Douglas Lake Equipment – Building Successful Partnerships with Customers, Employees and Suppliers – Today, Tomorrow and Beyond
Douglas Lake Equipment, known as “DLE,” originated in 1999 in Kamloops, British Columbia. Primarily serving the Douglas Lake Ranch at that time as the owner had purchased the ranch. Since that time, the dealership has grown with three additional locations in Surrey and Dawson Creek, B.C. and Grande Prairie, Alberta. The dealership group offers Kubota, New Holland and Kobelco in their B.C. locations and New Holland in Grand Prairie. It also carries products such as MacDon and other allied brands to meet its customers’ needs.
With four locations, each store has its own unique focus for the region it serves.
Southern B.C. Region
DLE’s Kamloops and Surrey locations cover the southern region stretching from the Coast and Central Coast to much of the Caribou down to the Thompson-Nicola region.
Nestled in the heart of British Columbia’s Southern Interior, DLE’s Kamloops location provides Kubota, New Holland and Kobelco products to the region’s farmers, ranchers and constructions customers. The Surrey location, just east of downtown Vancouver, offers Kubota and Kobelco products ranging from Turf mowers all the way up to 35-ton excavators. The Surrey store is focused on the construction, municipal, turf, and owner-operator construction markets as well as rental opportunities.
Peace Country Region
Located on the southern end of the Alaskan Highway, DLE’s Dawson Creek location offers Kubota, New Holland and MacDon and is in the heart of its ag business. The Grande Prairie location focuses primarily on New Holland products along with MacDon and the most recently added Hustler mowers, among its other allied brands. This northern region is also known as “The Peace” by locals; and covers west toward Fort St. John through Grande Prairie and some of the surrounding area.
From its inception in 1999, DLE has grown both organically and through acquisition. “In 2006, we purchased Kenver Equipment adding the Grande Prairie and Dawson Creek locations to our operations which further increased our footprint and our ag business,” said Mike Correale, president of DLE. “The Greater Vancouver/Fraser Valley region has grown organically out of our facility in Surrey which we have occupied since 2012. While DLE has carried several different OEM products in all locations over the years, we are a proud supplier for farmers, ranchers and small construction owner-operators as well as corporate entities such as municipalities, school districts, and nurseries. We are always looking at opportunities to grow our business and increase the products and services offered to our customers.”
From Challenges to Success
Correale says that times are challenging, but not just because of the COVID pandemic. “In my opinion, the key to ongoing success is employing educated employees who are focused on maintaining loyal customers,” said Correale. “Our manufacturers have grown over the years with increased product offerings, but understanding our customers business, the land, and the tools they need to succeed is what keeps us moving.”
DLE employs almost 100 people, with many having family roots in farming and rural communities, and others that work with larger organizations in the urban areas. Correale said,
“Anybody can be successful when times are good, but our employees have demonstrated strength navigating through the past year and a half, and we look forward to continued success despite the uncertain future that lies ahead.”
Putting the pandemic aside, Correale said that, like other dealers, DLE has struggled with the spin-offs from COVID, including keeping up with ongoing training, getting product from the factories in a timely manner, and adjusting to new work habits and customer interactions. “This past year has been surprisingly positive in terms of the company’s operations. We are keeping a close watch on what we can control as 2021 comes to a close, as governments struggle and the world continues to be unsettled.”
In July of 2020, DLE’s president of 10 years retired. With his retirement, DLE decided to take a fresh look at certain aspects of the business.
Todd Sevrens, general manager, said, “We have a small senior management team, and very experienced department managers so decided to take a ’Business Unit’ approach to gain more focus. We adjusted some functions and duties without adding any headcount in the process. I’ve taken the lead on parts and service, while Mike also takes the lead on sales and marketing. We all wear multiple hats, especially when it comes to human resources, safety and policies, or processes.” Sevrens continued, “Our sales, service and parts managers focus on their departments with the understanding that none of the business units can stand alone. We have a flexible group; they can review financials one day and the next go out and see customers in the field.”
Training and Experience Matters
Sevrens says that training is a big part of any dealership, and DLE is no exception. “Our parts and service teams are especially challenged with the technology and constantly changing parts and service expectations from both the OEM and our customers. We track all training from technical to safety, and of course the OEM programs which are critical and time-consuming.
