Pictured Above: Martin Implement owners (from left) are Bruce, Tom and Bob Novak, and Steve Martin. (Photo Courtesy of Martin Implement)
Although the Novak brothers grew up in a family dealership, they never intended to make it their lifelong career. “Tom and I went to college for business administration. Bob went for mechanical engineering. There was never that clear intent to come back and work in our father’s business. Eventually, it just worked out that way,” Bruce Novak says.
It’s a good thing it did. Martin Implement, with its 3 locations in northern Illinois, has grown considerably since the second generation took over the business nearly 20 years ago. Growth has accelerated over the past 9 years as the dealership has expanded its footprint.
Walter Martin started the business in 1945. Art Novak joined the dealership as an apprentice technician in 1950. He became a partner in 1957 and assumed sole ownership 7 years later. After completing college in the early 1980s, Art’s three sons joined the business. Tom now serves as president and sales manager. Bob is vice president and rental manager. Bruce is secretary and controller, also overseeing human resources and marketing.
The Novaks are joined by another partner, Steve Martin (no relation to the founder). Interestingly, he has followed the same path Art did more than 60 years ago. Martin started as an apprentice technician in 1971 and became a shareholder in 1994. He now serves as general manager of the dealership’s 3-store operation.
“We functioned as a single-store dealership for most of our history. In the late 1980s/early 1990s, we operated a second store in Plainfield, Ill., but ended up closing after just a few years. Back then, it was a lot harder to have oversight to remote locations because we didn’t have the internet and computer networking like we have today. In 2009, we had the opportunity to move into a new territory in South Elgin, Ill., with a store that’s led by key employee, Brad Beaulieu. We did that and then added a third store in Wauconda, Ill., in 2012,” Bruce says.
Location: Orland Park, South Elgin and Wauconda, Ill.
Owners: Bob, Bruce and Tom Novak, and Steve Martin
Employees by Location:
Orland Park: 30, managed by owners
South Elgin: 16, manager Brad Beaulieu
Wauconda: 3, manager Andrew Zimmerman
Business System: CDK Global
Website Provider: Tom Rowe & Associates
Lines: Alamo Industrial, Allied Construction Equipment, Ammbusher, Belco Resources Equipment, Billy Goat, Bradco, Brush Wolf, Bush Hog, Coneqtec, Construction Attachments, Echo, EZ Grout, Fecon, Felling Trailers, FFC, Finn, Geith, Grasshopper, Harley, Holden, Honda Power Equipment, Hyundai, Kanlan, Kubota, Land Pride, LoJack, Lowe, Millcreek, New Holland, Redi Haul, Remu, Road Boss, Ryan, Scag, Screen Machine Industries, SnowWolf, Spectra Precision, STIHL, Sweepster, Toro, Wacker Neuson and Woods
The Wauconda store is smaller and does not have a service department. If customers come into that store looking for service, a mobile service technician will be dispatched to the customer’s location, or the customer’s equipment will be trailered to one of the other two stores.
Martin Implement caters to four key customer segments:
- Contractors (general contractors, homebuilders, concrete contractors, excavating companies, etc.)
- Municipalities, school districts and parks
- Turf (landscape contractors, golf courses, etc.)
- Property owners (smaller farms and stables, homeowners with acreage, etc.)
Customer segmentation has fueled the dealership’s very successful email marketing efforts.
“Around 2008, New Holland Industrial had a corporate marketing program that all construction dealers in our area could be part of. It was through a company called Winsby. The goal was to solidify New Holland’s brand image and make all product messaging consistent. That program continued for several years, but was disbanded after an administration change at New Holland. But we liked it, and decided to continue on with Winsby as our marketing partner,” Bruce says.
That relationship with Winsby is how Martin Implement got started with email marketing, which is a cornerstone of its marketing efforts today. “Studies have shown that for every dollar you spend on email marketing, you get $40 in return. You can’t find another medium that offers that kind of return,” Bruce says.
Martin Implement’s email marketing returns have been right on par. The dealership has upward of 3,000 active customers, those it has done business with over the past year. It’s difficult to reach out to every single one on a regular basis via phone or in-person visit. “Email delivery is a great way to keep in front of them,” Bruce says.
Working with Winsby, Martin Implement typically sends out two emails per month sorted by customer segmentation. One email is focused on aftermarket sales, highlighting parts, rental and repair services. A second email is focused on equipment sales, highlighting new products, used products and promotions. Emails also include customer spotlights and educational information, such as tips and videos.
