- Independent Dealer Succeeds with Old School Approach to Customer Service
- Lessiter Media to Celebrate 1st Annual Precision Specialist Week
- What Farmers Want from You: More Education & Improved Support
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Precision Farming Dealer's Day in the Cab series is a first-person account of a day in the life of a precision farming specialist, from when the alarm clock rings to the last customer service call of the day.
No two days are the same and this regular feature offers an intimate look at how precision specialists navigate and adapt their daily objectives, to be productive and profitable for their dealership.
|WEST ENTERPRISES||SABANTO||PREMIER TECHNOLOGIES|
|J.J. NICHTING||VAN WALL EQUIPMENT||REDLINE EQUIPMENT|
|SYDENSTRICKER NOBBE PARTNERS
||RIESTERER & SCHNELL|
||SWIDERSKI EQUIPMENT||STOTZ EQUIPMENT|
|A.C. MCCARTNEY EQUIPMENT
||JOHNSON TRACTOR||P&C AG SOLUTIONS|
||BIRKEY'S FARM STORE||MID-STATE EQUIPMENT |
West Enterprises’ 2-man operation leverages expertise & experience to build strong relationships with farmers
Precision specialists often wear many hats — service technician, salesperson, business owner, farmer. The list goes on and on.
Bruce West barely has enough closet space for the number of hats (and capes) he wears as owner of West Enterprises, an independent precision ag hardware and software dealer in Erie, Ill.
“We’re a small company — it’s me, one other full-time employee and my wife who sometimes helps out with the books,” Bruce says. “Not only am I in sales and service, but I also handle business and inventory management, cashflow and even human resources. You get to see all aspects of the business when you’re a small company.
There are 5 levels of autonomy generally accepted within automotive and off-road equipment engineering circles. The highest level is reached when a machine operates with full autonomy, going anywhere and doing anything an experienced human operator can currently achieve.
“People ask me when we’ll see Level 5 automation in agriculture,” Sabanto founder and CEO Craig Rupp says. “I tell them, we’re doing it now.”
Sabanto started building its first autonomy kit in late 2019. Now, after closing on a $17 million series A funding round in August 2022, the swarming farm autonomy company has accelerated the process of bringing its product to the marketplace.
Iowa’s Premier Technologies introduces customers to precision ag technology and gives them more flexibility with equipment using Ag Leader and other shortline products.
While some customers seek the latest and greatest precision ag technology, most farmers aren’t early adopters. In fact, some are just getting started with precision ag and auto-steer.
Independent precision ag dealer Premier Technologies, based in Alden, Iowa, serves customers new to the precision world and those who are looking to advance the capabilities of their existing equipment of all colors. The company is an Ag Leader dealer and also carries Crop Copter, DigiFarm, SureFire Ag Systems, Headsight, Ram Mounts, Sprayer Specialties, Dakota Micro, AgCam and Schaffert products.
As one of 3 precision farming specialists at J.J. Nichting’s 5 Iowa stores, Pete Kopriva teaches customers and coworkers the ins and outs of precision farming with his commitment to customer service. Even on a “slow” in-season day, Pete fields dozens of calls, connecting customers to efficient precision support.
Pete and J.J. Nichting’s other precision specialists have been making an effort to increase the precision knowledge of both customers and other dealership staff. They’ve held customer clinics in the past and did a day-long training program for the technicians at each of the dealership’s stores. The technician course went through some of the most common questions about the Case IH and Precision Planting products carried by the dealership and included a test at the end.
Eric Mensen, integrated solutions specialist at Van Wall Equipment, maintains constant communication with his customers and coworkers at Van Wall’s Story City and Nevada, Iowa, locations.
It’s a practice that proves successful for the dealership today, and Mensen predicts it will become even more important to the role of a precision farming specialist in the future.
Van Wall was Precision Farming Dealer’s 2021 Most Valuable Dealership and Farm Equipment’s 2016 Dealership of the Year, so our editorial team thought it would be wise to spend a day with one of the dealership’s precision farming specialists to give you a deeper understanding of how its award-winning practices influence the precision team’s daily work and responsibilities.
A day in the life of a precision farming specialist is never the same, and that’s the way Calvin Knotts likes it.
“That’s exactly what my idea of a dream job was,” Calvin says. “I grew up on a farm, and I do some farming on my own, too, but my goal was to have a job where you could have a desk, but at the same time, get out, get dirty and work.”
Calvin is one of 4 precision farming specialists at Redline Equipment, a Case IH dealership with 12 locations across Indiana, Ohio and southern Michigan. Calvin serves approximately 150 of the dealership’s customers within a 3-store territory.
