From the Desk of Michael Ellis

It’s probably been 20 years or so, but I still remember it vividly. I had just bought my first car and a few days later in the mail I received a note from the dealership along with a small tin of chocolate covered peanuts thanking me for the purchase. I was the proud owner of a not-so-stylish, all-I-could-afford Mercury Tracer. The truth be told, they were probably happier to get it off the lot than I was to take it home. But their small gesture of appreciation laid the foundation of a relationship that has lasted many years.

Since then, I've purchased three more vehicles from that dealership even though they have added and/or changed brand alliances, and I’ve continued taking my cars there for regular service. It certainly wasn't solely because of those chocolate covered peanuts. Despite my comparatively low dollar purchase, that simple gesture showed me they were grateful for the business and interested in keeping me as a customer.

How often do you, your sales force or service team take the time to thank the rural lifestyle customers that keep the doors of your dealership open? As a consumer, it's likely something you expect as a courtesy, but is it a tactic you employ in each touch point to the customer?

I'm not suggesting you give a gift to everyone that comes through your dealership door to buy an oil filter or replacement mower blade, but make sure even those purchases are met with a “Thank you for your business” message. It helps ensure they have a positive experience and will likely earn you their return business.If you want to build lasting relationships with your rural customers, saying thank you on a regular basis is an extremely easy, yet essential part of doing business.

For the larger purchases, send a personal card or letter thanking them immediately after the purchase, possibly with a t-shirt or hat to show them you care. Also, consider making a call 30 days after the purchase to see how things are working out and to answer any questions that may have come up. It's another personal touch point with your customer base.

If your dealership is utilizing social media as it should, I'd also consider snapping a photo of each new tractor, mower, attachment, etc. delivered to a customer and posting it to your Facebook page and Twitter feed. It's easy to do, doesn't cost a thing, strokes the ego of the customer a bit for having their picture online, and also is great PR for your dealership. Anyone whose photo you post is likely to tell their family and friends, increasing the chance that they’ll stop in, while creating traffic to your website. The extra effort can get your dealership some great mileage in the community when a customer's friends and neighbors hear about a positive experience.

Do you think the big box stores are bending over backwards to thank their customers for their business? Heck, it's a struggle enough to get someone to help you find something in one of those places.

Saying "thank you" and taking that additional step is an opportunity to further differentiate your dealership in the customers' eyes.

When you diligently work thank you messages into your customer contacts you won’t be thought of as just another business. You’ll be thought of as a friend who they know, like and trust. Selling to the rural customer is more about building relationships than it is about moving iron. They can buy equipment anywhere, but they'll come to you because you've earned their trust and business.

By the way — Thank You! for reading Rural Lifestyle Dealer. A hardy thanks also to all of our Spring 2012 issue advertisers who helped us publish our largest issue ever! Look for it in your mailboxes after April 10.

Drop me a note at and let me know of any innovative ways you're thanking your customers.

Michael Ellis,
Rural Lifestyle Dealer