A: Be courageous. It takes real courage to provide vision; to build systems of accountability and use them; to admit you don’t know or were wrong; to trust your instincts and check the data; to empower, support and trust your leaders; to be decisive when needed and patient when necessary; and to be self–aware and authentic, and love your work.

— Darrell Pankratz, PrairieLand Partners, Hutchinson, Kan.

A: “Hire the very best people that you can find and KEEP them…do what it takes. Quality, happy employees make for happy customers! Compensate them, train them, and reward them. Always hire slow, fire fast. I think most tend to do this in reverse!”

— Bryan Fowler, Bobcat of Tampa, Tampa, Fla.

A: “My younger self should know that the fastest and severe changes in the industry are ahead. Consolidation of zero-turn mower brands will not happen as discussed by manufacturers. There are way too many brands to maintain margins year over year. Box store sales and internet sales will compete on a level never seen in the OPE markets.

“Manufacturers will squeeze margins so low that the business will have trouble gaining margins that will sustain a healthy business (blended gross margins that are lower than the industries benchmarked operating costs). 

“Manufacturers will go from dealer-only products today and then sell it to anyone. There is no long-term strategy for the dealer, just sell to anyone who has the money to buy. The funniest (most laughable) propaganda from manufacturers is to the service side of the business. ‘Please work on our products that are purchased from other sources because the customer will become yours when they experience the dealer channel.’ We get an angry customer who does not think any breakdown should be covered by warranty. Hmm, is that why the number of dealers is declining at rate that even manufacturers are worried about?

— David Wood, Smitty's Lawn & Garden Equipment, Olathe, Kan.

A: “Always focus on the big picture. It's easy to get caught up in minutiae. 

Your core employees are your most valuable assets. Take care of them.”

— Mike McCrate, Tulsa New Holland, Tulsa, Okla.

A: “Do not start out under-capitalized. Make sure you have the resources to sustain your business for 3 years, until it all cash flows and can maintain itself.”

— C.H. McCutcheon, Elder Ag & Turf Equipment Co., East Palentine, Ohio

A: “Don’t let an employee hold the team back from success. For years, we kept people who were bad for the team and for our image because we thought certain people were indispensable. Turns out that everybody is replaceable. Learning this has helped us to prepare our company to scale.”

— Tim Berman, Big Red's Equipment, Granbury, Texas

A: “The one thing I would tell myself is to always get in writing from the factory rep and his sales manager when they promise you extra terms or they will move equipment when it comes due if you will order extra because it will help them. They almost always forget or can’t do find any place to move it to.”

— Steve Heath, Hobdy Dye & Read, Scottsville, Ky.

A: “Don’t worry about the numbers and what the consultants tell you to do. Be the best at the products you sell and learn everything you can about them. Treat every customer as your best customer…because they are. If you do this the numbers will fall in place.”

— Doug Vahrenberg, Vahrenberg Implement, Higginsville, Mo.

A: “The one piece of advice I would tell my younger self about running an equipment dealership is, ‘Run as fast as you can to get away from a farm equipment dealership.’ The equipment manufactories are so ruthless today. I do not trust any of them. I am so glad that the state of North Dakota is pushing back on them. We should have that law in all 50 states. That would make things much better for dealerships and equipment consumers.”

— Harold Leonard, Richland Equipment Co., Centreville, Miss.

A: “Still learning from the ‘school of hard knocks.’ so not sure I have any advice.”

— Marlin Huber, Huber Ag Equipment Ltd., Coronation, Alberta

A: “Narrowing it down to one thing is tough but I can narrow it down to two. If I were better at these things earlier on, my journey would have been easier and more successful. 

  1. I believe you have to be a servant manager. You must come alongside your staff so you understand their successes and challenges. People will trust and follow you once that respect is earned. Your people must be successful for you to be successful. 
  2. Be honest, straight forth and clear with your communication. People may not always like what you tell them but over time, but they will respect your decisions and buy in. Most people need vision and direction to feel productive and part of the entire organization.”

— Aaron Boggs, Finch Services, Inc., Westminster, Md.

A: “Guess I am an ‘old timer’ since I disagree with your opening premise. I believe running a dealership today is basically the same as it was in 1983 (and before) when I moved from wholesale to retail. It's all about communication with our customers, our suppliers and employees. Sure, the 'how' has certainly changed, but I'm too ‘old school’ to offer any advice there. Over the years, I found myself and my team often spending too much time worrying about the technical side of the equation, instead of asking more questions and then actually listening to the answers.

“One thing is for certain — even now when our time seems so very precious — I'd spend more time talking (and listening) to my good customers, those make up the 20% that does 80% of the business. I would quit worrying about the 20% that complain about everything and constantly assure us 'they can buy it cheaper down the road.'

“For me, if I were starting as a new general on Monday, I'd try to be more humble. The first time around, I was always making sure everyone knew I knew what I thought I knew. Too much telling and not enough asking. Asking for ideas; asking for information, asking for help.” 

— Tim Riley, retired general manager

A: “At the young age of 18, in 1952, I started employment with Cockshutt Farm Equipment, a well-known Canadian farm equipment company with manufacturing facilities in Brantford, Ontario. This company was well established in Canada with many branches and dealerships. I started in the Edmonton parts department at $140 per month, also spending time in the accounting/credit department and machine order desk.

“In 1958, I was appointed as territory manager in the Peace River area of Alberta at a salary of $350 per month and a $90 car allowance. While these wages today are unthinkable, everything was relevant. You could buy a cart full of groceries for $30, a gallon of gas for $0.30 and I could trade cars for $800 each year.

“I managed and worked with 12 dealers, assisting them with sales and never thought twice about helping a dealer pre-deliver a new combine and then starting up a customer in the field, while the dealer’s wife looked after the dealership.

“In 1964, I was transferred to the Regina branch as sales manager, then as branch manager where I managed branch operations and territory managers until 1976. During these years I worked very hard, starting at 8 a.m. and quitting at 5 p.m. was not the norm. You worked until the job was done. During these years I gained considerable experience in all aspects of the farm equipment business and proper operations of a dealership. Now was the time to start on my own.

“In 1977, with very limited resources, I was able to purchase a dealership in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, selling and servicing Massey-Gleaner and White Products. In 1986, we acquired the Kubota contract and, today, we are an exclusive Kubota dealer selling over 100 major units per year.

“We have always operated as a family business including two sons, a grandson and my son’s wife, as well as myself at age 83. Our success and our way of operation brought about the 2014 Rural Lifestyle Dealer Dealership of the Year award.

“The ag industry has really changed. The days of small dealerships are changing in favor or large multi store operations. There are many opportunities for young people to play a role in these operations. All I can say to the young people in the business is: Always keep your word, make a strong effort to learn the business, listen to your customers, and make every effort to give them good service. Don’t worry about the clock.

— Ed Talaga, Armstrong Implements, Swift Current, Saskatchewan