leonard, 50%
Location: Main store near the I-35/820 interchange in Fort Worth. The Denton, Gainesville and Decatur stores are north of the city. The Cleburne store is south of the city.
Annual Revenue: Approximately $30 million
Lines: AaLadin, Bradco, Bush Hog, Echo, Honda, Houle, Kubota, Land Pride, Rhino, Scag, Stihl, Shindaiwa, Terrain King and Mill Creek
Challenge & Solution: Zimmerer Kubota & Equipment has invested heavily in its website and computer system to better use sales leads and customer contacts and improve its business intelligence.
Early on, Zimmerer’s computer system consisted of personal computers with drives that allowed employees to “load their checkbooks,” download games or do other things that caused problems with the network, Zimmerer says.
In 1998 — knowing their current system wasn’t going to survive the Y2K conversion in 2000 — managers began looking at different vendors. They wanted a system that connected all the dealerships and didn’t force them to load products and pricing data at each store. They also didn’t want drives on the computers that might tempt employees to misuse the network.
They hired Responsive Information Management Systems and Services (RIMSS), a San Antonio, Texas-based company that makes business system software and is an endorsed vendor for International Truck and Engine Corp., AGCO, Case IH and New Holland. RIMSS also integrates with several manufacturers’ products for those companies, including Kubota.
RIMSS installed a UNIX-based system at Zimmerer Kubota in 1998 to help employees sell wholegoods, track inventory and accounts receivables, run the parts department and handle various other tasks across the company. Employees were only able to send and receive email, surf the Web or handle company business, but were not allowed to download anything onto a drive.
From that point on, Zimmerer’s managers could track wholegoods inventory, when it arrived and how old the equipment was in terms of number of days. Employees could also look up the sales history for any date range and see how many pieces of particular equipment had been sold at certain times.
Finding a Better Way
While UNIX was considered an innovative computer language at the time, the shortcomings began to surface several years later as Zimmerer Kubota grew into a multi-store dealership. When customers needed an older purchase order, invoice or some other document, employees had to dig it up, print it and either fax it or scan and email it to them. And the amount of data and reports that could be stored on the UNIX system was somewhat limited.
Rather than venture into uncharted territory with a different vendor, Zimmerer stayed with RIMSS and installed new hardware and software, investing more than $100,000 again in the system. “I said to our managers, ‘I don’t want to be slow and I don’t want to outgrow this thing in a short time,’” Zimmerer recalls.
Sam Zimmerer is one of the owners of Zimmerer Kubota & Equipment, a 5-location dealer group in Texas.
He chose RIMSS’ Windows-based WinNetStar advanced enterprise system for implementation. The company says its .NET framework allows greater integration with the Internet, enabling WinNetStar to collaborate securely over the Internet.
Choosing a Scalable Solution
The system is designed for scalability to accommodate a multi-location business, an important feature for a dealership network like Zimmerer Kubota that is selling as much as $30 million dollars worth of equipment annually among its stores.
“And the key was — and they told us this — that the information that’s available to me now is tenfold,” Zimmerer says, compared with the UNIX system. He’s able to create customized reports based on names, equipment, sales revenue and more. Zimmerer gives RIMSS credit for listening to the dealership’s requests and delivering a product that met some lofty expectations. He doesn’t see all computer vendors as being the same.
“Computer systems obviously play in a horse race,” Zimmerer says. “One vendor might be in front now and another one might be a little behind.”
One employee who can see the big difference is David Lance, Zimmerer’s long-time controller, who was the technician who installed the original UNIX system in 1998 while a RIMSS employee. At that time, knowing Lance wanted to return to his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, RIMSS executives told him the controller’s job at Zimmerer Kubota was available and he accepted.
“Computer systems obviously play in a horse race. One vendor might be in front now and another one might be a little behind...”
Lance also sees the investment paying big dividends for the company because of advances in technology. He says RIMSS completely rewrote all its software to offer a Windows-based system, which is the dominant format in the business world now.
“I knew UNIX inside and out but it lagged behind the times,” Lance says. “RIMSS has gone with more current technology and made dealers a lot happier.”
Zimmerer Kubota’s system has two servers — one to handle RIMSS processes and a second that handles Windows applications. The system handles about 70 employees who are logged in during peak activity each day.
“The benefit of these ‘thin-client’ systems with WinNetStar is no matter where you are in our 5 locations, everything is controlled by the log in. When you log in, you have the same exact desktop and icons as everyone else.”
Lance says the most important improvement he sees with WinNetStar is the history of data that has been retained. “It has larger data files and you can go back and get more information, especially accounting, parts and service information, and it is easily accessible,” Lance says.
“As an accountant, if I’m pulling up charges for an expense code and I see the entry, I can ‘double click’ and find the document. Back in the old system, we were looking at paper. Now, we’re pulling data that we couldn’t access in the past. The interaction with other written software is also better, as you can grab a file and transmit it via email, which takes away from looking it up on paper,” he says.
But it’s not as though there wasn’t a learning curve. RIMSS noted they often have more trouble training employees going from the old system to their new system than if they had used a non-RIMSS system or no system at all.
