Ranchland Tractor & ATV in Saucier, Miss., has conducted a remarkable turnaround, culminating with earning Rural Lifestyle Dealer’s Dealership of the Year in the single-store category. In less than 8 years, David Holman, a new owner from outside the farm equipment business, conquered the monumental challenge of a complete culture overhaul in an older, established dealership.
In the early days of the dealership, Buford Wingate, who would become the future general manager, was hired as a salesperson. Holman largely credits Wingate with helping turn the dealership around. Holman jokes that the move from sales to management was a battlefield promotion that included no raise, just a different business card. “He was running the dealership anytime I was away, so we gave him the title and let everybody know that he was in charge,” he says of Wingate.
Wingate, like Holman, had not been in the farm equipment business, but managed a trailer dealership and had extensive experience with construction equipment. Both shared similar temperaments and visions for the future, with the first step to address the staff. Holman and Wingate started eliminating staff who were not devoted to their vision of ethics or customer service. They worked long hours together, completing the tasks necessary to grow the business while looking for new staff members.
As the staff grew, Holman realized that he needed to be out of sales. “My favorite thing at the dealership was selling but getting out of it was the best thing to do. I wanted to be free so when we got busy and things were slacking, I could take care of them. Buyers are like fish; they all feed at once. If I see a salesman trying to juggle too many deals, I jump in and help load the customers, strap things down, get the paperwork done, a lot of admin things,” he says.
Holman says he resists the urge to meddle with direct employee interaction, instead instructing Wingate on priorities and letting him flesh them out. “Buford’s role is managing everything in the dealership, so employees respect him and his position. He also helps me order wholegoods and we spend a lot of time planning orders because inventory management is tough.”
Wingate’s handling of daily operations gives Holman time to manage the dealership. “Nobody’s going to watch the books like the dealer principal. I check all invoices, which have to be signed off by department heads. Without their initials, I’m not writing a check.
“Numbers are everything. If you’re not managing by the numbers, you’re not managing. You need to know your gross and net margins and your absorption rate, which is a phrase that I never heard before I got into the business. We started off around 28%, now we’re up around 80-85% and are probably as good as we can be. I would love to get to where a Toyota dealership is at 110-115%. I don’t know if that can happen with compact tractors, but it’s a goal.”
Under Holman and Wingate’s leadership, unprofitable lines were eliminated, and focus was directed toward growing existing lines and adding new ones with revenue potential. Mahindra, Polaris, Bad Boy and Texas Bragg trailers carried over from the previous ownership. Can-Am, Sea-Doo, Gravely and Woods were added.