March 15, 2019 08:00 AM
The author is a managing partner in Elite Ag LLC, Leesburg, Ga. He also is active in the family farm in Rutledge.

As spring approaches, most of us are getting the itch to get back into the fields. A new year brings new promise of a bumper crop and putting 2018 behind us. For most of us farmers, there may not be much change at this point in the calendar year compared to the past, but for a lot of people, the name at the top of their equipment parts invoice may be different than years gone by.

Like many business sectors, machinery dealership consolidation has been an ongoing reality. It seems that during this past year, even more dealerships were either forced out or the owner retired and sold their business to a larger company. In many cases, this is a good thing. The store may no longer have the same “mom and pop” feel that you are used to, but a larger equipment inventory should be available from which to choose from.

Dealership consolidation for some farmers has come at a cost, primarily in the service department. It may not be that the new dealer is providing bad service, but rather the new business

is simply running a different business model. To do so, they maybe needed to cut employees for the amount of work being done or had too many wasted billed hours and decided to change to a flat rate system. Changes such as these can be difficult to cope with if you’re used to the “old” business model, but this brings me to a question that we get a lot: “Which is more important, the dealership or the equipment they sell?”

Different approaches

The answer will vary with the individual. For some people, the internet and equipment search engines are where they spend most of their nights looking for that exact item that they want. On the flip side, others have stayed loyal to the dealership that has helped them out through the tough years and purchased their equipment from a local dealer who will hopefully maintain a good service relationship.

In today’s tractor market, some manufacturers have designed their tractors to drive more work to their dealerships, as we discussed in a previous article (Hay & Forage Grower, March 2018). With the tractor being one of the most crucial pieces on the farm, the dealership you rely on, in my opinion, becomes as important as the tractor itself. This would be true for forage harvesters and combines as well.

Every piece of equipment will break down at some point, and most of the time that is on Friday at 4:30 p.m. In these cases, how fast you are back up and running is essential. This drives home the point that the commitment of a local dealer to keep you going, under any circumstances, carries a lot of value.

With other pieces of equipment around your farm, the quality may be more crucial. Implements tend to be less complicated and major parts can be stocked on the shelf of your own shop. So, starting off with the best product on the market at the time can lead to more “up time” during the season.

Buying long distance

Doing some research can lead you to an equipment brand that you may never have thought of because your local dealership did not carry it. It may seem risky to purchase equipment from a dealer over two hours away, but the ability of the manufacturer to be a specialist for this product should make it more reliable in the long run.

We have seen this at our dealership with online customers being willing to purchase mowers, tedders, rakes, and round balers from quite a distance away. With no dealer close to them, they are more or less putting their faith in the manufacturer that they are purchasing a reliable product with minimal service requirements or breakdowns.

As for tractors and choppers, customers tend to shop closer to home, with the local dealer and service department having the advantage.

These days, any equipment purchase, most likely gets you a good product. The manufacturer and dealership would not be in business if they sold inferior products or services, although I do think it’s okay to venture out and explore different options. Some smaller companies are specialized, and they produce the most up-to-date equipment in their sector. No manufacturer, regardless of their size, has the “best” of everything.

It’s unlikely that we’ve seen the end of consolidation in the equipment and dealership sectors. What we buy and how we buy it will continue to evolve, as it has in the past 20 years. The ability to purchase online has also changed the equipment-buying environment. Even so, the local dealership will remain a lifeline for many farmers, especially for critical items such as tractors and forage harvesters.

This article appeared in the March 2019 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on page 14.

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