A recent editorial (“Your #1 Ally Against Big Boxes”) shared research that says that customers want smaller, independent businesses to win over big box stores and I suggested strategies to take advantage of that.

Tim Brannon, president of B&G Equipment, a Massey Ferguson dealer in Paris, Tenn., shared his views on the topic, citing his concerns for what’s wrong with the manufacturer/dealer relationship today.

“Everybody wants to take the easy way out. The majority of the time you can’t sell at the retail level without building a relationship. You have to be able to help the customer reach his goals and that takes energy, hard work and research. Many big manufacturers and dealers don’t want to do that. They just want to paint with a huge brush,” Brannon says. He goes on to “name names,” as in who’s behind some of these decisions. “The MBA degrees and methodology are killing us. In the old days, people would come up through the ranks. Every time they laid a stroke of the pen, they knew how it would affect their people, dealers and the customers,” Brannon says.           

He says manufacturers are guided today by leaders who look back at what has happened to make decisions — like driving a car while looking in the rear view mirror and careening from ditch to ditch to make corrections .“They know exactly what they have done, but struggle with changes needed to be made quickly,” he says.

So, I asked Brannon how he thought the situation could be fixed. He’s on target with saying it goes back to dealers. Fortunately or unfortunately, you have to fix relationships with your manufacturers, the same way you do with your customers. He’s optimistic about the fact that dealers are more willing to give honest feedback these days and that manufacturers are seeking feedback from beyond just a select group of ‘mega dealers.’ “We have to perform, but we have to demand performance from our suppliers,” he says.

And the topic of mega dealers brought us back to big boxes. Brannon challenges that dealerships with many locations are laden with management levels and losing the personal touch and single store dealerships need to take advantage of that.

“People love the underdog and we need to play ourselves as the underdog,” he says. “I tell my customers. ‘You’re looking right here at the people who can help you achieve your goals and I name our people by their names and department. We play up that advantage. We’re the good guys and we, here, are the decision makers,” Brannon says.

The single store dealership can claim the advantage of a personal touch over the competition, be it larger dealers, big boxes or Internet retailers. However, the multi-store dealer can claim the advantage of more inventory. And, Internet retailers, at least in terms of parts, can beat everybody with price and inventory.

The tricky part is that customers are fickle and what sells them one time may not sell them another. There is one constant in winning the battle and Brannon says it best, “You better follow through, take care of the customer and assure them their decision to do business with us was the correct one.”