Over the years, we’ve talked to many rural lifestylers about their operations and equipment needs. The following pages look back at some of the more memorable takeaways dealers should keep in mind when serving rural customers today.
In the Fall 2007 issue of Rural Lifestyle Dealer, we sat down with Joe and Mary Niebler on their 7-acre hobby farm in Brookfield, Wis. Joe is a business and commercial law attorney. The couple’s property includes a sprawling expanse of hilly, manicured lawn. While Joe says it took him up to 4 hours to mow the property, it was also one of his favorite activities.
“I enjoy my time out there cutting. As an attorney, a lot of what I do is somewhat intangible. Here, I get great satisfaction from the accomplishment of having cut a lawn that really looks beautiful. Today, the mowing is part of my release, my sanity check,” Joe says.
To maintain the property, Joe worked with Mid-State Equipment of Watertown, Wis., who recommended a 27 horsepower Scag Turf Tiger mower. Before working with Mid-State, Joe had visited another dealership where he says they failed to respect him as a customer. He was so impressed by Mid-State’s customer service that he continued doing all of his business with them.
Joe doesn’t handle any maintenance or repairs on his equipment and Mid-State went out of their way to provide convenient and reliable service for the Nieblers, traveling to the property to do repairs on site or to take the equipment back to the dealership with them.
Joe has this advice for dealers looking to earn rural lifestylers’ business, “It’s simple — treat us like we’re real customers. Tell the customer that there aren’t any dumb questions. Dealers should let the customer know that they want to fix the customer up with the best equipment for the job you need it to do.”
Treat your rural lifestyle customers the same as you would treat any customer to earn their respect and repeated business.
No Two Rural Lifestylers Are the Same
For the Spring 2008 issue, we spoke with two rural lifestylers to demonstrate how diverse this market can be.
Bob Garner, president of G.E. Forge & Tool, a manufacturer and marketer of hand tools for professional farriers (horseshoers), had bought 75 acres of former cattle range in the Cuesta Grade Mountain range in California and began construction of his 4,000 square foot home.
Maintaining the land and getting ready to build the house required many pieces of equipment for activities like putting up fence, clearing chaparral and sage, trenching and grading roads and drives. His most important pieces of equipment are his 29 horsepower Kubota L35 tractor and a Kubota RTV, purchased from C&N Tractors in Paso Robles, Calif.
After moving to the Cuesta Grade Mountain range, Garner tried finding a dealer closer to his new home, but often felt “invisible” compared to the store’s ag customers. So, rather than accept poor customer service at the dealership close to his home, he began making the 45-minute drive back to C&N Tractors where he was treated as a valued customer.
A much different set of rural lifestylers, George and Beverly Dearborn bought 15 acres in the rural area northeast of Ocala, Fla., to begin a small hobby farm where they planned to grow vegetables.
The farm wasn’t meant to earn the couple a living. George was a retired deputy tax collector and Beverly was still working as a public accountant. They simply wanted out of the hustle and bustle of southern Florida and were ready to take on a new adventure.
To decide what dealer to give their business to, the Dearborns used their “accountant mentality” and judiciously chose Duggan Bros. in Ocala, Fla., because of the team atmosphere, the competitive quality and prices of the equipment and the prompt delivery and repair services.
“We were looking for cost-effectiveness, but it wasn’t all about money. Attitude played a big part in our decision,” George explains. “We avoided dealers who sold too hard — some seemed to be mentally adding up the dollars on a big sale of shiny new machines.”
No two rural lifestylers are the same and often require different sales and service approaches.
Transitioning to Full-Time Farming
The Spring 2010 issue of Rural Lifestyle Dealer looked into the part-time commercial cattle operation of Walter and Rhonda Shealy in Carollton, Ga. Walter had spent the last 30 years as a high school math teacher, but was getting ready to retire and was looking forward to turning his part-time cattle operation into a full-time endeavor. The couple owns 250 acres of pasture and hay fields with 87 cows and 3 bulls.
Making the transition from part-time to full-time farmer meant Walter was going to have new equipment needs.
“One of the problems you have being a part timer like me is that it can take more equipment to run part time than it does full time,” he says. This is because part-time farmers need equipment ready to go when they have time to devote to farming. Walter has to do most of the farm work and management at night after teaching all day.
