Whether you’re expanding your dealership by merging with a store in another city or looking for ways to increase the customer base in your hometown, winning the support of the community is crucial to a successful business. Community support means as much for building a company today as it did for giving Woods Equipment its start in 1946.

For Woods, the fact that the people of Oregon, Ill., trusted that three brothers from Iowa would do what they said meant that Mervel, Leonard and Keith Wood could raise enough money to start a new company.

Last week, Rural Lifestyle Dealer Associate Publisher Michael Ellis and I talked with a pioneer in the equipment industry. We spent a few hours with Mervel Wood and his wife at his home, talking about what it took to start and build the company. For me, a long-time history buff, it was a rare opportunity to talk with someone who not only witnessed but who actively participated in the farm equipment industry as it emerged from World War II. Now in his 90s and with a mind as sharp as tack, Wood shared stories of material shortages, dealer development and the firm’s early products (such as how a short-lived attempt at producing cement blocks helped them move into metal fabrication).

The opportunity to interview Mervel Wood began a few months ago, when Mervel called the manufacturer’s marketing department to see if his family could get a tour of the Oregon factory. Woods’ Angela Larson arranged the tour, and shortly after called Rural Lifestyle Dealer to see if we’d be interested in interviewing him. I’ve never turned down an opportunity like that. In his living room, we turned the video cameras on and talked. The video will be available at www.rurallifestyledealer.com shortly.

To this day, the support given to the three brothers by the northern Illinois town still resonates with Mervel. It gave the company a strong foundation on which to build.

After the interview, Michael and I dropped in at Bobcat of Rockford and talked with equipment salesman Thom Frehse. With construction spending down in Rockford, Ill. (as it is nationwide), the dealership has worked to expand its rural consumer and commercial cutter base, selling Woods mowers along with Kubota tractors and zero-turn mowers. Here, too, winning the support of the community has been important in helping the dealership move beyond the construction market in which Bobcat is already so well known. For Bobcat of Rockford, this has meant open houses and customer appreciation events at the local speedway.

Whether your dealership participates in community fund raisers or puts equipment on display in holiday parades, it’s a way to make your dealership’s logo and equipment lines more visible. It shows the locals that your business is "here to stay." What methods have you used, and what have you found to be most effective?