Rural dealers have an opportunity to serve a variety of customer segments. With that opportunity comes a challenge to create shopping environments that appeal to everyone, including everyday consumers.
“It’s important for equipment dealers to think like non-traditional dealers in how we connect with consumers. We can learn a lot from hardware stores that have dealt with consumer traffic forever. I doubt many in the equipment industry could have ever imagined having conversations about foot traffic and how to properly lay out a showroom. That is what we are working hard to figure out now,” says Ted Horan, vice president of marketing for RDO Equipment, a John Deere and Vermeer dealer with 78 locations in 9 states.
RDO Equipment serves a mix of agricultural, construction and industrial customers, along with various contractor and consumer segments. “Some consumers can get a little intimidated when they drive up to a dealership and see massive machinery like row-crop tractors. We’re attempting to create an environment where a hobby farmer feels comfortable and is able to get what they need,” Horan says.
Making Everyone Feel Welcome
RDO Equipment is evaluating facilities throughout its footprint where it can enhance the consumer side of its business. That includes things like improved equipment displays, test-drive space and parking availability.
- Create an environment that makes all customer types feel welcome and consider future growth when making today’s investments.
- Merchandise wisely so customers understand the breadth of your product offering. Make it easy for consumers to find what they need and compare their options.
- Small, relatively inexpensive amenities can create lasting impressions.
Those types of improvements are already visible in RDO’s Bismarck, N.D., and Kennewick, Wash., stores, both of which were opened recently. Both stores are focused on consumers and contractor-type customers. Similarly, RDO’s store in Riverside, Calif., underwent a significant remodel a couple of years ago.
Changes can also be seen at RDO Equipment’s store in Moorhead, Minn. A sizable portion of that store has been transformed into a consumer-friendly environment over the past 5 years. Since it is located so close to RDO’s corporate offices, it serves as a great proving ground for new concepts and merchandising techniques.
“We have dedicated a certain amount of display space to consumer-type equipment, and we’ve also been very intentional about how the parking lot is used and where our service department is located,” Horan says. That is part of the balancing act when serving both professional and consumer customers. Dedicated parking space has been created for both. Each customer type also has its own dealership entrance.
RDO Equipment is focused on displaying its smaller, consumer-geared equipment more prominently. Photo courtesy of RDO Equipment.
RDO Equipment is now in the planning stages for a new store in Moses Lake, Wash. “This facility is also being built with the consumer shopper in mind. A sizable grower customer base will also be served by this store, but we want to make it so large property owners can come in and do a test drive and get what they need,” Horan says.
A sizable portion of RDO Equipment’s Moorhead, Minn., store has been transformed into a consumer-friendly environment. Photo courtesy of RDO Equipment.
As a general rule, RDO Equipment is focused on displaying its smaller, consumer-geared equipment more prominently. That might mean alongside the building, at the front entrance or closer to the road. “The point is to commit to giving this equipment premium placement, wherever the most visible space might be,” Horan says.
Incorporating Your Brand
In July 2018, Josh and Mandy Witt purchased a John Deere dealership in Marshfield, Wis., Power Pac Equipment & Motorsports. The dealership already had a large showroom, but the Witts knew some work was needed to bring it more up to date. Additionally, they had big plans to grow the business. They wanted to display at least one of every equipment model they carried. They also wanted to make any necessary facility enhancements to help them continue growing.
Power Pac Equipment & Motorsports features a remodeled 10,000-square-foot showroom along with a 10,000-square-foot addition for the dealership’s John Deere offering. Photo courtesy of Power Pac Equipment & Motorsports.
Soon after taking ownership of the business, the Witts began remodeling the existing 10,000-square-foot showroom. They also started construction of a 10,000-square-foot showroom addition.
“The previous owner was already talking with contractors about a showroom expansion. We wrapped all of that into our plans to purchase the business when we applied for a business loan,” says Mandy Witt, co-owner and chief marketing officer of Power Pac.
In expanding and updating the showroom, the Witts wanted to find a way to separate the two primary components of their business: powersports and lawn and garden. Mandy says this would be received positively by both consumers and manufacturers. “The OEMs like to see their brands separated from some of the typical dealership noise,” Witt says.
Mandy Witt redesigned the company logo to give it a more modern feel soon after she and her husband, Josh, purchased Power Pac Equipment & Motorsports. The new logo is now being incorporated strongly into the dealership’s revamped showroom. Photo courtesy of Power Pac Equipment & Motorsports.
