Covering the iron portion of agriculture is fun. I get to drive brand new machines before they hit the market, and I spend time with engineers and designers when I can looking at new trends and ideas. Cool stuff. But where the rubber meets the road is when that shiny machine hits the road to go to your local dealer.
And boy has that changed. I've had some experience covering the dealer side of the farm equipment industry, I even edited a publication in that market in the early 1990s. And I don't get to farm equipment dealerships enough. So when I made a recent trip to Lang Diesel in Smith Center, Kan., it was a nice chance to catch up on what's happening in that part of the industry.
For Lang Diesel, which is a 12-location Agco line dealership, the focus is customer service. Now there's a "duh" statement. Yet when dealerships get large enough to have multiple locations, they can also have specialists, like Kevin Lang who is the combine specialist and certified pre-owned program specialist, for the business. "If we weren't that large a business we wouldn't have my position in the company," Kevin commented over a wonderful barbecue lunch after spending a morning in a Lang shop.
When you hear dealer numbers these days they're talking about ownership, not number of "stores" - I hesitate to call them stores, but frankly that's what they are, but I digress. The number of retail locations serving the farm has shrunk some, as you've probably noticed, but the bigger change is the number of owners. Where a region might have had 5 owners and 10 stores, today you have 1 owner an 10 stores. You still have service close-by but the owner of the business has changed.
There are some who lament this. I don't. My perspective is that a business should work with the information the market provides. And if the market says individual dealerships can't stand alone, so be it.
For Lang Diesel, the multi-store business offers efficiencies, the ability to invest in specialists and the opportunity to provide customers new services. The firm worked on a pilot for the Agco Certified Pre-Owned equipment program, helping to firm up the consistent process all dealers use to take in used equipment and put it on the lot shined up and ready for sale.
It was nice to catch up with some service techs, to learn about how rough some machines have it in the field, and to understand the changing dynamic of equipment from a service tech's perspective. As one tech mentioned, "I still don't like computers" but there's no way he can work on these new machines without them and he is a respected tech in the operation. Sometimes you just do what you have to do.
It was a great visit to that part of Kansas, and yes it was soggy. I'll write more on this in future blogs, including some more insight into certified pre-owned equipment and what those machines really go through.