PrairieCoast Equipment began in 2009 with the merger of 4 John Deere dealerships in Alberta and British Columbia. This location, the Kamloops store, was built in 2013, along Trans-Canada Highway 1. The new store is about double the size of the older store, which was located in an industrial park.

Adding Service Innovation

Johnson expects service to be a significant driver in the dealership’s growth. The shop has 8 service bays now and an outside pad. PrairieCoast is increasing service revenue and meeting the challenge of a large service area through a unique arrangement — technicians based in the field. Each field tech has equipment at their locations, such as welders, air compressors, even a crane, as well as stocked service trucks. The dealership sends parts and replacement stock to their locations.

“Their jobs are scheduled through the service manager. All the work orders and everything would be generated through here and sent to the technician so he knows who needs what and what the priority is.

“They’re held to the same standard as a person that comes to the shop from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. They’re expected to carry out their workload and you have to trust that person and customers have to trust them because they are viewed as your dealer representative. If we don’t have that right person looking after customers, then my sales team probably isn’t going to sell those customers more tractors,” Johnson says.

Johnson says that it’s important the field techs live in the area they are serving. “You have to take your time and be choosy. We hired an individual out of Vanderhoof. He was from that area, so he knows our customers and he’s a well-respected guy. It was a natural fit,” he says.

Enhancing Management

PrairieCoast is making other changes to increase sales revenue, such as implementing a new customer relationship management (CRM) system through CDK Global. The dealership has been using the company’s dealership management system for 4 years, so it made sense to add the CRM component. Johnson says their previous system was difficult to use and data was not being entered properly. (Related Video: Leveraging a New Customer Relationship Management System)

Ryan Johnson is a regional manager for PrairieCoast Equipment and store manager for the dealership’s Kamloops, B.C., location.

“If one of my guys was away for a week making sales calls, it was pretty much a full day for him to sit down and log everything into that old system. This new CRM system is mobile-phone friendly, where you can basically touch and go and you’re onto the next one,” Johnson says.

He estimates they have about 75,000 registered customers in the database for all the locations, with about 10,000 making up the bulk of sales. “With the new CRM, we can take the 10,000 customer list and segment it based on whether they are a grain farmer, cattle rancher or landscaper. We can better understand their spending levels, their equipment ‘flip’ needs, what they’re spending on aftermarket and what leases are expiring,” Johnson says.

They haven’t yet rolled out the system completely, but new data is being added. “Every time we do business with a customer, we’re interfacing with the new system. We’re working on 2 stores right now as trials and then we’ll roll the system out completely,” Landis says.

Developing Management

Dennis Landis is chief executive officer of PrairieCoast Equipment. His family owned Peace Farm Power, one of the dealership’s that merged to create PrairieCoast Equipment in 2009.

Landis says the dealership has taken a professional and strategic approach to developing its management team. “Even though we’re a family business, we hire and promote for talent. We recognize that professional leadership is the next level,” Landis says.

He has set up a dealership-wide management group that he calls an enterprise support team. The team includes 9 people that serve as regional managers. Because of the wide territory, they meet via teleconference every 2 weeks and Landis meets in person with each of them monthly. The entire group meets annually.

“My main role is to give vision and direction to these 9 people. I’m also involved in setting our culture and planning for expansion. The day-to-day dealings I’m not involved with whatsoever. But I will do farm visits and meet with customers. Getting firsthand feedback from our customers is important,” Landis says.

Encouraging Employee Ownership

Landis has also implemented a professional approach to rewarding employees. Ten employees, including Johnson, have been brought in as partners and were given the chance to purchase shares of the company. The arrangement is referred to as the employee corporation.

“They get a percentage of the profit and they also contribute as a shareholder. It’s my succession plan. Our goal is to leverage these 10 key employees for our future. There is no question that any one of them could be the next leader and the other ones would be long-term people who would take this company from wherever we started,” Landis says.

The new Kamloops store features a showroom that is about 4,000 square feet and incorporates a service counter. Retail merchandise helps bring in customers who had not been familiar with the dealership at its old location.

Landis wanted to make sure all employees, not just a select few, could take part in company ownership. They are now setting up an employee stock ownership program (ESOP) that will be open to all employees who have been with the company a year or longer.

“Some ESOPs are done with the idea in mind that this will be a way to raise additional funds for expansion. The purpose behind our ESOP has nothing to do with that. We wanted to reward our long-term employees with ownership in the company. And also when we have a good year, they would get more than just their wage or bonus. They would also get a share of the company’s profits,” Landis says.

They are using a third party, a Canadian company called ESOP Builders, to set up the program. Landis expects they’ll have 20-30% involvement after the first year. “Sometimes as dealers, we’ve got a lot of good ideas, but not all of them are still working 5 years later,” he says. “I think it will just be a matter of time and I think that there will be a great acceptance. Our goal is to have 50% or more of our employees in the program,” he says.

The service department at PrairieCoast’s Kamloops, B.C., location is about 15,000 square feet and includes 8 service bays as well as 8,000 square feet for the parts warehouse. Because of the dealership’s large service area, the service department also has technicians based in the field.

Nurturing the Team

Another employee program seeks to nurture the individual through community service. Three years ago, they began working with Live Different, a Canadian non-profit organization, to build houses in Mexico. For the last 2 years, as many as 20 employees have traveled to Vincente Guerrero, Mexico, between Christmas and New Year’s and they’ll make a third trip this December. (Related Video: Giving Back Through Community Service to Promote Core Values)

“One of our company core values is community involvement and social responsibility. Our team has been very successful with helping out in local communities. With strong employee engagement we wanted to expand our footprint internationally, to see how we could make a difference,” Landis says.

The company contributes monetarily to the project and covers the time away and travel expenses of its employees. Live Different coordinates the logistics when the employees are on site. Throughout the year, store employees will hold fundraisers to raise money for building supplies, so customers are involved as well.

“A lot of church groups do mission trips with their young people, but if you missed doing that as a teenager, where else can you do that? It’s a good way to give back and to also have a change in our perspective on how 90% of the world lives,” Landis says.

Seeking Coaching

Landis is part of other initiatives to nurture his own leadership skills. For instance, he belongs to two groups through John Deere — a yearly summit for executives from diverse industries and a peer group of 5 Deere dealers who meet twice a year. He also belongs to TEC Canada, where he meets monthly with a group of 18 executives, entrepreneurs and others from outside the agricultural industry. They listen to experts on business topics and break into small groups to discuss the topics and their own business issues. Landis also meets with a personal business coach. (Related Video: Pursuing Personal Development Insights from Leaders Inside and Outside the Ag Industry)

“Professional leadership was the next level…”

“Your mind is opened up to what’s out there. I’ve always been challenged being part of other John Deere peer dealers where you meet someone who broke the $250 million mark or something like that. And this group challenged me in other ways as well. The accountability with the coaching has opened me up to a bigger world than just the farm equipment world,” Landis says.

Planning Growth

The merger that formed PrairieCoast may have been recent, but Landis is already looking forward to the next expansion — and what could limit the dealership’s expansion. Finding experienced technicians is always a concern, along with commodity prices and weather.

“But there are other factors now and one is the sheer size of where John Deere would want us to be and where we’re at now. What does that next size look like because the next size isn’t just adding one more store. The next size will be double and then double again,” Landis says. “Whether it be in the small ag or the large ag dealership, I think you’ve got the wrong leader if they don’t have the flexibility or openness to say ‘What does double our size look like?’”

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