Several of the feature articles in this issue made me think about consumer loyalty. Some companies, such as Harley-Davidson and Caterpillar, have made consumer loyalty an art form, developing a dedicated following among owners of their motorcycles and dozers. It’s even affected the people who can only buy the company’s clothing, scale models and other licensed merchandise. Wearing a particular logo can say something about a person, placing them into a group with which they identify.
I know that’s true, because before leaving for an outdoor event, whether it’s an auction, farm show or stock-car race — I’ve been known to use up more time selecting the right cap than I did picking out the rest of my clothes. Seems the groups I hang out with understand that, too. When they see new caps or T-shirts, they’ll often ask about a brand with which they’re not familiar.
Consumer loyalty among local businesses, including equipment dealerships, came up a few times when Executive Editor Dave Kanicki and I visited the 40-acre llama farm that’s part of this issue’s cover story (on page 24). Tom and Barb Parsons are the perfect example of a rural consumer. For the past 20 years they have lived in the Kettle Moraine region, a beautiful area of Wisconsin that could make a rural lifestyler out of the most die-hard suburbanite. The Parsons have seen that happen, too — as the area’s dairy farms close and the property gets sold off in 10-20 acre parcels, new neighbors have moved into the area.
The Parsons understand and appreciate the value of consumer loyalty very well. A few years ago, Tom retired from the licensing department of Harley-Davidson Motor Co., where he helped build consumer loyalty for the Milwaukee-based motorcycle manufacturer. They buy only Ford cars and trucks, and stick with New Holland’s blue tractors, although they are aware that Ford Motor Co. has been out of the farm equipment business for years. Walking around their property, they point out work that’s been done by local contractors, many of whom they have been hiring for decades.
The Parsons have developed a reputation as the go-to couple in the area. They have helped new hobby farmers find services in the area — most farmers in the area don’t advertise, but are willing to lend a hand baling hay or moving snow. Of course, the Parsons are especially ready to suggest trusted veterinarians and feed suppliers when those hobbyists are ready to raise a few llamas of their own.
But when we asked about their local equipment dealers, the Parsons felt no loyalty toward any of them. They’ve purchased equipment from several, but have never received the attention or respect they believe is just part of good business. Nor have they received the service that would have them recommend a particular dealership to a friend, much less buy a new tractor or manure spreader.
The Parsons have made their hobby farm a business, and as such require — and can justify — a larger fleet of equipment than the typical rural lifestyler who is only looking at a weekend of yard work. They’re also putting more hours on their equipment, and would likely utilize the service and parts department more often.
I got the impression that winning the loyalty — and the business — of this nice couple would not be that difficult. They understand that as they get older, they will need to upgrade the equipment on their farm so they can keep up the pace they’ve been enjoying. They dream of a dealer who would take the time to learn about their operation, and one who could use that information to make suggestions about the equipment and processes they can upgrade to make it possible to continue to raise llamas. They’d be willing to give the dealer a tour of their farm, and even make coffee. To me, it sounded like an excellent excuse for dealers in the area to get out of the office and build some consumer loyalty.