Pictured Above: After some early growing pains, Youngblut Ag and owner Pete Youngblut found its footing with overall precision sales of near $1.5 million in 2017, an increase of almost $600,000 over the prior year.
Building a precision farming dealership — essentially from scratch — is a daunting task, especially in an area where competition is fierce and farm customers tend to be tech-savvy.
But this is the path Pete Youngblut took, starting Youngblut Ag in Dysart, Iowa, 5 years ago. It was a natural progression for Pete, who cut his teeth as a software support specialist for Ag Leader Technology after graduating from Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa.
After 5 years with Ag Leader, he transitioned into a precision specialist position with a local farm equipment dealership before making the decision to open his own precision business in 2013.
Having met Pete early in his precision career, it’s been interesting to see his progression, first-hand, especially as a business owner. While he shares some of the same sales and service challenges as larger dealerships, being responsible for everything from rent and payroll to tracking product inventory and billing, demands attention to detail.
After some early growing pains, the business found its footing and Pete estimates overall precision sales of near $1.5 million in 2017, an increase of almost $600,000 over the prior year.
During our day in the cab, Pete was comfortable, yet cautious in his ownership role — willing to leverage his freedom and flexibility to attract and retain customers. But this didn’t come with a “corner-cutting” philosophy to turn a quick service dollar.
“When we’re servicing, we’re selling…”
Whether we were making the trip to pick up a shipment of planter system components or taking the extra time to put personal touches on a guidance installation, the nearly 9 hours we spent with Pete revealed a dedicated professional, concerned as much with boosting the bottom line of his own business, as with doing the same for his farm customers.
6:15 a.m. My internal alarm clock has me awake ahead of schedule inside my hotel room in Waterloo, Iowa. I rendezvous with our photographer, James Kolterman, for breakfast and we pack up for the 30 minute drive to Dysart. The day’s forecast calls for cold temperatures and a chance of flurries, but having touched base with Pete the night before, he assured us farmers would likely still be active, either wrapping up a late harvest or preparing for spring.
7:58 a.m. We arrive in Dysart, Iowa, population 1,355 and find Youngblut Ag. It’s a modest storefront, sandwiched between a boutique gift shop and a beauty salon on the town’s main road. It’s a unique location, which caters to walk in business, but has no room for outdoor equipment displays. Pete and Andy Von Ehwegen, sales and service manager, are loading boxes into a service truck parked in front of the office. Andy is Pete’s lone employee and joined the dealership about 2 years ago. The two met when they were both working for Ag Leader. “He’s exactly the same type of person I am and I can send him anywhere,” Pete says of Andy. “Jobs have gotten larger, and having just 1 guy can take all of one day. When we tag team those, customers sometimes ask, ‘How do you know what the other guy is doing?’ Andy and I have a great rhythm so it’s a dynamic that has worked really well.”
During extensive installations, Pete Youngblut often will time himself. He enjoys the personal competition, but it also motivates him to see where he can improve. “Can I do better?” he says.
8:07 a.m. We follow Pete and Andy inside as they continue to get organized for the day ahead. The office is spacious, with scattered components and supplier signage lining the walls. A rack of sweatshirts and hats featuring the Youngblut Ag logo in fluorescent yellow is near the front window. Pete and Andy’s desks are in the rear of the office, adjacent to the parts storage room, which is somewhat depleted after harvest. “We’re looking to redo the floorplan,” Pete says. The dealership recently added Harvest International planter row units to its product line and, ideally, Pete wants more showroom. “We didn’t plan on being iron dealers, but it was a good opportunity and we just sold 24 row units with electric drives. I see a lot of potential, so it would be nice to have more onsite space for demonstrations,” he says.
8:17 a.m. Pete and Andy solidify their agendas for at least the early part of the day. “By about 10 a.m., our original plan is usually shot to hell,” jokes Andy, who is going to be spending part of the morning harvesting corn on Pete’s family farm. Pete, his brother and father farm about 500 acres of corn and soybeans. “I’m usually the combine operator, and a lot of times in fall, Andy will take the lead on the business and I’ll be in the field helping out when I can, but we’re switching off today,” Pete says. “When you grow up on a farm, it’s like a vacation when you get to run the equipment, because it’s much slower paced than running a precision business.”
