The March 27, 1969 issue of The Delhi Dispatch featured an advertisement announcing Delhi Implement Co., Delhi, La., receiving the “South’s first shipment of John Deere’s new custom colored weekend freedom machines.”
You could choose from patio red, sunset orange, spruce blue or April yellow — and even “let your wife pick out her favorite color … and make sure every neighbor on the street won’t have a tractor that looks just like yours!”
Ron Tiller, sales manager in the 1960s for John Deere’s consumer products division in Memphis, Tenn., kept a copy of that advertisement and shared his experiences from those early days. “We were trying to make dealers understand that we’ve got something big here and you need to take advantage of it or we’re going to offer it to someone else,” Tiller says. He served that segment for 16 years after working in John Deere’s ag division for 10 years. After retiring from Deere, he worked for Woods Equipment Co. for 15 years and retired for the second time in 2008.
In the 1960s, Tiller says the market leaders were Cub Cadet, Snapper, Toro, Lawn-Boy and Sears. Kubota was starting to move into the market. “A lot of the ag dealers did not want to do it. They didn’t want to mess with small items like chain saws, walk behind mowers, log splitters and others. When they refused to take it on, we would recruit smaller independent dealers, such as hardware stores, boat dealers and others. We even signed up a healthcare center, which became one of our more successful independents,” Tiller says. They concentrated on metro areas to ensure the customer base would justify a dealer presence.
Within 7 years, they had 100 independent dealers carrying Deere lawn and garden products, in addition to the ag dealerships who took on the line. Education regarding a successful business model was the next step. “Many didn’t understand John Deere’s credit policy and some didn’t even understand floorplans. They wanted to pay for the product after they sold it,” he says. “We came up with a 5-year plan for them. It was a simple plan for how to increase business. We talked about how their facility looked and the importance of keeping their stock updated and making themselves visible in the community.”
Tiller offers a fascinating look into what has become a significant revenue source for many dealers. It brings to mind the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
The lawn and garden and rural lifestyle markets may be firmly established, but fine-tuning is happening all the time — steering wheels on zero-turns or utility vehicles as recreational vehicles, for instance. Each enhancement brings the opportunity for new customers. Meanwhile, equipment that saves time is a perennial selling point. It’s good to see changing attitudes. For instance, your female customers have come a long way from just weighing in on the color of the machine. (The demand for green and yellow eventually outweighed those custom colors, Tiller says.)
Keep finding ways to make the market fresh to you and the equipment exciting to your customers. There’s a lot more work to be done and fun to be had.
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