“Videos have become really important on used equipment. In the old days, it was good to have photos of used machines from several different angles. Now, it’s a short video. It’s probably not practical to do a video on every single used machine you have, but we try to do about one a month,” Bruce says.
He stresses the importance of segmented email lists. In its early days of email marketing, the dealership sent a single mass email. Since it began tailoring emails to each of its four customer segments, results have shot up dramatically. “It doesn’t make much sense to send an email talking about large excavation equipment to a homeowner. By segmenting, we can include product and educational information that is much more relevant. That makes the emails much more valuable to the customer,” Bruce says.
It’s also important to determine to whom each of the email types will be sent. With commercial customers, it’s possible that the person making parts purchases is different from the person making equipment purchases. Martin Implement has a process for collecting this type of information when setting up a new account.
Brad Beaulieu, South Elgin, Ill., branch manager, was instrumental in getting that store up and running in 2009. He earned a President’s Club Award from New Holland in 2016, which recognizes dealers for outstanding customer service and continuous business improvement. (Photo Courtesy of Martin Implement)
Building a Blog, Mobile Website
The dealership’s marketing effort is led by Bruce’s wife, Erika, who serves as marketing director. She is also in charge of social media as well as the dealership’s blog, “Fully Equipped.” The blog works hand-in-hand with both social media and email marketing. “Customers want to receive more than just sales promotions. Our blog lets us share great information with them. We’ve added a section called ‘Ask the Experts,’ which includes videos on equipment operation,” Bruce says.
The Fully Equipped blog constitutes roughly 50% of Martin Implement’s first-page website visits. So it’s not just a cute little novelty, as many company blogs are. Fully Equipped is a critical component to the dealership’s marketing efforts in terms of nurturing customers.
The same can be said about Martin Implement’s mobile website, which was developed a few years ago. “Mobile searches are outpacing those done on a desktop computer now. You need a mobile-optimized site that caters to the needs of mobile shoppers. These customers are typically looking for information on how to contact you, location and hours, used equipment listings and parts listings. We also provide a link to our full site should the customer want to go more in-depth, but on a mobile device, the customer is really looking for those instant clicks. A mobile site should be very streamlined,” Bruce says.
Communicating with Martin Implement’s service department has also been streamlined. Online service lookup has been provided by the dealership’s DMS provider, CDK Global. That program, E-Services, is now called MyDealer Access.
“MyDealer Access has evolved with the rise in mobile device usage. Customers can now do a variety of things. They can track equipment service status, request service, see a history of all the equipment they have bought from us or had serviced, add their own maintenance notes, search for parts and send in purchase orders,” Bruce says.
“For every dollar you
spend on email marketing,
you get $40 in return…”
– Bruce Novak of Martin Implement
Sell It or Rent It
Martin Implement started out as a Ford tractor dealership. The first big game-changer came when New Holland acquired Ford and introduced Martin Implement to the skid steer. “The skid steer continues to be our top-selling product. We sell New Holland and Kubota, along with Toro compact utility loaders,” Bruce says.
With the skid steer comes a multitude of attachments. Martin Implement’s offering is broad, ranging from seeders, spreaders and brush mowers to brooms, backhoes and breakers. Nearly 20 brand names are represented.
Since the dealership caters to both professional turf customers and acreage owners, mowing equipment is a significant part of the wholegoods offering. Martin Implement offers Kubota, Scag and Grasshopper riding mowers, as well as Honda push mowers.
“Mowers can be an entry-level product for landscape contractors. Many start out in strictly lawn maintenance. Then they branch into landscape construction, which opens up the need for a skid steer loader and different attachments,” Bruce says.
In assembling its vast offering of attachments, Martin Implement leans heavily on customer requests. Then, the dealership reaches out to manufacturers to get a feel for their support.
Martin Implement’s 10 Rules of Exceptional Customer Service
1. Smile/Welcome/Thank. Create a welcoming environment through customer engagement, personal appearance and workspace cleanliness. Enthusiastically acknowledge customers and thank them for their business at every opportunity.
2. Answer the Call. Interact in the most direct and personable means possible. Whether communicating voice-to-voice or face-to-face, minimize hold and wait times, and the relegation of customers to voicemail.
3. Own the Call. Claim ownership of every transaction that originates with you. If you pass along customers to another individual, make sure that their needs get satisfied.