8:32 a.m. We hop in the truck with Pete — armed with an AMP energy drink — “standard procedure” he says, and depart for Reinbeck, Iowa, about 25 miles away for our first customer visit of the morning. The odometer on his 2016 Chevy Silverado Z71 reads just below 69,000. “I was pretty nervous getting this truck, but it’s been worth the money,” Pete says. “When I started the business, I had my old truck which had about 35,000 miles on it. Andy still drives it and it’s up to about 215,000.”
8:47 a.m. We’re en route to Gary Thede’s farm to check on the functionality of an Integra display in his John Deere 8285R tractor. Pete explains that he was able to win Gary’s business by initially solving an RTK problem he was having. “He had a ParaDyme unit that couldn’t hold RTK and was on the brink of trading tractors because he was so frustrated,” Pete says. “I was able to fix the problem, and he ended up trading tractors anyway, but asked me how much precision stuff he could tell his equipment dealer to leave off the new tractor because he wanted to purchase the technology from us.” In addition to a SteerCommand and 6500 receiver for the new tractor, Pete also sold Gary a hydraulic down force system and electric drives for his planter.
“We’ve found that customers don’t want to pay you not to show up…”
9:06 a.m. Pete gives Gary a call to let him know we’ve arrived. “Drive on back and work your magic,” Gary says. We find the 8285 parked on the edge of a field and Pete jumps in and boots up the display. He quickly troubleshoots a communication glitch with the receiver. “The steering system was communicating properly, but there was an issue with the GPS receiver. I went into the system and forced that communication and reset the settings and modem.” After field-testing the fix and finding no issues, Pete calls Gary to explain the positive outcome.
Within the next year or so, Pete Youngblut plans to build a new facility, in part to accommodate the dealership’s growth into the planter market. He has specific designs for the investment, with a 120 x 80 foot building, with office space, showroom floor, storage and an 80 x 60 foot shop space for 3 equipment bays.
9:15 a.m. As we leave Gary’s farm, we notice a few snowflakes begin to fall. “Are you kidding me? It’s too early for this,” Pete says.
9:55 a.m. We’re on our way to Ag Leader in Ames to pick up a parts order. It’s a 90-minute drive one way that Pete makes on almost a weekly basis, given that the precision manufacturer’s products account for about 70% of his sales. “This allows us to get stuff fast and we have our routine down where we pick up as much product as we can,” Pete says. “We’ll usually unpack everything, lay it all out in the office for staging and then repack everything according to customer. Sometimes 75% of the box is packing, so it’s more efficient to get several items in a big box instead of one.” Pete and Andy then organize and label items in their storage room so they can just grab parts off the shelf and go to a customer’s farm with the confidence that everything is inside the box.
10:34 a.m. Arriving at Ag Leader, it’s clear Pete has his routine for picking up hardware. We head to the main office where he checks in and there is a handcart waiting with two SteerCommand systems, two 1200 displays, two 6500 receivers, two relay systems and two platform kits, some of which will be installed at our service visit this afternoon. We load those into the backseat, a task, which Pete equates to “a game of precision Tetris.” We drive down to the distribution center where a pallet of 24 rows of SureDrive electric drives and 24 rows of hydraulic down force systems, wrapped in plastic, are waiting and a forklift loads the tower of product into Pete’s pickup and we’re off. “Haven’t lost anything, yet, but that’s why we have insurance,” Pete says of past large shipments he’s packed into his truck’s flatbed.
- Be prepared to sell while you service during customer visits and capitalize on casual conversations, which can help convert future sales.
- Putting personal touches on services including installations can separate you from the competition and increase customer satisfaction.
- Consider expanding into complimentary equipment niches to enhance the value and ROI of the precision products you offer.
12:31 p.m. Having been a productive day so far, we break for lunch at a place called the Chop Haus in Traer, Iowa. I have a pulled pork sandwich, James opts for a Rueben and Pete has the pork tenderloin sandwich, which our server points out was recognized by the Iowa Pork Producers Assn. in 2016.
1:45 p.m. We’re back on the road and stop at Pete’s family farm to store the pallet of product. He admits it’s not an ideal situation, but a necessity without the storage space at the office, which is only about 10 minutes away. Within the next year or so, he plans to build a new facility, in part to accommodate the dealership’s growth into the planter market. Pete has specific designs for the investment, with a 120 x 80 foot building, with office space, showroom floor, storage and an 80 x 60 foot shop space for 3 equipment bays. “We need more room because some of our bigger customers are requiring it,” Pete says. “That’s partly why we’re getting into planters. Originally, I didn’t plan on being an iron dealer, but the market shifted and it’s an opportunity for us now.”
