Farm equipment dealerships seem to have largely adjusted their business practices to the forced realities of the coronavirus pandemic. Talking with precision dealers throughout North America, and overseas, during the last few weeks, the consensus is that they’ve accepted the “new norm” for communicating with customers, sourcing parts and collaborating with employees.
With spring planting ramping up, the seasonal chaos is providing a welcome relief — as strange as that may sound. Brandon Hunt, who is the grandson of H&R Agri-Power president Wayne Hunt, and oldest son of the dealership’s vice president Steve Hunt, perhaps summed it up best, saying that he was looking forward to “tractor therapy” this spring.
Hunt manages the family’s 11,000-acre farm operation near Herndon, Ky., and when I caught up with him in late April, he was in the cab just starting to plant.
As soothing as this spring may be for many dealerships and their farm customers, the unknown of what will follow lingers, in terms of the growing season and the short- and long-term business outlook.
So what kind of climate can we expect in the next 6, 12 or even 18 months? Chances are, it will be more similar to what we are experiencing today than what we did a year ago.
Arlin Sorensen, founder of HTS Ag, an independent precision farming dealership in Harlan, Iowa, suggests aspects of how dealerships do business and operate will be forever changed — in some cases for the better — as a result of their experience adapting to COVID-19. (Hear more from Sorensen and others in Farm Equipment’s new Thought Leader video series).
“Change is going to be survival,” he says. “Two months ago, how many companies would have never thought they’d be able to run an efficient business with employees working from home? Today, they’re seeing that it can run pretty well and I think even within dealerships, we’ll see some rethinking of workforces and how services are delivered and where they are delivered from.”
Precision specialists tend to be scarce at dealerships during planting and harvest anyway. Going forward, will they spend even less physical time in stores and become virtual employees, especially with the increased use of remote support during the last couple of months?
Sorensen also sees the purchasing model evolving, as customers get more comfortable with making equipment purchases online. He cites the time when consumers were skeptical about buying cars online, but as the market matured, it’s become an acceptable, efficient way of completing a transaction.
“There’s a lot less cost involved, and we’ve all learned how powerful a tool virtual meetings can be,” he says. “I wonder if ultimately, we’ll continue to see salespeople driving all over the countryside to make sales calls when they can target those appointments without ever leaving the office.”
I’m not sure anyone has settled into whatever this new normal is supposed to be, but I would agree that we’re likely farther away from what we used to know than what we’re going to have to understand in the future to be successful.