As rumblings of a new, infectious coronavirus coming out of Wuhan, China, in December 2019 grasped everyone’s attention, no one thought what was happening overseas would ultimately affect the whole world. Yet, here we are almost a year later still trying to come to grips with this vicious pandemic that has shut down borders, schools, businesses, places of worship… the list seems endless.
On January 20, the first known case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the U.S. with Canada following closely behind on January 25. In February, outbreaks of the virus were confirmed in other countries, with Italy locking down its entire population on March 9, restricting movement across the nation as it reached 9,000 confirmed cases.
As cases continued to creep across North America, Canada and the U.S. reached an agreement on March 18 to suspend all nonessential travel across the border with exceptions for a few groups as well as truckers.
WEDA in Action
As more and more businesses were either closing or altering their operations, your association knew it was vitally important that the equipment industry be recognized as an essential service. WEDA immediately advocated to all governments, local, state, federal, and provincial, that because our dealerships play a significant role in production agriculture and the transportation of goods, that our industry be designated an essential service through this uncertain time.
We also heard dealers’ concerns regarding the Temporary Farm Worker Program, and we worked vigorously in lobbying government to continue allowing foreign workers travel access to Canada to support the industry. We were elated to report to dealers that our efforts on both fronts were successful.
Dealers in Action
What came to the forefront next was the big question: What could we do to support our dealers and their employees to continue to serve their customers?
Canadian Equipment Dealer spoke with several dealers on how COVID-19 has changed their day-to-day operations. Is it business as usual? Dealers grappled with new provincial, federal and municipal mandates that needed to be addressed and quickly improvised and adjusted their business practices as protocols were promptly put in place.
As dealers met with their employees to discuss moving forward, strategies were put in place that complied with government requirements. Employees who could, worked from home. At dealerships, masks were provided, cleaning schedules were put in place, plastic or glass barriers were put up, and distance markers were put on floors to promote social distancing – a phrase that was never heard of before – as a means to keep the virus at bay.
“We operated for a number of weeks where showrooms were completely closed, and with some stores front doors locked during this time. This resulted in a lot of extra work (and steps) for our parts team to accommodate this with increased demand,” said Ian Verbeek, Premier Equipment, an Ontario-based multistore operation.
Somewhat surprisingly, with the unstable state of the economy, dealers’ parts and service departments saw increased activity. As well, dealers have seen higher sales in both power equipment and turf equipment. Sales shifted to phone and online orders with parts pickups and drop-offs at the front door.
“We have adapted quite well to this new way of doing business,” noted Verbeek. “Our online orders have had huge increases and we have had to designate some parts people to just answer phones to get us through the spring. We have reduced our advertising expenses in a number of different avenues and shifted it towards online advertising, which has ramped up our online sales capabilities.”
Landis Stankievech, Trochu Motors, in Alberta, said, “It certainly has made us think about how business in the future will look. The pandemic has definitely changed our day-to-day operations. In addition to all the precautions that we have taken in the business, we also have less meetings and less social gatherings at work which are normally very important to us.”
As the pandemic put a stop to nearly all work-related travel, WEDA’s Dealer Institute swiftly developed industry-specific virtual training courses, such as: parts counter sales, service counter sales, psychology of sales, transformational customer service, as well as dealer management and iron management modules.
Along with DI’s virtual courses filling up, dealers are also taking advantage of the Online Ag Technician Test, which is designed to recognize high performing technicians in dealerships or used to evaluate prospective technicians during the hiring process. Administered online, the test can be taken anytime from anywhere in the world.
As we all continue to navigate through uncharted territory in dealing with this global pandemic, we want you to know that your association is here for you. YOU are a BIG deal. Your industry is a BIG deal. YOU help feed the world and that’s a BIG deal and something of which you should all be proud.
In closing, we are proud to share with you a message received from Stankievech, “John, on behalf of myself and other Alberta and Canadian dealers, I just want to say thank you to you and your team for the great job you are doing in supporting us throughout the crisis so far. Whether it’s been emails of best practices, advice, or communications with government, you’ve done a great job. Keep it up – I know it’s been a lot of work.”
Joanne Olson is managing editor of publications for the Western Equipment Dealers Association and manages the Canadian office in Calgary, Alberta. She has been with the association for 21 years. She may be reached by writing to email@example.com.