2020 has been an interesting year for everyone in the world, and the equipment business hasn’t been immune. In Emmetsburg, Iowa, however, Woodford Equipment is marking the year with a something big to celebrate too — its 10th year in business.
Eric Woodford and his wife, Mary, took a leap of faith on May 1, 2010, and started a new business from the ground up. Prior to that they had farmed and used some of the equipment they now sell to area customers.
Their story is made more interesting by the fact that Eric had invented one of the features now on the Vermeer Cornstalk Special Baler — its powered wind guard. He says it’s basically a “turbocharger” for the baler, which force feeds the crop into the machine, making it more efficient. “We patented it and licensed it to Vermeer, who was prospecting a location in Emmetsburg because of a new ethanol plant being built back then.
Vermeer wanted a dealer nearby to train the farmers how to round bale cornstalks, as well as sell and service equipment. “So that’s what brought us here,” Woodford says.
Rural Lifestyle Brings Business Diversity
It didn’t take long into the new business venture to realize they needed to be very diversified, Woodford recalls. “We couldn’t live on baling equipment alone,” he jokes, and says that in the last decade, they’ve enjoyed being a short line dealer, choosing the best manufacturers from around the world, nearly 50 of them.
Core brands include: Vermeer, Kioti, Bobcat, Hustler, Gehringhoff, Toro, among others. When looking to add new equipment or lines, he says it’s always been a thoughtful process. The customer base is very rural, with a low population count.
Woodford has kept an emphasis on agriculture, but really expanded into the rural lifestyle, industrial, even municipal and residential areas to be a “one-stop shop” for those various customer groups. For the rural lifestylers, he says the Kioti tractors have been top sellers. The manufacturer offers great financing and warranties, this dealer notes. He says the tractors are extremely durable and the 35 horsepower-plus has been ideal for the rural guys that don’t operate an ag operation, such as the DK4210 or DK4710.
Back in 2016, a new shop was built allowing for the older building to be expanded for parts and office space. Marking 10 years in business, Woodford Equipment remodeled its showroom during the spring of 2020, making it larger.
“Once they sit in the spacious cab, they are hooked,” Woodford adds. “It’s such an easy tractor to get in to. Just one step and you’re up, and it provides plenty of shoulder room.”
These customers also have to move snow, maintain driveways, clear brush, and move trailers, put docks in around the many lakes in the area. Woodford says this plethora of needs has been a great boost for the dealership, allowing him and his staff to diversify and serve a population that loves having equipment to call their own.
Most of them are within a 70-mile radius of Emmetsburg, which is the standard Iowa farm fields with beef cattle, and lots of hogs! There’s roughly 10,000 people in the entire county, the reason diversification makes Woodford’s approach successful.
10 Years of Ups and Downs
In a decade of economic and now more social, challenges, Woodford says the one constant which has sustained them is their relationships with customers. “Initially, we had that first ‘bang’ when we were a new business, where we sold lots of equipment,” he explains. “Then the recession hit and things slowed down a bit. Then we focused on diversifying and found new customer groups and expanded.”
To do this, he says they really paid attention to who was walking in the door, what they were asking for and got to know people personally. Then, maintaining the relationships is key, Woodford explains.
“It’s easy to do when we’re a family business,” he adds. “We care about other families and when you do that, you ask questions and find out what their needs are.”
He says it’s a no-brainer. When people are ready to make their next purchase, Woodford says they will then come to him or his staff. And if they can’t get it, he says they will find whatever their customers need.
Every year, Woodford says they continued to expand the product lines to the other customer areas with success. Even though the recession and now the pandemic have provided unique challenges, Woodford notes that opportunity has presented itself.
“So much to the point that some suppliers can’t bring us in enough equipment to meet new demand,” he adds. “People are having more time at home and are getting to a lot more projects on their honey-do list.”
Rural lifestyle customers are buying zero-turn lawnmower with dramatic increases, as well as handheld chainsaws, push mowers, and more. Woodford has been seeing more rural dwellers “going back to the basics” and becoming more self-sufficient than in years past.
“Initially, we had that first ‘bang’ when we were a new business, where we sold lots of equipment. Then the recession hit and things slowed down a bit. Then we focused on diversifying and found new customer groups and expanded…” – Eric Woodford, owner, Woodford Equipment
COVID-19 drastically impacted the meat packing plants in Iowa and subsequently, the food chain. People with land to do it are raising their own chickens, planting gardens and taking on other projects which has been good news for Woodford’s business. He says they were always open, as essential employees, but this trend shift has helped stability.
They implemented a first-ever “virtual open house” that featured recorded segments from a variety of manufacturers, door prize drawings from customers that came in before and after, live broadcasts from the dealership. This created a buzz, he says, and was glad that it really worked to showcase new products and promotions for the months ahead.
As with most dealerships, sales, service and parts go hand-in-hand. In 2016, Woodford says they built an entirely new shop, and the older building then expanded for parts and offices. Just this spring, in celebration of 10 years, a much larger showroom was remodeled in the old building too.
He says that more important than stocking parts, is pre- and post-season maintenance tracking. The business puts a strong emphasis on making sure regular customers are keeping up with maintenance and getting caught up, especially when the season concludes, whether in or off the fields.
“If a person waits until spring after using a tractor very heavy in the summer, they’ll often have forgotten what needed to be looked it,” he explains. Lawnmowers are a big one, and lawn tractors, too, that overwhelm the shop every spring. He says the staff works hard at spreading the workload out, keeping people on their toes before winter hits.
Woodford says that God opened a door for this next step after the farming chapter of his family’s life was ready to close. People knew them, they knew equipment, and it was a win/win. Dedicated staff have made a huge difference in the success of the business, Woodford acknowledges, and says that now with growth, they are able to focus on specific jobs, rather than wear all hats.
“We’re happy,” he concludes. “We work with some really innovative companies and are excited about what’s next. The 10-year milestone was special.”