He runs 4 Massey Ferguson tractors ranging from 22-100 horsepower. “I plan everything ahead of time. If I’m going to use 3 pieces of equipment the next day, I need to get all 3 ready to go the night before,” he says.
Another difference between part-time and full-time farmers is equipment warranties. They tend to work better for farmers who run fewer pieces of equipment for longer hours per year. “It’s a different story for us part timers,” Walter says. “Instead of running 3 pieces of equipment for 500-600 hours a year, I’m running 4 pieces of equipment and 3 may get used for 250 hours or so and the other piece for 100 hours or less. So, we don’t usually run into high-hour maintenance issues. The problem is that our maintenance issues creep up after the equipment is out of warranty.”
Navigating warranty programs requires a strong relationship with the equipment dealer. One thing that sealed the deal between the Shealys and Georgia Deer Farm & Agri-Center, the dealership he most often frequents, was the dealer’s willingness to take in trades.
“One thing that’s hard for me is to sell used machinery. I can’t be home to market it or put it on the Web. Georgia Deer Farm & Agri-Center and I can come to fair terms on trades and they’re not afraid to take in used equipment that’s been taken care of. He knows I take good care of my equipment,” he says.
Dealers need to be aware of the differences between part-time and full-time farmers to help them find the right equipment for their operations.
Landscaper Grows Business with ‘Earth Friendly’ Approach
|Livestock customers with smaller acreages have unique needs for equipment to match the size of their properties as well as budget and time constraints.|
Landscape contractor John DeFilippi, owner of Ecological Lawn & Tree Care in Boulder, Colo., was focused on using earth-friendly, non-toxic equipment and practices when Rural Lifestyle Dealer spoke with him in the Spring 2013 issue.
To meet his “green” business model, DeFilippi says he considers everything from vehicle emissions to fertilizers to the amount of water used in irrigation. To meet his specialty equipment needs, DeFilippi researched manufacturers and ended up purchasing hand-held tools directly from CORE Outdoor Power after meeting them at the Green Industry & Equipment Expo in Louisville, Ky.
He also began working with local equipment dealer G&G Equipment in Fredrick, Colo., to find mowing equipment that met his standards for “earth-friendliness.” G&G Equipment helped lead him to the solution of converting commercial gasoline mowers to propane, earning them his continued business.
DeFilippi says that the dealership is like a business partner for him. “It’s important to have somebody you can count on that will take care of you when you need them to.”
It’s not always what’s on the lot or in the showroom that earns you a sale. Sometimes, customers need your expertise to find the equipment that best fits their business or property.
Landscaping Honors Traditions
|When selling to municipalities and commercial accounts, emphasize the multi-use capabilities of equipment and consider upselling with attachments that further increase versatility.|
When Lee Stadtmiller took over as manager of the City of Billings’ Mountview Cemetery in Montana, he told Rural Lifestyle Dealer that it took his crew 12 days to mow 65 acres around the 23,000 graves and nearly 1,000 trees. Making things worse, the crew couldn’t mow in the rain, but the grass continued to grow, leaving the grounds unkempt despite their best efforts.
To improve the crew’s ability to maintain the grounds, Stadtmiller replaced the cemetery’s old equipment with a more versatile, maneuverable and durable 4-mower fleet from Walker Mfg. purchased at equipment dealer Meadow Green in Billings, Mont. This helped reduce mowing time from 12 days to 3 days. Stadtmiller also purchased mower attachments, including two snowblowers, a broom, blade, debris blower and mulching decks to help maintain the grounds in all seasons.
While Meadow Green may have initially won the cemetery’s business because of the Walker equipment line, Stadtmiller says they have met his needs for service ever since. For warranty repairs, the dealership will go to the cemetery and pick up the equipment to make repairs. Stadtmiller also says they keep him updated on the latest offerings.
Stadtmiller says he chooses dealers over big box stores because of his commitment to supporting local businesses — and because big box stores can’t promise him prices or equipment availability 9 months prior to purchase, which is necessary for the cemetery as all equipment purchases have to be approved.
“I’m always looking for options on equipment that are best for my unique situation,” Stadtmiller says. “I’m not looking for the next ‘newfangled’ thing that’s out there, but specific equipment to meet my needs. I might upgrade to another model or another brand or dealer if it’s proven to me that it’s a better way to go.”
Push the multi-use, multi-season capabilities of equipment and attachments.