Most of the calls Calvin receives from customers involve Case IH’s Advanced Farming Systems (AFS) technology on equipment that they bought from the dealership, but he also does some occasional service work on other brands if it’s equipment brought in on trade. He talks to some customers on a weekly or monthly basis, while he only hears from others every couple of years.
I step carefully out of the passenger side of our rental car and into the humid 80-degree weather. We’re at Sydenstricker Nobbe Partners’ St. Charles, Mo., location, one of their 27 John Deere stores across Missouri and Illinois.
I check to make sure there’s no glass on the back of my shirt, since our car was broken into around 4 a.m., resulting in shattered glass all over the seats. Thankfully, Farm Equipment Executive Editor Kim Schmidt and I are both unscathed by the incident (aside from our annoyance at the situation), and we meet Lee Ann Sydenstricker, vice president of marketing at Sydenstricker Nobbe, in the parking lot. Though it feels like a rough start to the day, Lee Ann leads us into the store’s conference room, where we sit down with CEO Ted Briscoe and the man we drove 8 hours for me to see: Senior Product Specialist John Crumbaugh.
In addition to his official title, John is Sydenstricker Nobbe’s “combine specialist” when it comes to precision technology. In John’s eyes, that means selling technology, pure and simple.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Well, at least a couple of them. It was a cool and dreary day when I rode along with Phil Moskal, then precision farming specialist with Mid-State Equipment in 2013 for the first Day in the Cab profile in this series.
Nearly 7 years later, I rendezvoused with Phil again — now Integrated Solutions Manager at Mid-State — for another overcast, rainy Day in the Cab. Aside from the weather, and the same ringtone on his smartphone — AC/DC’s “Back in Black” — Phil’s role, if not his musical tastes, have evolved right along with the precision systems he sells and services.
Phil joined the 9-store dealership in 2009 and has helped broaden the company’s precision reach, developing and expanding its RTK subscription network, experimenting with precision service pricing and packaging and transitioning customers into John Deere’s Operations Center and JDLink platforms.
Patience plays into any precision farming manager’s profile. Whether with customers, manufacturers or direct reports, the ability to calmly and confidently problem-solve, often under pressure, is a prerequisite for the position.
Few have the temperament to thrive in the role, and fewer can navigate the rapid expansion, employee turnover and bulk training. These are the tests Nick Rust, precision ag coordinator with H&R Agri-Power faces and even relishes on a daily basis.
For the 13th Day in Cab experience, I had the opportunity to ride along with Nick during the course of Farm Equipment’s dealership-wide profile of H&R Agri-Power as part of the Dealership Minds coverage. While it was an abbreviated adventure, there was no shortage of technical challenges, mentoring successes and customer satisfaction.
The market share realities and logistical hurdles a single-store mainline farm equipment dealership must clear to compete in an era of consolidation are real.
But for more than 70 years, Eis Implement, a John Deere dealership in Two Rivers, Wis., has thrived on its product diversity, customer service and progressive business philosophy.
These attributes extend to the dealership’s 2-person precision farming team, led by Eric Hagenow, who joined Eis in 2014 after working as precision salesperson and a service technician at two other dealerships. The well-rounded professional experience has served him well, as Eric if often called on to troubleshoot both mechanical and technological problems for customers.
Having met Eric at the 2019 Precision Farming Dealer Summit, I was looking forward to the opportunity to ride along with him for our 11th installment of the Day in the Cab series. Throughout our nearly 11-hour day, we spent time cultivating new customer relationships, as well as strengthening existing ones with a series of on-farm visits and nearly two dozen phone conversations.
Anticipating for unplanned service calls and embracing on-the-go solutions proved to be two essential qualities for Lanty “Spud” Armstrong, precision farming manager for Ag Technologies in Rochester, Ind., during our 10-hour ride-a-long adventure with several twists and turns along the way.
Prior to his current role, which he has held for the past 8 years, Spud worked as a service technician at New Holland Rochester for 6 years; a dealership that shares on the same lot as Ag Technologies (a standalone precision-focused spin-off business of the New Holland store). In that time, he mastered the mechanical background of equipment while also building strong customer relationships which he maintains today.
Our 11th installation of the Day in the Cab series highlights several “offseason,” yet essential jobs to tackle, including a malfunctioning sprayer as farmers rush to finish fall burndown and the installation of an RTK base station as New Holland aims to expand its data prescription offerings.
