Pictured Above: Pictured Above: McMaster New Holland of Decatur, Texas, sells quantities of pallet forks, bale spikes and grapples and maintains large amounts of inventory to support demand. Photo Courtesy of McMaster New Holland
Everyone in the equipment business loves retailing the big-ticket items, but those smaller niche attachments are sometimes what pay the bills. Have you ever had a customer negotiate you down to the bare minimum on a tractor, but when you added the rock rake, box blade, post-hole digger, finish mower and blade at full price, you ended up with a nice profit margin? If the answer is “yes,” you know the value of those small pieces that make a tractor more productive and a dealership more profitable.
Before we discuss selling niche attachments, it’s necessary to define the category. Niche attachments are those small items that can be “impulse” buys when customers are purchasing new tractors and fulfill a fairly specific need with the operation of the tractor.
We polled dealers in a broad cross section of the country, seeking input on what attachments are their favorites and found that the big sellers are fairly consistent. Dealers also shared techniques about what brings success in selling niche attachments and which ones make economic sense to stock.
Steve McMaster, owner of McMaster New Holland in Decatur, Texas, sells New Holland as well as Mahindra, Bush Hog, Hoelscher and a variety of attachments. “We sell large quantities of pallet forks, hay spikes, post-hole diggers, rotary tillers and grapple buckets. We’ve found that you have to maintain a large stock of them. For example, you need different lengths of forks on your forklift attachments and different numbers of spikes for the bale spears. The first thing with selling them is to have what they want, when they want it,” he says.
“You also have to have the right price and we buy large quantities of those items, so we try to have the most competitive price around. We try to have a selection of various other attachments as well. Having a large display in your yard really catches the eye of the customer. If you have highway frontage, it’s good to have different attachments mounted on six or seven tractors, because people are always looking for attachments,” he says.
Be Aware of the Options
Dealers often carry a wide variety of niche attachments, tuning in to the specialty needs of their area. Here’s a list of ideas if you’re thinking about expanding your inventory of niche attachments:
Horse Arena Grooming Tools
Land Leveling Blades
Pasture Drag Harrows
Wildlife Plot Seeders
While the small items tend to make a higher percentage of returns than almost anything else McMaster sells, he advises that proper planning is important to maintain that margin. “We try to really keep an eye on turning the products. You want to avoid interest; you can’t make it back. Your larger quantities qualify for free freight most of the time and this is a goal you need to try to reach. Freight can take up a large part of your profit,” he says.
A lot of McMaster’s sales are part of tractor packages. “Eighty-five percent of the buyers are asking ‘What kind of package deal can you make me?’ Package deals are popular in our area and those small attachments fall into that category. Some of the tractor manufacturers are offering really good prices on their attachments to promote brand loyalty. Many times you have to sell their items to get low rate financing. Packages are one of the best forms of advertising to move the small items,” he says.
McMaster admits that he’s encountered a few items that he thought would be huge and weren’t. “We thought wood chippers would be a big seller and they just never took off in our area,” he says.
Brian Mattmiller, corporate inventory manager for Swiderski Equipment with stores in Mosinee, Wausau, Thorp, Antigo and Waupaca, Wis., says the usual items at all locations are pallet forks, buckets, bale spears and some grapples. The dealership carries New Holland, AGCO, Massey Ferguson, Bobcat, Kioti, Woods and Doosan.
Mattmiller says one of the keys to being successful is customer education. “We have always been very good at product knowledge at our locations and having that knowledge is very important when a customer is pricing you at numerous dealerships and across different brands. With the abundance of information readily available on the internet, many of the customers have already made their decision before they walk into your dealership or call you on the phone. Benefits of the products definitely need to be touched on when one attachment costs hundreds of dollars more than another, but at this point, the customer has done his research. The focus is then on matching those benefits to the customer’s needs,” he says.
Carefully picking suppliers also helps ensure long-term profitability. “With attachments, shipments become immediate paid inventory, so you have to be careful with stocking and manage it closely. Some product reps will push equipment on you for their sale and let you worry about the problem of too much in stock. Attachments can be ‘trendy’ and the companies we like to work with don’t push inventory onto us and really work with us to stock the correct equipment at the correct times,” Mattmiller says.
“If it won’t do the work, pass it up…”
– Harold Powell, Powell Tractor
“We like to do our research with our customers before we will stock anything and it takes a few sales before we even think about stocking a specialized attachment. A rule of thumb would be that unless you turn an attachment 3 or 4 times a year, don’t plan on stocking the unit. To grow your profit in the attachment business, stick to what sells. It’s as simple as that. There will be items that you will get stuck with, but the key is to not burn your profit up with your paid inventory,” he says.
Mattmiller says, “Listening to your customer is a necessity. Like everyone in the industry right now, stocking levels are decreasing. Trying to get longer terms on attachments will hopefully be in the future so we can raise stocking levels, which would improve sales, but it will just depend on the manufacturers.”
