We’re in an age with lots of negativity, and we’re incredibly busy. Couple the seasonality of the equipment business and resulting fatigue with some difficult customers and it’s easy to have a short fuse. It’s a challenge for everyone, from the owner down, to build relationships at all times … especially with non-customers.
It may be tempting to take frustrations out on outsiders who want our most precious commodity — time. During my 25 years in the farm equipment business, I’ve observed all kinds of situations that left dealerships looking less than stellar with non-customers. Here are some examples of missed opportunities and a reminder that anyone can have a future impact on your business.
At one dealership, a trucker arrived with a load of tractors at 4:32 p.m. and was informed that it was the dealership’s policy to not accept loads after 4:30 p.m. He watched the staff leisurely leave the dealership, then spent the night in his truck until 8:30 a.m., when unloading resumed.
Another time, the local television station was doing a story about tractor safety and no one at the local dealership would talk to them. When asked for other interview recommendations, they were rudely told to figure it out themselves.
In my final example, a local college student showed up during the selling season and wanted to “job shadow” for a class project. The student was harshly informed that she couldn’t be accommodated because everyone was too busy. When leaving, she saw a salesperson in an office playing a computer game.
In all cases, time invested in these people would have helped the dealership immensely. The tractors could have been unloaded and the trucker sent on his way. The television person could have been politely directed to the farm safety expert at the university and the college student could have simply sat in an office and watched someone work. Each of them would have had a positive view of the dealership and a willingness to return the favor, if the need arose.
What Happened Next
Instead, the trucker example never forgot the situation. Later, he was delivering a retailed tractor to the same dealership, which was scheduled to deliver it to a customer. The customer was anxiously calling the dealership every ten minutes to check on the delivery. The dealership was in constant contact with the trucking company and the company with the driver. When the driver realized which dealership was in dire need of the cargo, he started experiencing “truck troubles.”
The news media person, who may have needed only 10 minutes for an interview, couldn’t believe the dealership didn’t want free publicity. Later, they heard about a problem between the dealership and OSHA over a worker’s compensation issue. They came after the dealership, in “60 Minutes mode,” trying to label the place as an unsafe work environment.
It turned out the college student worked part time for a major real estate company owned by one of the dealership’s biggest customers. The student told all 30 people in the college class about how uncooperative everyone was at the dealership. The student also told their real estate boss, who then called the owner of the business.
When I managed a dealership, we had a goal to accommodate everyone who walked in the door, customer or not, and treat them well. Today, looking back, I’m embarrassed that I often fell short of my own goal. The group that tripped me up was manufacturers’ salespeople. I tended to be rude to them when they couldn’t sense how busy we were. I have a friend in sales who says a lot of us dealers are like that and he won’t call on farm equipment dealers. He says, “A regular business person will tell you he’s not interested and to have a nice day. An equipment dealer will slam the door in your face and sic his dog on you.” Ouch!
That’s not the image we need for our businesses and the industry. It’s a huge challenge to get all employees to be cooperative with everyone who crosses the path of the dealership. There are no guarantees that the extra time spent will speed delivery of tractors, make the media love us or have college students say we were incredible people, but it’s possible. It all boils down to treating everyone well, all the time, whether they’re a potential customer or not. The old rule holds true: You reap what you sow.