I thought my June 4 blog post, “No One Wants to Sell Me a Mower,” was going to be a simple anecdotal story about my personal experience and how I thought dealers were not marketing to customers like me. I was way off. Some dealers were insulted, saying I shouldn’t compare the equipment industry to the auto industry. One dealer said I really wasn’t ready to buy a mower; another said I must be afraid to talk to a salesperson. 

Still, others said I was dead-on and brought up a larger issue in the industry: the lack of support from manufacturers. Several manufacturers weighed in with me directly or by commenting on the post. For instance, Nick Maglio, service marketing manager of CNH Industrial, commented, “Is the frustration that there are fees involved, but not enough assistance with actual marketing execution that shifts some of the monetary and time burden to the OEM for planning, execution, measurement and refinement?” 

So, dealers, where do we go from here?

You may be absolutely justified in saying you don’t make enough margin to execute the kind of marketing you would like to do. I also understand that you’re outmatched compared with the marketing budget of massive retailers. Perhaps it’s all part of a downward slide for dealers, starting when manufacturers began selling through big box stores. The idea of “we’re in this together” turned into dealers’ mutual belief that manufacturers are only in it for themselves. Today, Amazon and other online retailers are a more formidable threat.

Get Creative

I believe that the first step forward is for dealers to be brutally honest. Think about how you are competing and where your pain points are, then work your way through them. For instance, other dealers have hired marketing interns or turned to national freelance contractors. Clayton Johnson, manager of Guy’s Outdoor Motorsports & Marine in Lewiston, Idaho, is working with Rollick, a marketing company that connects dealers to customers through affinity programs with large national brands. Derek Alexander, a sales consultant with Wright Implement in Owensboro, Ky., has his own mobile app and says he runs his own business within a business. (Read more about Johnson and Alexander in upcoming online features.)

Drive Emotion

Paul Sikkema from TodaysMower.com, a consumer buying guide, offers this advice: “If you want to be profitable, you have to treat everyone who walks through your door the same way the auto industry would.”

I believe that means, in part, that regardless of your marketing budget, your tactics should tap into the emotional part of the purchase process. Messages like “great customer service” or “certified service technicians” will not build an emotional connection. They’re fine messages, but stronger statements should highlight your real competitive differences — why a customer should buy that manufacturer’s product, from you, today. 

Cleo Franklin, who now heads Franklin Strategic Solutions after retiring from his role as chief marketing officer and vice president of strategic planning and business development for Mahindra Ag North America, says, “We all have to agree that this is not a dealer problem, but an industry problem where all stakeholders must work together.” Tim Cromley, marketing manager for Walker Manufacturing Co., says, “The future of the independent power equipment dealer relies on the discipline of everyone in the channel to make marketing a priority.” 

Let’s continue this frank discussion within our dealer community and with manufacturers and keep moving forward.