The 2024 recipient of Precision Farming Dealer’s 12th annual Most Valuable Dealership award is HTS Ag, founded in 1995 with 4 locations across Iowa.
Dealerships from across the U.S. including large and small farm equipment dealership groups with precision departments and independent precision operations were nominated by their farm customers, precision equipment suppliers and their own employees.
“ROI is how we sell technology…”
Evaluated criteria included precision farming sales growth and diversity, along with how each nominee is generating revenue from hardware, software and precision service. Less quantifiable elements that define the best precision farming dealership, such as employee training, performance standards, innovation, sustainability and community involvement were also considered.
HTS stands for high tech solutions, which are exactly what the dealership has delivered to farmers in the Hawkeye State and beyond since well before precision agriculture was considered mainstream. It currently sells Ag Leader, OPI Grain Management, DJI, Autel and Hylio products.
Arlin Sorensen, an innovative farmer turned IT business owner, founded HTS Ag in 1995 when he saw the emerging need for precision technology in agriculture. The dealership was originally called Western Iowa GPS, and specialized in aerial imagery, yield monitoring, soil testing and mapping.
Sorensen sold his IT company in 2012, paving the way for HTS Ag to become what it is today as a standalone precision dealership. General manager Adam Gittins, who’s been with the company since 2005, bought controlling interest from Sorensen and his brother Brad, making him the principal owner of HTS Ag as of January 2024.
“Their sons are staying involved at some level, but Arlin and Brad wanted to pass the torch to keep the company growing and strong,” Gittins says. “Over the last 10 years, they’ve put me in charge of running the day-to-day operations. I’ve always treated HTS Ag like it was my own company. But now that I’m fully invested financially, I’m betting big on the team we have here, because I see a really bright future for this company and the industry.”
Gittins has plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future after HTS Ag generated over $13.3 million in total precision revenue from 2021-2023. The dealership took home Ag Leader’s 2023 Seed Commander and Harvest Master Awards for selling the most planting and yield monitor systems of any dealer in the network.
Building a Winning Team
Gittins juggled a bevy of responsibilities when he was 1 of only 2 precision specialists in his early days at HTS Ag. “My phone was still ringing at midnight during those first couple years,” he recalls. The team has grown drastically since then, with 13 employees now on staff.
“Clearly defining roles and responsibilities has helped us move the ball forward because everybody understands the work that needs to get done on a daily basis,” Gittins says. “Having a high-performing team in place enables me to focus more on big picture items like new products and ways to grow our business.”
HTS Ag creates data sheets from its own on-farm trials to show customers the benefits of new technology. This sheet shows an automated OPI Grain Management system saved $647.15 and reduced fan run time by 37%. “ROI is how we sell technology,” general manager Adam Gittins says. Photo by: HTS Ag
HTS Ag casts a wide net when recruiting new team members, using a tool that auto-posts openings to 16 different job boards. Finding people is easy, but finding the right people is the true challenge, Gittins says.
“We have a lot of applicants that maybe just don’t fit the role we’re looking to fill,” he says. “We’ve stretched out the interview process to get to know the person better and make sure they’re going to be a good fit.
“It’s a three-interview process now. One person on the team will interview the candidate over the phone, and then a second person will do the same thing to get another perspective. If both team members decide there might be an opportunity for the candidate to move on, we’ll send them what’s called a judgment index, which is an assessment of skills. Then we’ll bring the candidate in for an interview with multiple team members. This process allows the candidate to learn more about the role and make sure it’s right for them as well.”
The onboarding process for new employees includes a 90-day ramp-up period and training checklist to make sure they’re staying on track during planting and harvest season, followed by continual check-ins throughout the first year.
Check the Specs: HTS Ag
Employees Dedicated to Precision Farming: 13
Precision Lines Carried: Ag Leader, OPI Grain Management, DJI, Autel, Hylio
Total Precision Revenue: 2021-2023: $13.3 million
Key additions since 2020, including sales manager Trent Sprecker, marketing manager Frank Olmstead and accountant Amy Coenen, have reduced extra workload on previous staff members, allowing them to focus more on excelling in their specific roles.
Closing Sales with ROI
Jay Robinson, Kyle Fischer and Zach Meester each fill the critical role of technology advisor, representing a rebrand and shift in the company’s sales philosophy.
“The technology advisor’s primary function is still sales, but ultimately their role is about helping the customer,” Gittins says. “It’s about understanding what the customer needs. We want to find something that saves them money, time and makes their job easier — that’s the type of technology we want to work with and share with people.”
