Craig Houseknecht, vice president of operations for MTE Turf Equipment Solutions, says that dealers banding together, such as through responding to the Equipment Dealers Assn.’s Dealer-Manufacturer Relations Survey, gives them more power to influence change. “The best way to improve your relationships with manufacturers is through partnerships with other dealers. It’s a lot easier to get them to make improvements when you go to them with a group of dealers requesting changes as opposed to by yourself.”
Houseknecht serves on the OPE Dealer Council for EDA and is on the board of directors for the Northeast Equipment Dealers Assn (NEDA). He’s just 26 years old, but offered to take on these leadership roles after attending several meetings of NEDA. His family bought their dealership in 2010, which had already carried the Jacobsen line and added Ventrac, Gravely, Ariens and Mahindra to expand its product offerings to golf and commercial customers. They have 2 locations in New York and 1 location in southern New Hampshire.
He says, overall, the ratings were what he expected. “I think they were accurate and the dealers did a fair job of rating all the manufacturers. I was happy to see that product quality, parts availability and parts quality ranked 1, 2 and 3 as the most important issues. I thought dealers might focus more on warranty payments and manufacturer response to dealer needs or product technical support even more. It looks like dealers are rating more from a customer standpoint than from a dealer standpoint. It goes to show that dealers are the face to the market,” Houseknecht says.
He offers this perspective on why the ratings for two of his lines, Ariens and Mahindra, have trended down in the last 3 years. “Mahindra has been growing quickly, one of the fastest growing manufacturers in the survey in general. It can be difficult to keep some of the ratings up to where they need to be when you are growing that quickly,” Houseknecht says. Product quality and product technical support are two areas he would hope to see Mahindra make improvements. “As you’re growing, it can be difficult to remember that as you add more dealers, you need to add more technical support in the field.”
Houseknecht comments on Ariens: “I know Ariens is making some policy changes this year and I think that right there shows the value of the survey.”
He says all manufacturers could improve in the areas of warranty payments and responses to dealers needs/concerns. “Manufacturers seem to be dropping the ball in those areas. If they can improve in those areas, they can improve on their relationships with dealers and add more because dealers are looking for that,” Houseknecht says.
Ed Emery, president of Countryside Lawn & Power Equipment in Bath, Mich., has been carrying Scag, the 2017 Dealers Choice Recipient, for more than 25 years. They also carry Ariens, Billy Goat, Boss plows, Briggs & Stratton, Exmark, Husqvarna, Kawasaki, Little Wonder, RedMax, STIHL, SnowEx, Toro, TurfEx and Vortexx. “Through the years, Scag’s popularity has gone up and down based on the economy and the number of competitors. There is always somebody coming in at a lower price. What sets Scag apart in terms of quality is they are a fabrication company. They know metal very well and have high standards for quality control,” Emery says.
He says the mowers stand apart from the competition in terms of higher quality seats, the use of technology for diagnostics, safety switches and even things like additional grease points.
Emery says his relationship with his distributor, Plymouth Air-Cooled Equipment, Plymouth, Mich., plays a major role in how he views his manufacturer. “Ninety-nine percent of the discourse about a line is between the distributor and us. The distributors have a territory they have to take care of and Plymouth has ‘stepped up the plate’ to help a lot of dealers,” Emery says.
Sharon Killian Radke, co-president of Killians, Hickory, N.C., is a third-generation owner. The dealership originally carried as many as 20 different brands since its beginnings 64 years ago. Their brands now include Toro, STIHL, Husqvarna, Peco, Little Wonder and Billy Goat. “The larger manufacturers have more diversity in dealers, so I think it can be more difficult for a larger supplier to keep their ratings up. The fun part is getting there, the hard part is maintaining it,” she says.
Killians has made Toro’s “Million Dollar Club” for sales and has served on its dealer council, so Radke was especially interested in how Toro stacked up against Exmark, one of the company’s brands. “I was disappointed to see Exmark’s ratings were higher than Toro,” Radke says.
She says the dealership sells to generations within a family and Killians makes a commitment to be the best in terms of parts and service, products and inventory. “We have accountability as dealers just like the manufacturers do. We stock select products and models that we believe in. We can’t complain about a product that we do not choose to stock. A lot of dealers like to sell on demand,” Radke says.
She also says they have great relationships with manufacturers, which helps her be responsive with service and parts.
Radke is optimistic about the future. “Our industry is as strong as ever. As long as the world exists, we are going to cut grass and weeds, so we might as well enjoy it,” she says.