Much of that “noise” includes the mishmashing of product types and brands in the same display area, as well as signage plastering the walls and counters. “Before you know it, your dealership can end up looking like the side of a race car,” she says.
The Witts set out to establish distinct showroom sections by product type. “That way, if a customer is shopping for a riding mower, they don’t have to walk through rows of ATVs,” Witt says. Each section is organized by OEM to further improve the shopping experience.
The Witts also kept customer traffic in mind when laying out the new showroom. “When a customer walks into our remodeled store, the first thing they see is motorsports because it is exciting — and we want to project a fun, adventurous feel. But we also need a lawn and garden section, and everything has to feel like it’s the same company. We want the customer’s first impression to be Power Pac, whether they are looking for adventure or to get work done,” Mandy explains.
Motorsports and lawn and garden are displayed separately in the new Power Pac showroom. To further improve the shopping experience, each section is organized by manufacturer. Pictured is the STIHL display in the lawn and garden section. Photo courtesy of Power Pac Equipment & Motorsports.
Once the showroom addition was built, the Witts set out to create a cohesive look. A new color pallet based on neutral grays was selected. “This provides a more modern feel that can grow with us without becoming dated,” Mandy points out. They also updated the flooring with modern carpet tiles and a similar color scheme. The main storefront sign was updated with the new color scheme and new company logo.
That logo was one of the first things Mandy jumped on when she and her husband bought the dealership. “With my marketing agency background, I kind of ‘nerd out’ on projects like this,” she says.
Mandy involved the dealership staff in the logo recreation. “We did some branding exercises. We talked about what we were good at and what we wanted people to think about when they stepped into our store. Words came up like adventurous, down-to-earth and approachable. That’s what we wanted to incorporate into our new brand,” Will says.
Seeking Inexpensive Ideas
“Sometimes the best marketing has nothing to do with machinery. Sometimes it can be as simple as a facility upgrade that sparks the interest of customers,” says Doug Vahrenberg, co-owner of Vahrenberg Implement in Higginsville, Mo.
As part of Vahrenberg Implement’s ag heritage theme, the top 6 feet of the showroom’s 14-foot walls are home to a variety of farming industry antiques. Additionally, the parts counter and awning are made of old barnwood. Photo courtesy of Vahrenberg Implement.
Vahrenberg can speak to that from experience. His dealership’s “ag heritage” theme has been a conversation starter for years. The parts counter and awning are made of old barnwood. Additionally, the top 6 feet of the showroom’s 14-foot walls is home to a variety of farm antiques, such as hand planters, grain sacks, harnesses and hay-cutting tools. Vahrenberg says he and his staff found many of the items over the years, but customers have also gotten in on the fun.
There aren’t nearly as many dealers in Higginsville as there used to be and the ones that are left are large. “You need something fun and unique to help bring people in,” Vahrenberg says.
A new addition that is really bringing people in is the dealership’s restroom. Vahrenberg says customers always joked about needing to use the outhouse, so he thought he might as well make one.
The new indoor outhouse at Vahrenberg Implement has become quite the customer favorite this year, generating a lot of buzz both in the store and on Facebook. Photo courtesy of Vahrenberg Implement.
“We’d already been thinking about modernizing our restroom, so we decided to make it look like an outhouse,” Vahrenberg says. The flooring and walls are made out of a material that looks like barn wood, which helps tie into the look of the showroom. The vanity has been replaced by an old wooden cabinet. Two lanterns are illuminated by LED lights. “We even found a reprint of an 1897 Sears & Roebuck catalog that we leave in there,” Vahrenberg says.
The indoor outhouse has become quite an attraction. Vahrenberg says customers often bring their wives and children who are always amused. “I heard one customer tell her husband that she wanted one at their house. I’ve also heard men talking about it to each other,” Vahrenberg says.
Some of the talking has taken place on social media. Vahrenberg says a lot of people came in to look at the outhouse because they’d heard about it on Facebook. “We post a lot of photos and videos of our dealership. The outhouse post was by far our most popular. It goes to show you that something fun and different can really get people’s attention,” Vahrenberg says.
When Daniel Sawyer purchased South Alabama Kubota in Monroeville, Ala., in 2014, he knew some renovations would be needed to carry the dealership forward. But he wanted to clear the 5-year hurdle all new businesses face. That’s why the purchase agreement stipulated that he would lease the building for the first 5 years.
That 5-year lease period ended this year. Sawyer took ownership of the building and immediately set a multi-faceted renovation project into motion. In fact, he’s spending over a half-million dollars to expand and update everything from the parking lot and loading dock to the showroom and parts department.
