Growth continues to be the trend in the rural equipment market and most of the top stories that captured your attention in 2015 centered on that theme. (The complete list of the “Top 10 Most Viewed Online Stories in 2015” is below.)
For instance, you’re watching how manufacturers like Mahindra and Kubota are entering new markets and setting up new headquarters. We’ll watch in the coming year what these major strategic initiatives will mean for dealers. Giving you new products and getting products to you faster is a good thing, as long as the new directions aren’t a distraction. For instance, products like hay tools extend your lineup, but also require a special emphasis at your dealership and appeal to a limited customer base.
Zero-turn mowers remain a perennial topic and Spartan’s entry into the market was big news for dealers and showed off the trend for sleeker, faster mowers. Robert Foster, owner of the Intimidator Group, who launched the line, told Rural Lifestyle Dealer, "The inspiration for the design of the mower came from the muscle car era of the 60s and 70s.”
There are many paths to “muscle” dealerships — those with powerful business strategies and the speed to adapt — and this past year, two dealers shared how they achieved higher levels of success. Our single-store Dealership of the Year, Kelly Tractor & Equipment of Longview, Texas, increased revenues by $3.5 million to $11 million in 2014. Its strategies included transitioning to a rural lifestyle focused dealership and the addition of new lines.
Jim Mayfield of Rainbow Ag, Ukiah and Lakeport, Calif., faced head-on the realities of being acquired. He sold off the John Deere portion of his dealership to Belkorp Ag, took on a leadership role at Belkorp, and turned over day-to-day management of the dealership to a trusted team.
You were also tuning in to innovation in rural equipment and many were interested in Cub Cadet’s foldable “Hauler,” a two-wheeled tow-behind mower cart. This product showed innovation doesn’t always have to involve technology, but it does have to make life easier or better.
Innovation made news in another way this year when Exmark was awarded nearly $24.3 million in a patent infringement case against Briggs & Stratton related to its multi-blade mowers equipped with baffles between blades that allow the mower to be converted from a mulching to a side-discharge mower. A similar suit is still pending against Schiller Grounds Care. It seems there’s a lot of money to be made and lost when it comes to mowing and that story will continue as Briggs says it plans to challenge the verdict.
Dealers are also keeping watch on their competition — a good practice even if times are good — and stories about Tractor Supply and how to win against Big Boxes took up two spots on our top 10 list. The Big Box story (Your # 1 Ally Against Big Boxes) looked at a study that showed that “support for small brands goes up when faced with a competitive threat from large brands ….”
That’s good news and means your customers want to choose you, the independent dealer. That’s a great head start on winning more of their business in 2016.
Happy New Year!