The retail times, they are a changing. With yearly advances in equipment technology and growers increasingly business minded, retailers have to move fast to keep pace. Morris INNOVATE talked with three retailers for their perspective. Morley Dennill is the Sales Manager at Dennill’s Agricenter in Dewberry, Alberta; Doug Pilsner is the Cervus Regional Manager of Agriculture for Alberta and BC; while Devin Pinkney is the Used Sales Manager at Robertson Implements in Swift Current, Saskatchewan.
WHAT CHANGES ARE YOU SEEING IN THE RETAIL BUSINESS?
Dennill: In the old days farmers didn’t put a lot of value on their time. But now if there’s work they think somebody can do more efficiently, they’re willing to pay for that service. We’re doing more maintenance and repairs so that growers will have less downtime. They can do other things to be more productive. They can make more money marketing their products, for example, versus changing the oil in their sprayer. I see us moving more towards service contracts. We may do all the service work for a customer and not just the failures when a piece of equipment quits working.
Pilsner: Certainly there are some challenges in the marketplace today, but some opportunities as well. As an organization we have a large focus on providing value-added services, not just machinery. We have a whole department dedicated to it throughout our network of dealerships.
Pinkney: I think it’s the continuing struggle of trying to keep up with technology. With more and more research it’s becoming more and more important that our machines are keeping up with that. For example precision depth control, independent shank packing and variable rate.
HOW DOES PRECISION EQUIPMENT MAKE GROWERS MORE PROFITABLE?
Dennill: Growers have to be above average in their crop production and the quality of their crop production. At the same time they have to try and limit their expenses. They can limit them by being as precise as possible with the application of their crop inputs — the seed they’re putting on, the fertilizer and spray. For Morris customers they’re wanting more precision out of their seeding tools so they’re not wasting seed, or fertilizer by over-lapping. It’s precision placement of the seed and fertilizer so they can maximize their yields and the quality of their yields. To get the best quality, growers want fields to germinate at the same time, ready to be sprayed and harvested at the same time. If you don’t, the quality and consistency of your product is degraded.
Pinkney: With higher costs per acre, sectional control has become big to keep costs down. Machines are getting bigger and it’s nice to be able to shut off the portion of the machine that needs to be shut off.
Pilsner: Variable rate technology is critical. How much fertilizer goes down and where the fertilizer is placed in terms of the seed. In our industry there’s a lot of talk about combines and harvest, but really, success in the field starts with seeding. Our partnership with Morris is very important and their precision component is important to our customers.
HOW CAN RETAILERS HELP GROWERS BECOME MORE PRODUCTIVE?
Pinkney: Getting the best return on investment with the technology that they’re using. Trying to get as much out of every acre using that technology with variable rate, advancements in fertilizer and other inputs.
Dennill: I see growers looking for more help on the technology side of the business to make them as efficient as possible. As a retailer we can make them more knowledgeable about the capabilities of the products they’re buying. The equipment has lots of capabilities, like auto-steer systems for example, but growers aren’t using them as efficiently as possible.
HOW IS TECHNOLOGY CHANGING YOUR RETAIL BUSINESS?
Pinkney: Our operation has changed a lot. We have GPS guys on staff now. Our mechanics aren’t really just mechanics. They’re technicians because they’re not necessarily turning wrenches when they go out on a service call. They’re working on technology, they’re working on electronics, they’re working on computers. Farmers are more tech savvy now. There were pretty simple decisions before, but now more money is involved and it’s a cost per acre issue. Today, every decision is a business decision.
Dennill: The new technicians we hire in our service department all have to be computer savvy. Everything we sell has a computer. Our latest tractors have individual computers for controlling the engine, the transmission, the air-conditioning/heating system, the light system, the dash and arm-rest. The equipment doesn’t rely so much on the operator now, it’s communicating with itself to make sure it’s running as efficiently as possible.
Pilsner: John Deere’s philosophy, and our philosophy at Cervus, is to become more of a trusted advisor to our customers and not just a one-component machinery solution. We’re becoming involved in a grower’s whole operation and providing value to the customer. Farms are consolidating now and they’re big business. It’s important they’re seeing the return in their business. Our focus as a company is helping our clients get that return.
WITH THE CONTINUED GROWTH OF NEW TECHNOLOGIES, ARE GROWER CLINICS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER?
Dennill: A big change we’re seeing is that the owner isn’t running the equipment as much as before. The owner may know all the intricacies of his equipment, but his hired staff may not. So, he may count on us to train his hired staff and answer questions from his hired operators. We do this through clinics that are jointly done between the dealership and the supplier. And then through one-on-one communication with our customers and their operators.
Pilsner: Machine optimization and internal training are large components of our operation. To keep up with the changes in technology we’ve built training centres where we don’t just do staff and internal coaching, but we bring in customers and do customer events as well.
HOW DO YOU KEEP CONNECTED WITH GROWERS?
Dennill: We’ve introduced a mobile App as another way to keep in touch with our customers. To try and make the communication with our customers simple and quick. All growers have smartphones, so you want to be visible on their smartphone. We’ve only had our App on-stream for about six weeks and we’re still getting feedback from our customers for ways of making our relationship more effective and responsive. We still need the dennill.com website, but we think the App will be more effective than emails.
Pilsner: Everything happens at the store level. That’s where the customer interaction happens. Historically in ag equipment dealerships it’s always been the salesman who’s had the relationship with the client. As we move forward with some of these value added services, precision and smart technology, it’s very important that everybody in our dealership has a relationship with the customer. We need to know what’s going on in their business. It’s important as an organization that everybody has a relationship with the customer.
Pinkney: Online is an area we struggle with a bit. We’ve done a big rebuild to our website in the last year, but I think there’s more potential out there. We mainly use our website to advertise our machines. But there’s more we could be doing. Most guys have an iPad in their tractor pulling data off their monitors. Or using it to run blocked sensors and scales. Technology and computers are going hand in hand with farming now.
WHAT’S THE NEXT BIG THING FOR RETAILERS?
Dennill: One of the next things growers are going to be looking for are better ways to manage all the data they’re collecting from their farming operations. How do they make the best use of all the data that’s available like soil samples, weather information and satellite imagery of their fields? Some farmers are turning to consultants to come up with prescriptions so they can variable rate the amount of seed and fertilizer they’re putting on their fields. They want to use technology to maximize their yield and quality while keeping their production costs per acre as low as possible. Growers will spend money on value, but they want to see that value.
Pilsner: There’s going to be more App-based integration with some third-party providers. We’re going to see more integration in terms of Wi-Fi on the farm, the capture of data in a machine and the interfacing with a farm manager in real time. The technology has been there in the last few years, but now it’s a matter of having useful application on a large scale out in the marketplace.