From the Desk of Michael Ellis
Recently, Rural Lifestyle Dealer Managing Editor Chad Elmore and I were lucky enough to attend an event with representatives of 35-40 equipment dealerships from across the country. It was a wonderful opportunity to rub elbows with our readers and get their thoughts on the business climate. In the six or so years I’ve been in this market, I’ve learned dealers love to talk about their businesses and have plenty of stories to share.
One conversation we had really jumped out at me, though. After dinner, a few of us were discussing the various smartphone technologies being used today. One dealer proudly declared, “I want a phone that’s nothing more than a phone and I don’t need anything more than that!”
My gut reaction was, “If that’s his stance toward cell phones, I wonder what, how or if he’s doing anything online to promote his business?”
I did some checking and, sure enough, no web presence and no e-mail addresses. Thinking he had to be the exception rather than the rule, I looked further and found that more than half of the attendees at the event also had no website and no e-mail address to be found. I was a bit stunned.
First, because it’s nearly 2012 and it seems that having a web presence is almost expected for any business these days. Second, because in reviewing the preliminary results from our 2012 Business Trends & Outlook survey (take the survey here and look for the full results in the Winter 2012 issue) the prevailing response to the question “Have the shopping habits of your rural customers changed in the past three years?” was that customers are doing much more Internet research. If you’re not online in some way, shape or manner you’ve got basically zero chance at capturing those dollars.
I’m not suggesting everyone needs to spend heaps of cash having the most dynamic website around, but I think it’s a wise investment to at least have a landing page to create some sort of presence. At least something with a picture of the business, phone numbers, a list of the lines you carry and your hours. Many of the manufacturers offer webpage templates you can take advantage of — so ask that question of your suppliers. Take advantage of the tools they offer.
It also doesn’t cost any more than a little bit of time to create a Facebook or Twitter presence for your business and both are excellent ways to strengthen your relationship with current and future customers. Emily Sharpe reveals one Canadian dealership’s innovative use of a web site in her “Stuck in the Muck” piece in this issue of E-brief.
As a consumer, if I’m visiting a new town, one of the first things I’ll do is research hotels and restaurants online. If they don’t have a webpage I’ll cross them off the list of options because it gives the impression that they’re hiding something. Maybe that’s not right, but I think it’s a prevalent thought process these days and I suspect that will only increase as the “plugged in” generation ages.
Since you’re reading this, you’ve already embraced technology at least to some extent so perhaps I’m preaching to the converted, but this is an industry that thrives on relationships and I cannot stress the value enough of using every tool and opportunity to build and foster those bonds.
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