As the dealership has grown over the past 5 years, Sawyer says the improvements have become even more necessary. “We’re doing 12 times the volume now. We’ve seen an extreme increase in customer traffic, which has required us to keep adding sales, parts and service staff. Next thing you knew, we needed a parking lot just for our employees,” Sawyer says.
As the dealership grew, Sawyer continued adding items to his wish list. “The project has gotten exponentially bigger. What we thought would take 6 months is going to end up taking an entire year. I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t wish remodeling on anyone,” Sawyer says.
That’s just the stress talking, Sawyer points out, adding that it has been important to recognize little accomplishments week after week. That helps keep everyone — including himself — focused and inspired. Here’s a look at some project highlights.
Showroom. Sawyer was satisfied with the size of the existing showroom. He just wanted to bring it up to date and lay it out more efficiently. LED lighting has been added throughout the dealership. A new ceiling tile grid has been installed, as has a new parts counter. The showroom also got a new coat of paint.
One showroom addition has been a series of open-style offices. Sawyer says the dealership’s office staff handles customer credit applications in a separate, more private setting. Thus, closed-door sales offices are unnecessary. “Customers appreciate this. When they come into our store, they can see which salespeople are already with other customers. Plus, our salespeople see when a new customer walks in and jump right up,” Sawyer says.
The new showroom also features more display space for handheld equipment. Originally it had just 12 linear feet. Now there is 32 feet for Echo and another 32 feet for Husqvarna, which the dealership added this summer.
“We used to rely a lot on our backstock. Now, we can have plenty of each model right on the sales floor. That looks more impressive. We also don’t have to worry about selling two of something and having a big hole in the display,” Sawyer says.
Storefront. Some of South Alabama Kubota’s biggest upgrades have taken place outside. The dealership roof was extended 6 feet up to make room for more impressive signage. There is now a 1-acre test drive area. “We’ve even put in a new flag pole because everyone loves America,” Sawyer says.
South Alabama Kubota’s huge renovation project includes a covered front porch that runs from one end of the store to the other. This will help contractors browse tractors, mowers and other equipment on their rain-out days when they like to visit the dealership. Photo courtesy of South Alabama Kubota.
A new parking lot has been installed, complete with dedicated areas for trucks and trailers and turnouts were widened. “This was important because half of our customers pull up in trucks and trailers. Back in the 1980s, there were no regulations on turnouts, so businesses just went with 12 or 15 feet. With a trailer, you’re going to hit the curb every time. With our new 100-foot-wide turnouts, a lowboy truck can pull out and not even creep into the wrong lane,” Sawyer says.
Of all the individual elements of this major renovation, Sawyer says employees can’t decide which is their favorite, but two are at the front of the pack.
“We’re doing a roof over our front sidewalk. It runs from one end to the other, wrapping around another 25 feet down each side. Contractors like to come here when it rains because they can’t work. The roof gives us a chance to go out and show them equipment without standing in the rain,” Sawyer says. The covered porch area now allows the dealership to display 6-8 zero-turn mowers and even a handful of Kubota tractors up to 70 horsepower.
The other employee favorite is the new loading dock. “We spent years having to drive up to the sides of trucks with our forklift. With our new full-size truck dock ramp with load leveler, we can drive the forklift right onto the trucks. It is so much easier,” Sawyer says.
South Alabama Kubota has taken a big step forward without adding a single square foot. Looking ahead, there is an expansion in the works. “We have plans for a 4,800-square-foot addition out back. We’ve left room for a wash pad and driveway. We’ll use that space for service,” Sawyer says.
Parts and service. That extra service building is in the future, though. In the present, Sawyer set out to simply make better use of the space they already had. The parts department, for instance, has been reconfigured. While the footprint has remained relatively the same, the parts storage capacity has doubled.
Up in Wisconsin, Mandy and Josh Witt are also thinking about the future needs of their dealership. Power Pac Equipment and Motorsports in Marshfield has been wired for up to 4 additional service bays. The Witts have also requested a reinforced steel beam so they can eventually add a heavy-duty lift. It’s all part of getting the infrastructure in place to allow for the kind of growth the Witts are intent on achieving.
When reinvesting back into their facilities, the ultimate objective is to fuel growth. Sometimes a showroom facelift is needed. Other times, it’s a novelty item that helps build your brand and generate some buzz. Sometimes it’s a behind-the-scenes upgrade that helps improve efficiency. Whatever the case, dealers with a keen ear toward what is needed today, along with a clear eye toward the future, are making things happen.