Buying in Volume
Harold Powell, owner of Powell Tractor Inc. in Greenville, Ala., sells Kubota tractors and Land Pride, Bush Hog and Monroe Tufline equipment. Powell says his favorite attachments are pallet forks, buckets, hay spears, tillers and post-hole diggers. “We sell them in volume and we stock them; we don’t have to order them. The average dealer cannot afford to use the manufacturer’s floor plan arrangements. If the company has a long-term payment plan, it usually drives up the price. Some offer 30, 60 or 90 days same as cash, but you have to buy in quantity and pay for them in order to be competitive,” he says.
Regional differences will dictate the popularity of specialty implements. For example, dealerships in heavily wooded areas may find a large demand for tree shears.
Powell is in a poultry area and he has found a niche related to that industry. “We sell a lot of odd buckets. That can include quick-attach buckets for non-skid steer compatible and obsolete loaders and also older pin-on replacement buckets. Kubota and most new tractor makers will supply a tractor with a skid steer hookup, but they don’t supply an extra large capacity bucket that is typically used in our area in chicken houses. We’ll stock up to an 8-foot bucket in medium and heavy duty models,” he says.
Powell gives a lot of credit for selling niche attachments to the original territory manager from Ford Motor Co., who set him up as a dealer in 1971. “He told me, ‘Never sell one of a kind.’ In other words, don’t stock what you can’t sell in quantity. We have criteria that we use to determine if we stock or not. We have to sell one every six months or we don’t keep it on the lot,” he says.
Powell also recommends avoiding the temptation to try to be the cheapest dealer in the region when selecting attachments. That was the second piece of advice that the territory manager gave Powell. “Avoid selling ‘light duty’ anything. If it won’t do the work, pass it up. We always sell the good ones. We try to buy the highest quality we can get at the cheapest price. Tillers are an example. You can buy a 5-foot tiller hundreds of dollars cheaper from a competitor, but it won’t hold up to use in a chicken house. We also make it a policy not to service cheaper items sold by another dealer. You can spend more money on service than you can regain, unless you sold it originally and you know it’s serviceable,” he says.
- Miscellaneous attachments offer good profit potential, especially when coupled with a new tractor sale and financed into the payment stream.
- It’s important to order in quantity when stocking attachments to take advantage of manufacturers’ discounts and freight programs. Most of the time, to be competitive, you’ll have to pay for them when they arrive.
- Pallet forks and bale spikes sell almost everywhere small tractors sell, but many attachments are region-specific. Proceed with caution when making decisions based on what dealers from other areas are selling. Their niche attachment strategies may not work where you are.
- Good displays help sell attachments, especially in high traffic areas. Include pricing for those shoppers who come in after hours. It save times as well.
Powell says he gets a lot of calls for a 3-point backhoe to fit a 20 horsepower tractor, but he avoids the temptation to stock the product or go after that market. “The customer thinks he can clear a 20-acre field of stumps with that set-up and he won’t live long enough for that,” he says.
John Calidonna, owner of Clinton Tractor in Clinton, N.Y., is a New Holland and Massey Ferguson dealer with a big tool chest of attachment suppliers, including Bush Hog, Woods, Worksaver, Taylor-Pittsburgh, Paladin Group, Loegering, Hoelscher, Danuser and HLA Attachments. Pallet forks, bale huggers, bale grabbers and bale spears are the most popular items in his area.
Calidonna feels the single most important component to success in selling the small niche attachments is how they’re displayed. “We have a row dedicated in our sales yard to just implements. We also put a price on every implement and include a short description of specifications on a yellow plastic hangtag that interlocks. The attachments are complete, with mounting kits installed and hoses and couplers. They’re priced that way so people can shop 24/7 in our yard. We’re not a ‘gated’ lot. We have people driving up and down the display, shopping on Sundays, holidays and evenings. When I go shopping, if something I’m interested in isn’t priced, I won’t go find someone to ask. I just move on. So, I want my product in the yard priced,” he says.
Calidonna says having all items priced is not only a marketing tool, but it saves time as well. “You always get customers rolling in who want to know how much something is and, at the same time, you have two or three people in line. While you’re looking up a $700 set of pallet forks, you may miss a much bigger sale. Having it priced takes half the work out of the process,” he says.
Clinton Tractor of Clinton, N.Y., makes it easy for customers to check out its attachment inventory. It organizes attachments by type and prices each with a plastic hang tag.
Photo Courtesy of Clinton Tractor
In addition to pricing, organization of the display is important. Calidonna says, “The key thing to our dedicated row is keeping the equipment display neat and orderly. It’s spaced so people can walk through comfortably and actually get a 360-degree view of each implement. We put spears in a row, forks in a row and all the attachments are grouped together for easy shopping. We’ll also put skid loaders and tractors in the front row with various attachments mounted with some of the more expensive attachments. For instance, we’ll display a skid loader mounted with a ‘brush hog’ or a grapple bucket,” he says.
Calidonna says maintaining the display can be time-consuming, “That’s all a training factor for the ‘yard guy.’ He knows how we like it to look and I walk the display every day, along with six other family members who are involved in the business, to make sure it’s organized right,” he says.
Calidonna admits that not every venture into niche attachment selling has met with success. “A few years ago we picked up a product that was supposed to grab feed coming out of Ag-Bags. That thing sat here for 7 or 8 years before I licked my wounds and sent it to an auction,” he says.