“DLE supports every apprentice by paying for tuition and books or related materials. We top up the Employment Insurance wage for any employee who achieves a pre-set grade once their schooling is complete. We believe this creates focus and loyalty while supporting our employees. One of our OEM’s also has a Challenge for Sales, Parts and Service training which we have been proud to be a part of and we receive awards in the process.”
Sevrens continued, “Training for sales and parts employees is also critical to our success. We ensure that all training provided by our manufacturers is completed by all staff members. In addition, we provide hands-on product training to ensure they are up to date on the new products offered. ’Soft skills’ training is also an important area for employee development. While this has been difficult due to the limitations resulting from the pandemic, we will continue our focus on all types of training to ensure our employees develop skills in these areas.”
“DLE is unique in that we have complete autonomy in how we run the business, while having a very supportive private owner,” said Sevrens. “We try to balance growth with change management. We also try to make sure to keep in touch with the local market while looking at the numbers for the whole company. We are not a single-store operation, nor are we a large publicly held company, and as we carefully watch both farm and dealer consolidation continue, we will continue to work hard to be a good partner with our suppliers, but most importantly, our employees and customers. We know that good dealers don’t grow without getting better as they do so.”
Adapting to the pandemic and moving forward
In the early stages of the pandemic, DLE’s IT manager was instrumental in helping to implement a work-from-home strategy where it was appropriate. The dealership’s service and parts teams implemented workstation expectations with the rest of the staff and put COVID protocols in place for customer interactions. Supply chain and logistic issues initially brought on by the pandemic are now seeing more delays as OEM contacts are advising of specific challenges that are occurring or will occur as the uncertain times continue.
Sevrens said, “We have also been receiving many communications about price increases in terms of both machines and certain products we sell, such as lubricants, and the new 2022 model equipment. Precision components and some electronics are seeing longer lead times due to the chip shortage issue.”
He continued, “We have a marketing consultant that tracks our customer contacts, and we track phone calls and web sessions, etc. We have found this past year that although there have been spikes of customers wanting to communicate electronically, we have not had any meaningful shifts to online purchasing. We have worked with New Holland on the eCommerce platform, but good old-fashioned in-person and phone orders have still been the norm. Specifically, our agricultural customers still like seeing our team at their farms for visits and follow-ups.
“While I don’t think anyone would call 2020-2021 business as usual, we must improvise, adapt and in some cases overcome obstacles to keep moving forward. As a management group, we have seen positive results in terms of having virtual meetings, which in some cases get us more in contact through having these video calls and adapting to less travel.” He continued, “Our parts and service departments have managed to maintain or, in some cases, improve their areas during the pandemic, albeit with protocols, such as cleaning machines when they arrive and social distancing with customers. Our stores made curbside pickup an option and delivered parts in some cases for customers that requested this option.”
Sevrens said that DLE’s agricultural customers have also been faced with other challenges that transcend the pandemic in the past year or so, including this year’s short and early harvests, timing for new equipment deliveries, pricing and input cost variations, and uncontrollable weather. He says, “Some of the ranches, farms and residents in areas around our Kamloops location faced evacuation from fires. Mother Nature and human carelessness didn’t help matters on top of the pandemic situation.”
Strong Association Relationship
“WEDA is a strong partner to DLE, and while we actually took a step back from other associations, we have maintained our relationship with the WEDA group,” said Sevrens. “We always try to keep in touch with the WEDA team, even if it is just a quick email to check in. We participate in the annual CEDF Scholarship Program, the Cost of Doing Business Study, provide OEM meeting input, get OEM rankings information, along with other periodic support for our business.”
He continued, “DLE is a proud WEDA member. Over the years, working with WEDA has been beneficial in numerous areas. For example, the last WEDA conference in Phoenix was extremely educational and the lobbying efforts on Right to Repair are critical, especially in the U.S. right now. And, of course, the meetings that WEDA has with the manufacturers are good in terms of having important issues discussed. We have also had regional meetings in past years which allows local dealers to get together as well. Lastly, WEDA is ag focused which is unique and beneficial as opposed to other associations that we have been invited to be a part of.”
In closing, Sevrens says, “We look forward to returning to face-to-face conferences and meetings so we can continue to develop good working relationships with fellow dealers. These relationships help us all to develop best practices as well as assisting in working with our OEM’s.”
Written by Joanne Olson
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 22 years. She may be reached by writing to email@example.com