We sat down with Vince Zebeau, president and CEO of the Deep Southern Equipment Dealers Assn., to get his take on current trends impacting the DSEDA's members, including equipment and labor shortages and his industry forecast for 2022.
Rural Lifestyle Dealer: What issues are your dealers facing in 2021?
Vince Zebeau: The Deep Southern Equipment Dealer Assn. members probably face the same challenges as most dealers across the U.S. As a regional organization representing the retail farm, industrial, forestry, outdoor power, irrigation and turf equipment dealers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, our association strives to address the many issues and problems that plague our dealers. There are many dealer member challenges/issues that our organization tries to find innovative solutions in an effort to help our members such as: dealer/manufacturer relations, respective state legislative representation, Right to Repair legislation, regulatory compliance, professional development and much more. But due to the recent pandemic, our dealers struggled with availability of inventory, less face-to-face time with their customers, restriction of travel and compliance to CDC guidance mandates.
RLD: How has the equipment shortage impacted your dealer’s operations?
Zebeau: I’m sure this is a problem nationwide. With the COVID-19 pandemic and mandatory shutdowns of many U.S. businesses, our dealers have struggled with managing their existing inventories and their manufacturer’s ability to manage supply chain challenges, not to mention other unanticipated variables impacting our dealers’ ability to get wholegoods. Our dealers, like other dealers in the U.S., had problems with finding and stocking inventory whether it was actual equipment, attachments or accessories as customer demand outpaced production and supply.
But with that said, our association dealer members are resilient businesspeople who know how to manage changes, adapt to adversity and were committed to focusing on their customers’ needs with parts sales, equipment repair and service, used equipment sales, etc.
RLD: What are the association’s current projects/goals for its members?
Zebeau: Well, as you know the former Deep South & Southern Equipment Dealers Assns. merged in 2018 to become the new Deep Southern Equipment Dealers Assn. Now as a larger regional association, we feel that we are better positioned to be a stronger advocate for our dealers. An example would be Right to Repair. We have already fought the Right to Repair legislative issue in three of our states, Louisiana, Georgia and most recently in Florida and have been successful each time.
In addition to legislative advocacy, Deep Southern Association is also committed to assisting our members with dealer/manufacturer relations, contract review and negotiations and regulatory compliance updates. We felt that we needed to be a good resource to our dealers when the COVID-19 pandemic hit to disseminate important information about things such as the CARES ACT, SBA Loans, CDC compliance & updates, Payroll Protection Program, Critical Essential Workplace Infrastructure information and such.
We will continue to focus being an advocate on providing services and benefit programs that are needed and competitive to enhance our members’ dealerships. We basically try to anticipate what our dealers’ needs may be and do everything possible to find a solution to help them remain profitable.
We will continue to have conventions and conferences to encourage dealer to dealer peer interaction for networking and fellowship and providing quality educational programs for professional development and to apprise our members of current, relevant topics of interest that can affect their dealerships’ profitability. Since the pandemic, the first association meeting coming up will be our 2021 Summer Conference in Destin, Florida coming up in July 25, 26, 27.
We will continue to market and promote our service/benefit programs such as our Association Group Health Insurance Plan, 401-K program, Federated Insurance Program, etc. and are always seeking out new programs and services that we feel our members may need to help with their day to day business operations. As new programs become available, we try to make them available to our dealers after researching the value these new programs may bring.
I guess what we really want to be for our members is an indispensable resource to address any needs that our equipment dealer members may have.
RLD: What technology/innovation do you think will be the most influential in the industry over the next 5 years?
Zebeau: Now that’s a good question. I think you’re going to see precision farming technology playing a bigger part in the industry for big ag. Autonomous tractors with advanced GPS technology will become more widespread. With new advancements in technologies ranging from robotics, GIS, telematics, remote sensory hardware to computer vision software, there will likely be a complete transformation of modern agriculture.
More technologies like the use of drones in farming will have the potential to boost yields by enabling farmers to monitor crops easier and more frequently and thus they will be able to intervene remotely. Where farmers used to physically walk their fields to monitor things like lack of water, pests and disease, the widespread use of drones will allow them to do much of this work remotely as an easy indoor activity making it much easier and efficient.
We will probably see more battery operated/robotic equipment on the OPE side as well to become more green with less carbon emissions. I think with new farm automation technology in the next few years, you will see farming becoming easier, mundane tasks but will produce larger yields with less effort.
RLD: What’s your industry forecast for 2022? What trends do you think will have the most impact?
Zebeau: I, of course, always like to be optimistic with this industry because I know how entrepreneurial our dealer members can be. But I do think that inventory will be the biggest challenge coming out from the recent pandemic. With the lack of inventory being manufactured or available and the probable increase in used equipment sales made, it may be a perfect storm. If orders cannot be made by the second or third quarter for next year to meet dealer demands from their customers, it may be difficult for our dealers to maintain their sales projections. Dealers will probably rely more on parts and service departments to help with a revenue stream but availability of inventory is going to be key. And this possible lack thereof will probably have a huge impact on our equipment dealers and industry as a whole. Now that the pandemic seems to be behind us, I am hoping that manufacturers can provide the inventories needed for our dealer members to sell to keep up with their customers’ needs.
We will also continue to have issues in the workforce development. The lack of qualified mechanics or finding employees will cause difficulty meeting customer demand for service and repair. Finding and retention of technician talent is also key to any dealership to providing excellent customer service and support.
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