“I like to time myself on installations. In part, to keep track of labor, but I’m also competitive by nature and like to challenge myself…”
2:11 p.m. En route to out next stop near La Porte City, Iowa, a cold rain begins to fall. “Now, I’m really glad we’re going to be working inside this afternoon,” Pete says. We’ll be doing a changeover of the customer’s guidance and steering system, a job Pete expects will take a couple of hours to complete. He prefers billing by the hour vs. annual service plans, in part because he views it as a more profitable method and more a palatable payment option for his customers. “Most of time when we go out, it’s to fine tune calibration or something major like a ripped cable, and it’s almost always operator error or a fluke deal,” he says. “We’ve found that customers don’t want to pay you not to show up. If we have a true service call, our rate is $85 per hour. If we have 5 hours of service for the farmer, we’re over $400 and that’s close to what it would cost for a service agreement anyway. I’m not sure where we’re losing and it makes the customer feel better, which is key.”
Check Out Day In the Cab Videos!
Take a closer look at a day in the life on the job with Pete Youngblut, owner of Youngblut Ag, through exclusive videos filmed during Precision Farming Dealer’s Day in the Cab.
Video topics include:
- Creating Compatibility Solutions to Builds Service Credibility
- Delivering Customized Precision Results to Improve Customer ROI
- Putting a Personal Touch on Precision Service
- Selling While You Service as a Competitive Advantage
Visit www.PrecisionFarmingDealer.com/ditc to view past video and feature coverage from the Day in the Cab series.
2:22 p.m. We arrive at Rocky Brown’s farm and make our way to his equipment shed and his New Holland T7 and T8 tractors, along with a Hagie self-propelled sprayer. As promised, the shed is heated, providing a welcome respite from the deteriorating conditions outside. We unpack the boxes from the backseat and Pete begins taking inventory for the job, carefully opening and accounting for every piece needed for the installation. “Sometimes, it takes longer to unpack boxes than the actual jobs takes,” jokes Pete. “But I do like to time myself on these jobs. In part, to keep track of labor, but I’m also competitive by nature and like to challenge myself. Can I do better?”
Working in tandem with sales and service manager Andy Von Ehwegen commonly creates sales opportunities. “When we’re servicing, we’re selling,” Pete Youngblut says. “By time we walk out of a job, we’ve got another order to place.”
3:12 p.m. So far, so good. Pete has removed the factory-installed nav controller and GNSS receiver and moved the New Holland IntelliView display from the arm rest to the front inside post of the cab. He installs an InCommand 1200 display on the factory arm rest and begins meticulously positioning the cables inside the cab. “One of the things I do, which is a little different, is hide all of the cabling for the customer, so it looks truly factory and integrated into the machine,” Pete says. “A lot of time, customers talk about having cables all over the interior of the cab, and it’s kind of a pet peeve of mine. I like to hang my hat on doing the highest quality install we can.”
3:36 p.m. Rocky pops in to check on the progress. He notices the pile of product boxes scattered around and asks, “Is all of that stuff going on the tractor?” Pete gives him an update on the status of the installation and lets Rocky know the system will be calibrated and field tested.
Pete Youngblut makes the 90-minute drive to Ag Leader Technology in Ames, Iowa, on nearly a weekly basis to pick up product orders, given that the precision manufacturer’s components account for about 70% of his sales.
4:05 p.m. Andy arrives, gets a quick progress update from Pete, and assists with cable connections in the rear of the tractor. It’s clear they have a natural rhythm and Pete notes that he and Andy often partner on larger service visits to complete the job faster. But working in tandem also commonly creates sales opportunities. “When we’re servicing, we’re selling,” Pete says. “We’ve done steering system installs and a customer’s planter is in his shop, so one of us will talk to the farmer about planter upgrades, while the other one works on tractor. By the time we walk out, we’ve got another order to place.” Pete views the approach he and Andy take as a competitive advantage, because they’ve been able to create new business out of casual conversations during service visits.
4:57 p.m. Even though Pete didn’t set a new personal best time for the installation, it was still a success and he’s satisfied with the outcome. We ask Pete how many of these installations he’s done and with a laugh, he says, “Too many to count.”
5:17 p.m. We arrive back at the dealership and unload the last of the boxes in Pete’s pick-up. James and I thank him for an eventful experience and we hop into our rental car to head home after another productive day in the cab.