4. Ask Instead of Assuming. Don’t make assumptions about the needs of the customer. Always ask about their requirements and suggest other areas in which we can be of assistance.
5. Communicate Clearly. Explicitly communicate the specifics of how you will assist the customer. Make sure they understand what they will receive, at what cost, and within what timeframe.
6. Deliver the Unexpected. Never over-promise, always over-perform. Seize the opportunity to deliver the unexpected.
7. Establish a Connection. Take an active interest in customers and strive to connect on a personal level. Become informed about their business and hobbies.
8. Remain Flexible. Be flexible in terms of availability. Convey the importance the customer has to our business by making them priority number one. Meeting a customer early or staying late can make a big difference.
9. Urgent Action. Respond with a sense of urgency. Deliver prompt follow-up to ensure timely completion of all requests and maximum satisfaction with performance.
10. Follow the Golden Rule. Behave toward others as you would like them to behave toward you.
Attachments are ideal for a rental department. That’s why manufacturer support and parts availability is such a determining factor. “With rentals, there are going to be failures. You need to get the machine back up and running as quickly as possible,” Bruce says.
Martin Implement’s rental department has been on a 5-year tear. “Between 2013 and 2014, our rental business grew by almost 50%. It is a bit unheard of to see that kind of growth,” Bruce says.
For several years after the recession, a big portion of Martin Implement’s customer base — particularly contractors — had to reconsider equipment purchases. Renting equipment as needed based on the job made a lot of business sense. Today, the economy is stronger and contractors are busier. Still, customers have come to understand the viability of rentals and continue to go that route in many instances.
Rentals range from the predictably common, such as skid steers and excavators, to the uniquely niche. Finn bark blowers and hydroseeders are good examples. “This equipment gives us an opportunity to draw in a customer who might buy his everyday equipment from another dealer, but has to come to us for this unique type of item. The Toro compact equipment falls into this category as well,” Bruce says.
- Identify your key customer segments and then develop marketing strategies for each.
- Encourage customer advocacy, such as through online ratings and reviews.
- Develop a mobile-friendly website geared toward typical online shopper behaviors.
- Develop customer service rules and put them in writing.
Martin Implement does many rent-to-purchase deals where a portion of a rental fee is applied to the eventual purchase of the item. It’s all about giving customers what they need and helping them succeed in business.
“Rental is a segment that continues to be strong for us with above average year-over-year growth,” Bruce says. In fact, rental now contributes roughly 12% of the dealership’s overall revenue. New equipment sales represent 60%.
Measuring Great Customer Service
Whether they are buying or renting, Martin Implement proactively encourages customers to offer online reviews. Many customers — in any industry — only go online to post a review when they are upset. It’s important to remind your satisfied customers to weigh in also. Customer service surveys are a great opportunity to do this, while also allowing you to collect valuable feedback.
“To be successful in the equipment industry, you must have a strong emphasis on customer service. The industry continues to be a face-to-face business. More is being done online or even over the phone, but it’s still a very personable, relationship-based business. So we’ve always had a huge emphasis on customer service,” Bruce says.
Martin Implement’s headquarters is in Orland Park, Ill., and the dealership also has locations in South Elgin and Wauconda, Ill. (Photo Courtesy of Martin Implement)
That emphasis has paid off. Martin Implement has been recognized as a Top Dealer by Satisfyd (formerly Strategic Feedback), a provider of customer and employee experience management programs. Of that company’s more than 1,000 dealer clients, only 55 have earned this distinction. It is based on customer surveys. Check out the blog post and tribute video: MartinImplement.com/fullyequipped/?p=17067.
Much focus and commitment goes into establishing such a strong customer service culture. Defining standards is helpful and Martin Implement has developed 10 rules of customer service (see the sidebar on page 32.). “Our team has really taken them to heart,” Bruce says.
Good customer service still requires good people — and enough of them. The labor challenge is making things more difficult. “Last year, we had a few long-term employees retire, including parts and service managers and an equipment sales rep. We have hired good replacements, but it’s definitely more challenging to find good candidates these days,” he says.
Equipment dealers are competing for qualified employees with not only each other, but also other occupations. “We always ask our existing employees for referrals when a position opens up. We’ve also had success online with Indeed.com,” Bruce says.
Adapting to changes in the market has allowed Martin Implement to thrive since 1945. In this people-driven, relationship-based business, it’s about balancing modern forms of communication with good old-fashioned customer service. Martin Implement has found the perfect balance.