Gittins is a farmer himself, as are many staff members, and the dealership’s headquarters are located on Sorensen’s Harlan, Iowa, farm, which makes it easier to think like the customer and prove ROI with on-farm trials.
In a recent example of a side-by-side trial, service manager Brandon Fischer put an OPI Grain Management system on 2 grain bins, but only automated one of them. His father-in-law, who he farms with, managed the other bin. Throughout the year they monitored electricity usage, fan run time, shrinkage loss and more. The result was a $646.15 savings for the automated bin, and a $1,504.96 loss for the other bin, both significant numbers that move the needle for customers.
“ROI is how we sell technology,” Gittins says. “We try to think from a farmer’s perspective. How does the technology impact what’s going on in the field? When we show them data from side-by-side trials, it changes the conversation immensely. We’re no longer trying to sell them a gadget. We’re selling a significant benefit; they can see real dollars and how it impacts them.”
HTS Ag technicians billed a total of 3,439 service hours, generating 9.5% of their total revenue from service in 2023. The dealership started offering service plans in 2007, when Gittins realized it would eliminate at least half of the phone calls coming in throughout busy season.
“Our service plans alone generate enough revenue to cover a full technician’s salary for the year,” Gittins says. “I think we had only 3 people sign up for annual service plans back in 2007, but now we get around 100 typically. If you want access to our team after hours, you must have a service plan. With a service plan, we’re available 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Saturday and Noon-6 p.m. on Sunday. Our goal is to make sure the customer is called back in 10 minutes or less during those extended hours. Calls are routed through our phone system, and we rotate who’s on call weekly, so everyone’s not glued to their phone all the time.”
Even as general manager, Gittins remains on the phone rotation, which keeps him in the loop and connected with customers. The rotation cuts down on burnout and protects valuable personal time for staff members when they’re off the clock.
Customers can purchase service plans that include on-site visits. The cost of on-site service depends on location — it’s a flat rate if the customer is within a 60-mile radius, with drive time added if they’re farther away. The dealership is launching a Connected Cab service plan in 2024 as well.
“We’re partnering with a cellular company, and we’re going to tie in the data plan for their display to our service plan,” Gittins says. “Many farmers are already paying for a cell modem in the cab in addition to a service plan. By bundling it together, we can streamline the process of remote support and reduce their cost at the same time.”
“If you want access to our team after hours, you must have a service plan…”
HTS Ag also offers data management services — a colorblind compilation of data gathered during planting, application, harvest and everything in between to give customers variable rate seeding and fertilizer recommendations.
Fighting Burnout & Turnover
Gittins’ schedule wasn’t conducive to a sustainable lifestyle when he first started working as a service technician in 2005. The long hours, road trips and late-night phone calls weren’t going to cut it long term. HTS Ag has since put various measures and incentives in place to prevent burnout and keep good people around, including the rotational phone system and a 4-day work week in the summer.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, half the staff is off Friday, and the other half is off Monday. Employees make up some of the time by clocking in a half-hour earlier and shortening lunch by a half-hour during the summer.
“There are long hours in this industry and employee burnout is real,” Gittins says. “We’ve worked very hard to combat burnout, and to reward our staff after a busy spring. It’s good to get some time back with family and allow everyone to catch their breath a little bit before harvest season.”
Adam Gittins stands in front of HTS Ag’s mobile technology trailer. The team uses it at trade shows, community events, field days and schools to showcase new technology. Inside the trailer are interactive equipment displays and mounted TVs that can show video from drones in real time. Photo by: Noah Newman
HTS Ag’s anniversary trip program has been another smash hit in the office. At 5 years, employees get a $2,500 bonus that can only be used for travel with family or friends. The travel bonus increases to $5,000 at 10 years, $7,500 at 15 years and $10,000 at 20 years. They can use the money to travel anywhere in the world. The only catch is they have to bring back pictures to share on the anniversary trip bulletin board.
“If we handed out a $2,500 check, they’re only going to remember it for a month or two, but a trip they’ll remember for a lot longer,” Gittins says. “On the bulletin board, we’ve got pictures of all the trips our employees have been on, from Italy to Disney World. The anniversary trip program sounds like a lot of money, but it’s not compared to the cost of losing a long-tenured employee and having to train someone new. It’s very inexpensive to take care of good people when you have them.”
