Pictured Above: Doug Williams, center, owns Williams Tractor. Randy Huck (left) is service manager and Todd Tokar (right) is assistant service manager. The team tries new approaches to staffing challenges. Photo Courtesy of: Jessa Wiles

Williams Tractor, with locations in Arkansas and Louisiana, keeps its shop personnel busy and productive year-round. The dealership team shares its best practices related to service personnel in this second installment of the “Season-to-Season” series. These practices have enabled the dealership to avoid off-season drains on cashflow.

Williams Tractor

Founded: 1973 Locations: Fayetteville, Berryville, Rogers and McGehee, Ark., and Rayville, La. Lines: New Holland, Case IH, Kioti, Bush Hog, Woods, Rhino, Big Dog, Bad Boy, Bobcat, Polaris, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, KTM, Kymco, Haybuster, Vermeer, Hustler, Terex and Landoll Business System: DIS Challenge & Solution: Maintaining positive off-season cashflow in the service department by offering diverse products and aggressively pursuing high machine populations.

Many dealerships tend to staff their service teams to handle the rush of business that comes with spring. However, Williams Tractor gears its shop personnel numbers more toward year-round averages. Williams finds supplemental part-time employees by building relationships with vocational technical training programs. The strategy has been successful, due to a management philosophy that matches new mechanics with the right tasks and encourages mentoring by seasoned technicians.

Finally, when multiple customers have breakdowns and the shop is behind, they encourage service techs to supplement their income with overtime and their employees are eager to do so.

The dealership has 7 locations and equipment lines include New Holland, Kioti and Case IH tractors; Bush Hog, Woods and Rhino implements; Hustler, Big Dog and Bad Boy mowers and Polaris, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki powersports products.

Finding Seasonal Employees

Randy Huck, Williams Tractor’s service manager at the flagship Fayetteville, Ark., store for 23 years, just experienced another winter where his shop was busy for the entire season. With the rush of spring business approaching, he’s now screening additional employees to fill the void and gearing up the mobile service vehicles.

Dealer Takeaways

•If you struggle to keep technicians active in the winter, consider reducing the number of year-round people, while improving the quality of seasonal hires.

•A key to finding good young mechanics may be the local technical school, even if their program is not focused on the equipment industry. Seasonal personnel may enjoy their experiences at your dealership and decide to become long-term employees.

• Encourage your more experienced mechanics to mentor seasonal hires. Let them know you value how they share their knowledge and pride.

• Try to find what projects student employees enjoy and tailor their work toward those tasks. They’ll tend to do better work and might end up staying with the dealership after graduation.

Huck’s main source of seasonal employees is Northwest Technical Institute (NTI), based in Springdale, Ark. (See the sidebar, Why Dealers Need to Develop Relationships with Vo-Tech Programs.)

He has served on the school’s advisory board for over 20 years, despite the fact that he says their program targets students who aren’t aiming at careers in equipment service.

“NTI has a diesel shop that is focused on truck repair, but they do accept training projects from agriculture. For instance, if a farmer has a breakdown, they’ll repair it in exchange for a donation to the student organization so students may get some equipment experience. We’ve seen students come in here focusing on a career in trucking and after being exposed to farm or industrial equipment decide that they’re interested in those fields. The instructors at NTI then try to direct them to work at a business that specializes in those products to see if that’s the way they want to go,” says Huck.

Todd Tokar, assistant service manager, looks elsewhere for good seasonal help. “I’m active in the Fayetteville High School Apprenticeship Program, so I have some good contacts there,” Tokar says. “Our dealership is known at the University of Arkansas as well. We regularly donate parts or project material to their agricultural mechanization program.

“We want to get the word out that we’re a good place to work and can give students a lot of ‘hands on’ experience they may not get in a classroom. Honestly, we’ve never really had to find students who want seasonal work. About mid-May, we’ll start seeing a bunch of kids applying, because they’re being sent down here by their professors or high school ag teachers.”


Todd Tokar, Williams Tractor assistant service manager, (left) and Northwest Technical Institute (NTI) graduate Jace Reeves discuss a repair.

Photo Courtesy of Jessa Wiles

Cultivating Interest in the Business

Be prepared to spend extra time managing when first starting to work with young and inexperienced techs, Huck says, “Most of the time, we start them out on PDI (pre-delivery inspection) of equipment, set-up or installing loaders, which helps them figure out how hydraulic systems work. Then, we may move them to installing belly mowers, so they get a sense of how a PTO functions. They’re checking drivelines to see if they need to be cut off and checking oil levels, those type of activities.”

Huck says a critical part of the process is finding out what the new hire’s passion is and fitting them with machines they enjoy working on.

“It could be small tractors, hay equipment or skid loaders and excavators, so you have to find their ‘niche’ and sort them out from there. If they like what they’re doing, they are more likely to do a better job. The challenge is to try to find what they like, then focus them on those jobs and let them run with it,” he says.

By focusing new hires on an area they enjoy, Huck is selling them on a career at the dealership. He has been successful in retaining some of the students, but admits the percentage is lower than he would like. However, giving graduates a better understanding of how dealerships function provides value for the industry.

“As many as half of the mechanics working today will retire within 10 years...” —

Huck says, “We have one guy who is getting his master’s degree at the University of Arkansas and has worked here three summers. His goal is to work for one of the major equipment manufacturers and he’s trying to broaden his horizons. We’ve had several kids who have worked for us on the way to careers with major companies in service, sales and parts.”

Developing a Mentoring Culture

Having shop mentors is a critical component. “The senior technicians are encouraged to jump in and help them, watch out for their safety and so on. It’s really appreciated on my part, because the phone is ringing from the time I get here until the time I leave. We have a group of techs who have been doing this for more than 20 years and they want to see these younger kids carry it on, because it’s a select few who want to do what we do,” Huck says.