“I was used to that UNIX system and I could make that thing walk, talk, knew it inside out, upside down. And boy, did we have a learning curve last April,” Zimmerer says. “I questioned my decision for a while because we all complained, we moaned, we belly ached because it was nothing like what we had. But we learned it and now we absolutely love it.”
Know the System
Lance, who is retiring this summer, shared this advice for dealer principals who are considering changing to a new computer system.
“Be sure that you have vendors show you every singe module and go through and demo it, comparing it to what you have today, so if the system is so different that a module is missing, you at least know about it and it becomes part of your decision making,” Lance says.
“Being with RIMSS I saw a lot of the competition’s work and computer company salespeople aren’t any different than car salesmen or realtors — they will tell you the good stuff up front, and avoid something that might kill the sale.
“Just be sure if you buy packages that they demo each and every one of them so you can make a decision that’s good for your business,” Lance says.
Zimmerer Kubota enhanced its website to raise awareness of its dealership brand and equipment lines and backs up its online promise with a large inventory of compact equipment and attachments.
Overhauling the Website
While the Internet provides a vast forum for reaching new customers and harnessing sales leads, it can sometimes be difficult for a dealership on a limited budget to develop a website that does that effectively. Managers at Zimmerer Kubota say they’ve found the best answer for them — a Norfolk, Va.-based company, Commercial Web Services (CWS), which builds websites for equipment dealerships that includes tie-ins with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
CWS’s parent company is PowerSports Network (PSN), which provides website solutions designed to assist dealers with lead generation, lead management, e-commerce, sales, search engine optimization and online marketing. PSN acquired Dominion Solutions in 2007.
Before hiring CWS in 2009, Zimmerer’s website was managed by a private contractor working at home, who handled the coding for the website, but wasn’t able to update the site quickly with new information.
CWS brought several changes to Zimmerer’s website, including some that helped customers find information on new and used equipment more easily, says Isaac Zimmerer, the dealer operation’s website manager and store manager for the Denton, Texas, location.
The centerpiece of Zimmerer Kubota’s website (zimmererkubota.com) is the “showroom” feature — pre-built by CWS for clients — that lets customers do targeted searches for equipment models in inventory.
Kubota as well as Zimmerer’s shortlines — Land Pride, Echo, Scag, Bush Hog, Rhino, Stihl and Vermeer — are tied into this system and customers can directly request quotes for the equipment on the website.
Kubota and the shortliners simply designate photos and information to be used with its equipment and CWS assembles the information and places it on their server for partnering dealerships to upload to their site.
“That takes handling all the descriptions and photos out of the dealer’s hands and lets CWS do it professionally,” Isaac Zimmerer says. “I can log in from anywhere in the world, change HTML coding, upload pictures, add or delete tractors or add other new products if I need to. We spend $500 or $600 a month with CWS, so it can be economical for a dealer to have a website,” he says.
Zimmerer Kubota has refreshed its website three times since it began working with CWS, the most significant of which was last April when the site’s design, layout and navigation menu was overhauled. Since fewer customers today are using top navigation menus, Isaac Zimmerer says, a prominent menu was added in the left-center of the page that is easier to navigate and more user-friendly for mobile devices.
The rotating banner ad of Kubota promotions in the center of the home page quadrupled in size from the last website and carries up to 5 promotions. “That alone has made a difference in phone calls,” he says. The dealership is receiving 4-5 times more customer inquiries by phone compared with the previous website.
Another metric Zimmerer Kubota wanted was to calibrate CWS’s lead generation technology to focus on potential customers within 50 miles of all 5 locations seeking out new equipment, rather than distant out-of-state customers. Zimmerer’s management agreed to invest additional money to have CWS write a special program to notify the dealerships of interested customers in certain geographies.
Designing the Site
Zimmerer Kubota recently overhauled its website with the help of Commercial Web Services. The new site features parts, service, rental and equipment in the center of the home page and increases the size of the banner promotion.
Photo Courtesy of Zimmerer Kubota
The new website has a “showroom” feature, which allows a dealership’s website manager to download photos and information for its various brands from a remote server, rather than employees having to generate this information.
Photo Courtesy of Zimmerer Kubota
It’s not always easy for dealership management to figure out what a new website should look like or what information to include. In the last round of improvements, Zimmerer Kubota managers looked at the history of sales leads and statistical data to decipher what customers wanted to see. For instance, they discovered through their data review that the “request a quote” feature hadn’t been working properly for more than two months, which caused a dip in inquiries. They learned it was easy to fix the functionality.
Along with looking at other websites and how they function, Zimmerer’s managers also wanted the four most important customer contact points — sales, rental, parts and service — listed on the front page. And they wanted a simple look.
“On the last website we had too many things going on — side banners and other things that nobody cared about,” Isaac Zimmerer says. Since last April’s overhaul, he reports that customers are spending more time on the site and are exploring the information in unique ways.
Another important goal was ensuring that when customers searched for Kubota equipment online, Zimmerer placed higher in search results and above high-volume wholesalers such as Tractor House and Fastline.
On the bottom of the home page, the dealership also went back to displaying the history of Zimmerer Kubota, so customers can see it’s a family-owned company.
“If you look at all their websites, CWS caters to that,” Isaac Zimmerer says. “A lot of our customers want to see that and I think it helped when we made the transition.”