Pictured Above: Blue River Tractors is led by a management team made up of Bobby Pruiett, chief financial officer; Tony Winslett, co-owner, who handles sales and marketing; and Tim MacEntire, co-owner, who handles service, parts and administration. The dealership recently broke ground for a new facility located on 30 acres.

Blue Rivers Tractors is Rural Lifestyle Dealer's 2016 Dealership of the Year. Tony Winslett, one of the owners, shares his thoughts on marketing and advertising in this excerpt of the full feature from our fall 2016 issue

Tony Winslett ties the dealership's growth to investments in inventory and advertising. “In all honesty, we didn’t know what we were doing when we started, and one of the things that I learned very quickly is if you don’t have tractors in stock, customers don’t think you’re in business,” he says. They sold 11 tractors their first year and 37 tractors the next. Today, their goal is to sell 240 tractors and 40 XTV utility vehicles.

In addition to tractor inventory, Winslett says they began adding unique products to their lineup. They wanted to promote package sales so they added Maxey trailers in 2012 and Sundowner Trailers in 2014. They researched zero-turn lines, hoping Mahindra would enter the market, and started carrying Gravely this year. Timeless Fence and Stay Tuff Fence products were added in 2014. They’re not concerned that the products lack brand awareness in their area, instead believing it’s an advantage.

“I like to find unique products that somebody else doesn’t carry. We could sell every kind of implement you can think of, but everybody else already is. If we can find something unique, I try to capitalize on those things,” Winslett says.

They build awareness and sales through ongoing advertising, especially with television ads. Winslett had been in advertising sales for 18 years with Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages, so he had seen advertising work for many businesses. “We didn’t really have a budget set aside for advertising and I knew we needed to advertise. I convinced Tim we needed to take a risk and advertise. The business started picking up almost immediately. Once that happened, things just started to multiply very quickly,” he says.

“To me, advertising is an extra salesperson. We spend more on advertising per size of dealership than most dealerships in the country,” Winslett says. He says it helps that television advertising in his market is relatively inexpensive. He has no set budget for advertising, other than to make sure he doesn’t negatively affect cashflow, and he uses all of his annual co-op advertising dollars.

To track placements and his budget, he uses an Excel worksheet, showing 365 days and every ad placement (TV, radio, billboard, newspaper, etc.). “I know exactly what I’m spending that day, that week, that month and that quarter. So when the TV people come in, I give them a quarterly plan. To watch advertising work is amazing. I think dealers really need to learn that,” he says.

He says it’s a challenge to keep his ad campaigns fresh, especially as some of the 11 other tractor dealers in the area are now stepping up their advertising efforts. “We’ve awakened a couple of ‘sleeping giants,’ so it’s getting more competitive. It puts more of a burden on me to figure out the best way to reach our customers,” Winslett says.