Learn More Online
Visit Precision Farming Dealer for an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at HTS Ag with president and general manager Adam Gittins. Filmed at the dealership’s Harlan, Iowa, headquarters, these videos capture the innovative strategies and proven practices utilized by the 2024 Most Valuable Dealership.
The company also introduced a VTO (volunteer time off) policy. Each employee can take time off to volunteer for a non-profit cause that’s important to them in the community, whether it’s serving on a board or helping at a homeless shelter.
Gittins sat down with Precision Farming Dealer to further discuss HTS Ag’s keys to success. Here are some highlights from the conversation.
Precision Farming Dealer: What are some of the biggest challenges you anticipate in the coming years?
Gittins: I look at commodity prices and high interest rates, and those are certainly a challenge for the entire ag industry, not just us. It hard for farmers to spend money when they don’t have it, even if they see the value. The farmer’s mentality often will turn to, ‘Well, it’s worked this long, I can wait another year or two to spend money.’ That puts the pressure on us to really be good at educating them on what the actual value of new technology is and showing it to them.
There will also be challenges with the technology itself. There’s so much going on with AI and automation, and I think it’s going to be really quick in terms of how fast that technology develops. It will be easy for farmers and our clients to get left behind if we don’t stay on top of it.
PFD: What’s the secret to building strong relationships with customers?
Gittins: Being there when they need us. For example, let’s talk about drones, even though they’re a small part of our business. You could buy the exact same drones that we’re selling from any of the big box stores. Why do people come to us to buy them? Because we’re also working with the product. I’ve been flying drones for over 10 years. Several of us farm, and we’re using the products we sell on our farms. We know the products very well. Do you want to call a company and talk to a support specialist, or do you want to call somebody that you know and trust? I think that level of service is critical to our success. Anybody can sell equipment, but being able to help people use the product to its fullest potential is where we really thrive.
“Helping people use the product to its fullest potential is where we really thrive…”
We define our territory as Iowa plus, as we also have customers in surrounding states like Nebraska. But it’s not impossible to support somebody even farther away. We even have a customer in Montana. He runs Ag Leader products and buys them through us. He enjoys installing the equipment himself but likes to be able to call and talk to us when he has questions. He doesn’t have a ton of local dealers able to support him. He found us online and we started working together.
PFD: What’s been the key to HTS Ag’s revenue growth over the last 3 years?
Gittins: Process and structure. We kind of just used muscle and feel to get to where we’ve been in the past. Now with a more structured team in place, I envision we’ll have significant growth in the future. When you start talking about a multi-million-dollar company, you need to have some structure in place to be able to support it. We don’t want to just go out there and get a sale, and then not be there for the customer when they need help later. Having the team behind us to support the customer’s needs is really important.
PFD: What are the pros and cons of being located on a farm?
Gittins: There are some benefits to our office being out in the country, but there are also some things that don’t go as well. It’s a little harder for customers to just stop in and see us. They have to want to come out here. We’re a mile up the road on gravel; it’s not just some place customers can see as they’re driving by. They’re coming out here for a reason.
The HTS Ag anniversary trips board is a big morale booster in the office. The company hands out bonuses for 5-, 10-, 15- and 20-year anniversaries that can only be used on a trip with family or friends. Employees are required to post pictures of their trip on the board when they get back. The incentive was created to reward employees for their hard work and encourage them to stick around for a long time. Photo by: Noah Newman
The biggest benefit of being out here is we have a giant playground at our disposal. We can run the equipment. We can test things out. We can really understand how the technology works in real time on the farm that’s around us. It also keeps us centered on what our customers’ locations are like. Having our office out in the country seems fitting for the customer base that we serve.
PFD: When you reflect on your career to this point, and how much HTS Ag has grown since you joined the company in 2005, what comes to mind?
Gittins: At that time, when I first started, I don't know I ever could've imagined where we’re at today. I think the journey has always been fun, and I enjoy working with the technology and farmers immensley. It’s been through that passion that we've been able to grow the company — simply knowing that we can help our customers have a better outcome, whether it’s cost savings or an increase in yield. We can utilize technology to make a significant impact on a farm operation. That’s what motivates me to get out of bed every morning, and keep doing what we do.
It’s a huge honor taking home these awards — the Most Valuable Dealership and Ag Leader’s Harvest Master and Seed Commander awards — but we always want to be better, so I'm not ever going to be content with where we’re at. We continue to learn and grow every single year.