Custom harvester Bill Arneson, Barneveld, WI, expects great things from implement dealers, especially during breakdowns.

And they work hard to meet his expectations because helping keep him in business is good business for them.

“I'm fortunate that I've got good dealers right in my backyard. All of these dealers want to make sure we're successful so we come back and get another machine,” says Arneson.

“We need to realize these guys need to keep functioning,” agrees Tim Liebmann, parts manager for Ritchie Implement, Arneson's forage harvester dealership in Barneveld.

“They have a lot of money riding by the hour and need a dealership to support them 110% when they're on the run,” Liebmann says. “They can't expect us to have every single part every time, but they can expect us to do our best to get them running again as quickly as possible.”

Arneson harvests 5,000 acres of haylage and about 1,000 acres of corn silage. He expects his chopper dealership to have common-wear parts on hand as well as the occasional big-ticket, essential part.

“Last year, I didn't think they'd have this $3,500 driveshaft and they did,” he says. “I can understand that a dealership doesn't want to inventory a real expensive part, but if it's a part that keeps a machine running, it should be there.”

According to Phil Wright, New Holland hay and forage product specialist, manufacturers don't let just anyone sell choppers. Besides geographic considerations, the chopper makers have to know that dealers will stock their parts bins and send service people to school.

“I have chopper dealers who probably stock $1 million worth of chopper parts. But that's the commitment that they have to make to be in the business,” Wright says.

Dealers who go the extra mile are especially appreciated — and sometimes rewarded. Last summer, first Arneson's John Deere chopper needed repairs. Then a rental machine died. “So I called Ritchie (a Claas dealer) to see if he had a chopper on hand. He had one to me by 9 in the morning and I kept it,” he says.

Although they don't always like to do it, some dealers will pull a needed part off a chopper on their lot to keep a harvester going, Arneson adds.

“And last year we needed a part up in Richland Center; I called a dealer I didn't know and asked for the part. He said he'd set it out the door and worry about payment when morning came. I stuck the check in the drop box.”

Dealerships that have rental choppers available are rare, he says. “I've been fortunate to work with two John Deere dealers who had machines — Mid-State Equipment and Mount Horeb Implement. And now Ritchie's has always tried to have something on hand.”

In this technologically advanced world, cell phones are an essential part of Ritchie Implement, says Liebmann. “We have 30-40 cell phones throughout the dealership. Someone can, 24-7, get ahold of somebody and we can get on the road and out to their unit with parts extremely quickly.”

Any part a dealer doesn't have is shipped express from the manufacturer, he says. Ritchie Implement is also now a part of an online parts finder program, plus it keeps a truck loaded with chopper parts, ready to travel to a distressed custom operator.

Harvesters, says Wright, need to examine what kind of dealer support they're likely to get when shopping for harvesting equipment. Some harvesters, he adds, find machinery deals in other states and then wonder why their local dealers aren't happy servicing them.

“They've got to think of things other than just the money; they've got to think of the parts and service support,” he says.

“Sometimes we're not the lowest-price seller of the product,” admits Liebmann. “But if a customer we sold a unit to breaks down the same time as someone who bought a unit somewhere else, we have to be loyal to the customer who was loyal to us.”