Carl Desens

Photo Courtesy of Jessa Wiles

Why Dealers Need to Develop Relationships with Vo-Tech Programs

Go out in your shop and check the age of your technicians. If your shop matches the national average, many of them will soon be leaving. Estimates are that as many as half of the mechanics working today will retire within 10 years, according to So, now might be the perfect time to get involved with your local technical school to find replacements.

Carl Desens, an instructor at the Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale, Ark., says that all vocational schools would value closer relationships with local dealers, even if ag equipment is not their focus. He says, “We focus on trucking careers, but we’ve had a relationship with Williams Tractor in Fayetteville for decades. They may not be truck-focused, but we still need their input to make the program successful and applicable across all industries. Service Manager Randy Huck, as a member of our advisory board, helps us understand the traits needed from new technicians.”

Desens says, “There are differences between the industries, but the basics of braking and electrical systems, engines and air conditioners are universal. If students understand the fundamentals, they can work with a dealership to fine-tune their ability on specific equipment.

“Tech schools need input from local industry. They’re a huge help in making the programs better, benefiting the instructors and students. It’s a working relationship that has to be established. Otherwise, the programs are not as strong as they could be. To get involved, all dealers have to do is call the school or an instructor and let them know you want to be involved.

“Let them know you’d like to be a part of their support network and find out what you can do to help. For instance, you could serve on the board, offer a scholarship, or donate some equipment they can use. There’s a school in Oklahoma that has dealers who sponsor applicants. Part of the agreement is that they supply equipment for 3-6 months to train students and at the end of that time, that piece of equipment comes back. Or, dealers can teach a class or come talk about what the dealership is about and what opportunities the industry offers.”

He says, “At technical schools, you can get students involved in internships or part-time work and show them what a good career it can be, so maybe they want to come back to you. Not all kids are cut out to work on big equipment. Usually between 3-5% of the kids are interested in off-road equipment, such as what Williams Tractor sells, and we’ve recently seen an increase in those numbers. I have one student that scored high on his ACT, but he doesn’t want to go to college. Another has a degree and found out he didn’t enjoy that career path and wanted to get into a ‘hands on’ job.

“Most students enter school planning to work in selected industries, from marine to earth moving equipment. It’s happened on several occasions, though, that a young person took a job outside of what they originally wanted to pursue, like at an equipment dealership, and decided they wanted to stay there,” Desens says.

Todd Tokar, Williams Tractor’s assistant service manager, says there are additional benefits to partnering with a technical school. “They’re pre-selecting part-time prospects to send us because we have a good relationship. We’ve had some really good kids that have stayed with us after they got out of school. We’ve also had some good ones that worked with us through high school and college and then moved on, but that’s 4 or 5 years of good help, so it’s worked out well for us,” Tokar says.

The problem of retiring mechanics is not unique to equipment dealerships. According to the American Trucking Assn., as many as 20,000 new mechanics may be needed to replace a workforce that will soon be retiring. That’s why supporting local vocational schools and employing their students for seasonal work while selling them on a career with your business may be the best path toward longevity for your service department.

Tokar adds, “It helps us managers breathe a little easier, when we know the new guy or apprentice is being overseen. And it helps these experienced mechanics, because they can concentrate on more technical stuff, while the new guy does ‘grunt work.’ So, we allow a lot of mentoring between a senior mechanic and these new guys.”

From the Archives

This series marks the fifth season that Rural Lifestyle Dealer has followed along with dealers to learn about seasonal challenges and opportunities. Click here to view the archived features and video interviews for these progressive dealers:

Power Centers of Madison, Middleton, Wis.

Zimmerer Kubota & Equipment, Ft. Worth, Texas

Rigg’s Outdoor Power Equipment, Valparaiso, Ind.

Heritage Tractor, Baldwin City, Kan.

The relationship benefits the senior techs as well. “A lot of the equipment now requires a computer to work on it and there’s often new software to download for engine or transmission controllers. Sometimes, these young guys come in from NTI well-versed in laptop electronic service tools, or EST, and have a better sense of how they work,” Huck says.

Scheduling Full-Time Staff

The final piece of the puzzle is finding ways to maximize utilization of the full-time crew. “We have a culture here that is focused on getting the job done. In the busy season, we have guys coming in at 5:30 a.m. and working into the night. We try to wind down the shop by 6 p.m., but we have people out on the road that work later. They get time-and-a-half pay, so there’s some incentive there, but if they can start early and go late it helps get the job done,” Huck says.


Williams Tractor has built a relationship with Northwest Technical Institute, including having a representative on its advisory board. The institute’s main focus is the trucking industry. However, technology used in that industry overlaps with the ag industry, so graduates are also prepared for careers at dealerships.

Photo Courtesy of Jessa Wiles

Scheduling becomes a challenge when the busy season hits, but there’s a reward for doing it right. “If you have guys that can get six jobs done in one day, you can catch up quickly. The guys are also willing to do mobile service work on their way home in the evening. We also work well together as a team. It’s not uncommon for the sales guys to be out in the shop with a grease gun, helping to get something ready to be delivered. If a customer needs the tractor tomorrow, we’ll make sure that happens. That’s been a big part of our sales volume growth over the last few years. It’s a team effort,” Huck says.

Managing the service side of an extremely seasonal business will always be a challenge. Williams Tractor’s model of matching staffing to normal workload; actively searching for young part-time help and mentoring them; and allowing full-time staff to share in seasonal profits through overtime, helps them through peaks in business. It also provides the important side benefit of occasionally attracting young people who choose a career at the dealership, providing the next generation of technician.


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