In Spring 2011, Rural Lifestyle Dealer visited Dr. Fred and Cindy Turner in Arlington, Texas, where the couple works at a dentistry, run by Fred, and raise whitetail deer as a hobby on their 850-acre property outside the city.
The Turners own and operate all of the equipment needed to manage their property and say the most important quality they look for in a dealership is customer service. They drive past three other equipment dealers to get to Bramlett Implement in Stephenville, Texas, because they’ve had bad experiences before with dealers treating them like “outsiders.” They are willing to go the distance for a dealership that treats them well.
“The reason we stay with Bramlett Implement is because we have the convenience of them coming to the ranch to work on our stuff or hauling our tractor to the shop for us. And I don’t mind paying for it. I wouldn’t expect them to provide this kind of service for free,” Fred said.
Mobile service was a make or break for the Turners when working with a dealer. They don’t have the means or time to bring their equipment to the dealership themselves, but they’re willing to pay for the service and appreciate when it’s offered.
Another matter of importance to the Turners was that Bramlett Implement treats Cindy as a valued customer to the same extent they do Fred.
“The other dealers ran my wife off in a hurry,” Fred said.
This is especially important because Cindy uses the farm equipment most often around the property. “She’s a country girl and loves to drive the tractors,” Fred said. “She’ll get out there and mow until it’s done.”
Affluent hobby farmers are often willing to pay extra for mobile service.
Transforming Scrub Land
We met with Texas rural lifestylers Tom and Janeth Tomlin on their 5-acre property in the Fall 2012 issue of Rural Lifestyle Dealer. The Tomlins’ property was unruly and full of mesquite trees with thorns, weeds, rattlesnakes and tarantulas. It was not exactly the country home they could enjoy with their children and grandchildren that they’d been dreaming of, but they knew with time and effort they could tame the land into their dream home.
The Tomlins are owners of a heavy equipment repair business and were already familiar with much of the equipment they knew they would need for the project. Tom had his sights set on equipment they could use both on the property and in their business. The couple did their research on equipment, but when it came time to purchase, they couldn’t get a dealer to stop and help them.
Finally, they happened upon Bill’s Tractor in San Antonio. The dealer helped them settle on their first equipment purchase, a Mahindra 4110 tractor with a loader and bucket. With their first piece of equipment, the Tomlins were ready to transform their land into their dream home.
A few years later, when the couple began considering new equipment to help them maintain their property, they returned to Bill’s Tractor because of the service and attention they received the first time. They purchased a Hustler FasTrak zero-turn mower, and traded in their 4110 tractor for a Mahindra 4530 tractor with a loader and pallet fork attachment.
Nancy Turner, the salesperson for Bill’s Tractor who the Tomlins most frequently work with, greets customers immediately when they enter the dealership and listens to their needs. She is also willing to go out of her way to make equipment purchases fun. Turner and Tom worked together to write messages for Janeth in the Tomlins’ tractor loaders when they were ready to purchase. One read, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Janeth,” another said, “Happy Birthday, Janeth.”
Janeth said this attention to detail made her feel like they were Bill’s Tractor’s number one customers. When their rural neighbors come to visit and mention problems they’re having with equipment, Janeth always tells them, “Go see Bill’s Tractor.”
Something as straightforward as being friendly and ready to sell can make you long-term, loyal customers.
Electrifying the Hunt
Chip Davis, who farms 3,500 acres of cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat and milo in Mississippi, told Rural Lifestyle Dealer in the Summer 2015 issue that while his working hours may be spent in a tractor or combine, he spends his free time in the woods with his family, hunting deer and turkey. His equipment of choice for his pastime? An electric utility vehicle.
Davis has been hunting since he was young and has used a wide variety of utility vehicles over the years. He says the problem with most is that gasoline-powered vehicles are louder and the smell of gasoline can scare away game animals. To get around this issue, Davis now uses an electric utility vehicle from Bad Boy Buggies, purchased from Grenada Bad Boys in Grenada, Miss.
Davis has purchased several Bad Boy Buggies since his first in 2001 from Grenada Bad Boys and says he continues to work with the dealership because they are knowledgeable and committed to the product.
“I wish the dealers I work with on my big tractors and other equipment were more like Mike Campbell at Grenada Bad Boys,” he said. “His commitment to his product really sets him apart from other dealers and he knows the product better. He would do whatever is in his power to make something work. That really impresses me.”
Tap into the passion that hunters have for their sport by offering equipment that makes their hunts more successful.