The opinions vary, but one point is clear: Dealers have strong feelings about the EDA Dealer-Manufacturers Relations Survey.

Jim Herbert, principal and owner of Bud Herbert Motors, a two-store John Deere turf dealer with locations in Cincinnati and Harrison, Ohio, offers his perspective. Herbert serves on the board of the United Equipment Dealers Assn. (UEDA) and is chair of the UEDA Outdoor Power Equipment Dealer Council.

Herbert uses the survey rankings when evaluating a new line and relies on the association to work with manufacturers on areas that need improvement. “One dealer with one comment doesn’t get a lot of attention, but when it’s a survey with a whole group of dealers across the country, that’s a lot stronger message,” he says.

Regarding results for the lines he carries, he expected Exmark would have scored higher in overall satisfaction — they rated 5.56 compared with 5.73 for the OPE average. The company did receive above average scores in 7 of the remaining 11 categories. STIHL ranked well for product quality, 6.24 compared with the average of 5.88 and John Deere earned the Dealer’s Choice award for full-line manufacturers.

He was surprised at LS Tractor, being fairly new to the market, earning Dealer’s Choice for tractor manufacturers for the fourth time.

Herbert says he has seen changes over the years in terms of how the major ag manufacturers work with dealers, but the issue has always been there. “The major ag equipment manufacturers have their own agenda. It’s our responsibility to do everything we can to work toward those goals. It’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to put programs in place to ensure that dealers succeed. If either player drops the ball, the relationship could fail,” he says.

Herbert says they are unique among Deere dealers in that they only carry turf equipment and tractors up to 120 horsepower and are not a multi-store group. “Certainly the push is out there to consolidate. Manufacturers are looking for high-performing dealerships that exceed in customer service. If dealers do these things, they remain relevant and valuable to the manufacturer,” he says.

Generally, Herbert’s concerns are about how manufacturers communicate with dealers and says they should seek more input before launching initiatives. Warranty procedures and payments are another concern. “It truly is the manufacturer’s responsibility to make the dealer whole. Warranty repairs should be just as profitable as any other work order,” he says.

Herbert is also concerned about product availability. One recent extreme case was a tractor ordered last November that was delivered in April. “I understand manufacturers are trying to optimize factory output, but if we experience an unforeseen increase in sales of a particular model, we sometimes end up waiting a long time to get product. Dealers need to be aware and plan accordingly, but that can be difficult in our industry because it’s so seasonal. If I miss the mark and the manufacturer is not shipping right away, I could miss the season,” Herbert says.

Herbert says he does share with customers if his manufacturers scored well in product quality and responding to concerns. “Customers might not fully understand how that affects them, but I explain that strong manufacturer support allows us to better serve their needs,” he says.

More Dealers Weigh In

Here’s a roundup of other dealer viewpoints.

Bill Bonner of Sandyland Equipment, Fairfield, Texas, says, “This survey helps us in looking at new and existing lines we carry. Being an LS Tractor dealer, the rating earned by LS helps us reinforce the quality of the machine and promote sales — especially for a shortline that lacks name recognition. Also, being a McCormick tractor dealer, the ratings help me leverage concerns with corporate upper and mid-management to highlight weak areas that they should work on.”

Doug Rinker of Winchester Equipment, Winchester, Va., says, “Surveys can give us a window into the soul of the industry. I view the results as a way to compare my experience with those of my fellow dealers. If we see that our viewpoint or experiences are markedly different than the survey results, then it gives us pause to find out why ours is different than our peers.”

Brian Hoven of Hoven Equipment, Great Falls, Mont., says, “Manufacturers look out for their business interests. If manufacturers determine being reasonable to dealers for a period is in their best interest they will do so. However, that normally doesn’t last very long. Because we represent New Holland, AGCO, MacDon, Vermeer, Versatile and Bobcat, no one likes us very much. Vermeer is the best. We try to represent our manufacturers fairly, but we are typical salesmen. We sell what sells easiest and for the best margin. The surveys help bring to the attention of the manufacturers how dealers perceive them and most people want to be perceived positively.”

Donald Angstadt of Pikeville Equipment, Oley, Pa., says, “The best way to evaluate a prospective supplier is by a good recommendation from a dealer selling his current product. Large corporations like John Deere only care about their shareholders’ value and not the welfare of the dealer. The products that these large corporate organizations produce leave a lot to be desired on quality. I believe that in a short time we will see a flood of tractors from China. I have been working in this industry since 1963 and the dealer has never been treated worse.”

Brian Carpenter of Champlain Valley Equipment, a multi-store dealership located in Vermont, says, “You’re always wanting to know if you are being treated fairly and how your manufacturer ranks in product availability, after-sales support and things like that. And it’s one opportunity that we’ve had in recent years since they started that survey of having an independent agency collect data and provide that feedback. It helps you understand as a dealer where the manufacturers you’re representing sit in that regard.”

James Sommer of Service Motor Co., Dale, Wis., says, “The results of the survey seem realistic. The ratings do influence lines that we may consider taking on and they are discussed with our manufacturers.”

Don Van Howeling of Van Wall Equipment with locations in Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois and Kansas, says, “My relationship with my manufacturer John Deere is based on weekly and monthly reviews as well as direct communications with senior management, so there is no long-term disconnect. My guess is that is the case with other John Deere DOTs (Dealers of Tomorrow) as well. The key is consistent communications. The concept has now moved on to where it is much more business-like. We are treated with respect because we must work together as we both have large stakes in the partnership. Those dealers that have serious issues are probably not part of the future or have chosen to go it their own way. I don’t know what it is like with other OEMs, however.”

Wayne Hunt, H&R Agri-Power, says, “I think the surveys are a good measure of dealership-OEM relationships and we do include them in our discussions. The ratings should help improve our relationships with OEMs. There are so many different manufacturers today that the ratings definitely help as we look at other lines. We do refer to the ratings in our discussions periodically with all of our different lines.”