Every farmer needs to have a decent relationship with at least one local machinery dealership. Those businesses play a pretty big role in keeping farm operations ticking along, and getting to know the staff in the parts and service department can definitely help with machine maintenance and repairs. A good service manager will almost certainly give a repeat customer the benefit of his advice whenever he can.
But what happens when you have a yard full of machinery, most of it painted one color, and that special relationship with the local dealer who’s been supplying you with most of your machines ends in a kind of business divorce?
The reality is it can be a real problem, as I discovered a year ago when the purchase of another new machine turned into a very unhappy experience. Wrangling with the chain’s new management eventually resulted in a resolution, but it left me so dissatisfied with that outlet I couldn’t even bring myself to walk back through the door to buy parts.
No problem, I thought. I’ll get my parts at another outlet. But walk into a dealer some distance away from where you live to buy parts and it’s a strange experience. When the parts clerk wants to put your address into the dealership computer system to create a customer profile for you and finds out you live two hours away, it’s as if imaginary alarm bells start ringing.
“Why don’t you get these at your local dealer,” is the inevitable question.
“Because I don’t do business with them anymore,” I say.
The alarm bells get louder.
Nevertheless, I always leave with my parts. And so far it’s worked. But when my tractor developed an electrical fault recently, I began to realize how much virtual alimony I was really paying for that dealership divorce.
I traced the fault to one specific circuit on the tractor, but I needed a wiring diagram to identify the actual problem source. Google couldn’t find one online. I did, however, have to come into Regina for the Farm Progress Show, so I thought I’d just stop at a dealer on the way and see about getting one.
I walked up to the service counter and asked if I could get a copy of it. The clerk quietly retreated to the service manager’s office. He soon walked out to deal with me personally.
“Did you buy the tractor from us,” he immediately asked.
“No,” I said
“Where are you from?”
Then came that familiar question: “Why don’t you go to your local dealer for this?”
After the answer, those imaginary alarm bells rang again as he actually rolled his eyes.
“We can start a work order and send out a tech to fix it he said,” a little too politely.
No, I said. I just need to get a look at the circuit.
“We’re in business to make money,” came his reply. “not give away information.”
Clearly, I get the making money thing. It’s the same for all of us. I’d have willingly paid a fee to get the diagram and wasn’t looking for charity. And I’d have stocked up on oil filters and a couple of other things while I was there. What he didn’t know was despite being estranged from my local dealer, I still like the brand’s products, and sooner or later I’ll need to buy again—from a dealer I like. But his response pushed my button, and any potential relationship with this new dealership turned out to be a one-date affair that ended early.
I know some—maybe even many—farmers view dealership chains unfavourably, and it seems the new reality does significantly limit farmer options. Of course, there’s no doubt these corporations are much more intensely profit motivated than most of the previous single-outlet operations were, but I enjoy great service from local stores of chains from other brands, even though I’m just an occasional customer. And really, there have always been dealers farmers would and wouldn’t do business with, even when mom-and-pop operations dominated the landscape.
I think the key factor in measuring whether or not a dealership is worth doing business with is still the same as it’s always been. It’s the individuals behind the desks, parts counter and wrenches that matter. And nothing pushes a customer out the door faster than a jackass.