Your outside display conveys something to everyone who drives into or past your dealership. It sends a message about who you are and what products you believe in and can have a huge impact on what you sell. Those messages can be detrimental to your image or enhance your image. Here are examples of both.

I visited a dealership recently in the peak busy season and equipment was nicely displayed. Most of it was groomed and looked acceptable. Then, I looked over to one side of the building and there was a late model, almost-new tractor with the front axle off, parked on blocks and jack stands. The takeaway was that there had been a major failure, parts were not available and the shop had parked it in a place where it would be handy to retrieve when the time came for reassembly. It was in clear sight and didn’t leave a favorable impression.

When I was a factory rep, I also witnessed an alternative message. In doing an audit at one of my bigger dealerships, I walked to their “bullpen,” the lot where they kept excess inventory that wouldn’t fit in the main display area. It was almost as visible as the primary lot and right on a main highway. There, all set up and field ready, were 52 15-foot rotary cutters, arranged in an impressive lineup. I thought someone had made a huge mistake when ordering. I even took a photo and e-mailed it to my boss with a comment about how the rep must have done something wrong. Boy, did I miss it!

They had ordered a large quantity of rotary cutters because they forecast upcoming demand. The dealership sold every one of them and even had to order more. The message conveyed was this: “We’re committed to this product and are more concerned about not having enough inventory to keep up with demand than we are with paying interest.” That’s a bold statement. The customers responded and the dealership’s sales grew.

Managing Your Image

My point is that every day it’s important to ask yourself, “What is the lot screaming at customers pulling in the driveway right now?” It may be saying, “I’m an ag dealer, but we also offer compact tractors.” It could be saying, “We’re one step away from being a salvage yard.”

Successful dealers monitor what the lot says and use it to their advantage. It goes without saying that it needs to be well-tended and attractive. I personally like a display you can drive through, especially past the used equipment. We called that arrangement the “parade route,” because it encourages “window shopping” even in bad weather. Managing the lot also means the scraper blades are prominently displayed when snow is forecast, the lawn mowers are all lined up just before the grass starts growing and the rotary cutters are out front when it’s time to slick up the fields. Your lot should change to match upcoming demand. It can be a time consuming job, but it’s worth the effort.

Managing the lot also means having inventory. The statement, “You can’t sell out of an empty basket,” is really true in the rural lifestyle segment. Having a wide selection of compact tractors and attachments is one component to generating big numbers.

I like the models organized from smallest to biggest, so a customer can visualize how the different models might work on their property. Expect to incur some interest costs to maintain the display, but that’s part of doing business.

Display to Impress

One year, poor planning by one of our suppliers meant we had few small tractors to offer during that spring and summer, but a large number of mid-range tractors. Guess what? Our market share rose in the mid-range and plummeted in compacts. Customers were reading the inventory and getting the message that we weren’t committed to small tractors. We started and ended the selling season with 3 compacts. When the supply was replenished, sales took off again.

Sometimes, solutions are simple. I was out in the used lineup one day and wondering why we weren’t selling more disc mower/conditioners. Then it hit me. They were parked behind the round balers. You can see a round baler behind a disc mower/conditioner, but not the other way around. We switched them so our customers were able to see our wide selection of both used mower/conditioners and round balers.

The next time you drive into your dealership’s lot, pretend you’ve never been there before and just look at the way the inventory is organized. What does your lot say about your business?

Originally published in 2015