Chaos is common during spring planting, and precision farming specialists are tasked with responding to technology emergencies, while also creating valuable in-season touch points with customers.
Innovation and creativity can go a long way in maintaining your sanity during peak service seasons, lessons learned during my latest day-long adventure with Devyn Van Camp, Integrated Solutions consultant with Riesterer & Schnell.
Having cut his precision teeth at 2 dealerships prior to joining the 12-store John Deere dealership serving central Wisconsin, Van Camp had developed diverse experience, not only with troubleshooting different equipment brands, but also with cropping systems and both large- and small-scale customers.
Serving tech-hungry 20,000-30,000 acre potato and specialty crop operations to considerably smaller, less advanced dairy or corn and soybean farms, Van Camp thrives on the diversity and service challenges that come with each customer.
“One of the biggest things I like about where I’m at is the variety,” he says. “In the morning, I’ll be at a corn and soybean farm, then to a vegetable customer and then a commercial potato grower. This year, I’ll have yield mapping on pickles, which is new, but I also have some dairy customers, so it’s a very diverse experience.”
This, our tenth installment of the Day in the Cab series, highlighted the ebb and flow of the stress and satisfaction that comes from keeping customers satisfied during a stressful time of year. From taking a triage approach to troubleshooting technology issues, to making time for on-farm pop-ins, Van Camp’s measured and methodical approach translated to a productive day in the cab.
Building a precision faming 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.
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.
Many dealerships have seen at least a slowdown in precision business during the last few years, in some cases allowing for companies to regroup and reset. That hasn’t been the case for Swiderski Equipment, and more specifically, precision farming manager John Cooper.
Precision revenue has tripled to close to $1.5 million annually during the last 5 years at the 5 store New Holland & AGCO dealership based in Mosinee, Wis., challenging Cooper and his 3 person precision team to keep pace with seasonal demands.
This installment of our Day in the Cab series brought some seasonal challenges — both mechanical and technological — that Cooper negotiated with confidence. Whether pinpointing a problematic harness, taking time to talk through a monitor setup on the phone or improvise a secure way to install a planter monitoring system, Cooper maintained stamina and poise throughout our 12 hour day in the cab.
No two days are ever the same, and riding along with Layne Richins, precision ag manager with Stotz Equipment for this installment of Day in the Cab, provided the most unique experience to date.
The John Deere dealership group operates 25 stores throughout Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Layne started as a mechanic 14 years ago and gradually added more precision farming service responsibilities as the dealership developed this side of the business.
Multitasking was the name of the game while riding along with Nathan Zimmerman, precision farming manager for A.C. McCartney for this Day in Cab profile.
With the sun finally breaking winter’s gloom and temperatures in the mid-60s, spring had taken root in northern Illinois, making area farmers anxious to get in the field. As farmers dusted off their planters, it quickly became clear that a large portion of Nathan’s job over the coming hours, and the following days, would be to help refresh customers’ memories on how to get their planting technology up and running.
Having shadowed several precision farming specialists from multi-store farm equipment dealerships for this series, I've come to appreciate the layered responsibilities that come with selling and supporting the technology of a major agricultural brand.
The ability to relate to farm customers, understand their concerns, patiently solve their problems and even share in their frustrations are traits that define a successful precision farming dealer. Riding along with Jason Pennycook, precision farming specialist with Johnson Tractor, it didn’t take long to realize he embodies the qualities and character of someone born to work in agriculture.
For this installment, I wanted to experience how an independent precision dealer navigates the landmines and celebrated the successes of an anything but typical workday on the cusp of planting season. So I made the 6 hour journey from southeastern Wisconsin to Reese, Mich., in mid-April where I rendezvoused with Mike Houghtaling, president of Precision & Concise Agricultural Solutions (P&C Ag Solutions).
Whether balancing 120-feet in the air to troubleshoot an RTK signal, demonstrating the tangible benefits of owning an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or tracking a customer down during harvest for a warranty claim signature, Matt Rohlik, Integrated Solutions Manager at Haug Implement was always on the go, with a goal of keeping customers satisfied and the dealership profitable.
One of the first precision specialists I had the chance to meet was Darin Kennelly with Birkey's Farm Stores, a Case IH dealership group in Illinois.
We’ve worked together on several occasions since that initial meeting, and I was thrilled to be able to spend an entire workday with him for this piece.
It’s one thing to spend time observing a yield monitor calibration or GPS display installation, and another to actually experience it.
This was my goal in spending a day with Phil Moskal, integrated solutions manager at Mid-State Equipment, a 7-store John Deere dealership network, based in Columbus, Wis.