Western Tractor is deeply rooted in southern Alberta
In this age of mergers and acquisitions, farm equipment dealerships have had to learn to think outside the box. How can offerings and customer service continue to thrive as various entities join together?
Western Tractor is working that out. The 10-year-old dealership believes consolidation need not be painful. Indeed, keeping it simple is their core strength.
The dealership was formed in November 2009 when a group of John Deere dealers came together to amalgamate McKay Bros. Farm Implements and Green Power Ltd. into Western Tractor Company Inc. Over the past 10 years, the dealership has seen substantial growth across their four locations in Lethbridge, Taber, Burdett and Medicine Hat.
“Our model is we grow to a size that is large enough to support our customers but we know we can manage effectively,” says Steven Dyck, president, operating partner, and shareholder with Western Tractor. Other current shareholders include Dallas Smith, who is also an operating partner and general sales manager, and the AgriWestern Dealer Group (Grant McGrath and Corey Leonard) who own a majority stake in Western Tractor as well as Western Sales, a six-store dealership in west-central Saskatchewan. Collectively they have 70-plus years of experience running John Deere dealerships in Western Canada and have been continuously serving the southern Alberta market for 85 years.
While a move to a new Medicine Hat location last year illustrates continued growth for the dealership, Dyck maintains they don’t want to lose local decision-making capabilities, and so if and when growth continues, it will be well-thought-out and make sense for them.
“Since the inception of Western Tractor, our growth is 100 percent organic from within our area of responsibility (AOR),” says Dyck. “This has truly come from the work of the entire team of Western Tractor. We have invested in building three new dealership facilities to replace aging infrastructure, more than doubling our footprint and giving us the ability to meet the growing demand from our customers in sales, service, parts, agronomy, and precision ag support.”
Today, Western Tractor employs 180 people across all four locations, servicing 3.2 million seedable acres with 1.3 million of those acres under irrigation. The area is not only large, so are the farm sizes within the area.
“In our market, we have a significant number of large farming operations, many of which are on a planned fleet management cycle that creates a significant number of premium used trade-in ag units,” he notes. “For this reason, we need to sell as much used equipment as new equipment every year to ensure we have a healthy balance sheet.”
“Our overall industry numbers in our market did go on a growth cycle over the last decade but that has leveled off in the last three years,” he adds. “We still believe our market is strong and has the potential for future growth organically, but the overall size of the industry in units will likely not grow significantly, even if the dollar values go up, due to the increase in individual equipment values and currency. Much of what drives our market potential and growth depends on our ability and success in moving used premium large ag equipment.”
Customer service is Number 1
As an aftermarket group, Western Tractor’s parts and service managers and employees have been doing farm visits for several years now. Dyck says this is a very deliberate effort on their part to grow that side of the business and provide the support plans, equipment resources, and inventory of parts that focus on delivering uptime to customers.
Clayton Anderson, Lethbridge account manager, speaks with a customer.
“We are continuing to find ways to enhance the service experience of our customers, and having our aftermarket managers spend time on-farm is a major contributor to the success of our aftermarket growth over the past 10 years,” says Dyck.
Keeping that aftermarket business viable takes time, money, and training. To that end, Dyck says one of the most important investments they make is in their people.
“We make a significant investment every year to ensure our team members have the skills they need to deliver the quality service our customers have come to expect,” he notes. “That means we not only invest heavily in technical training for all four pillars – sales, service, parts, precision ag/agronomy – but we are constantly focused on growing our internal talent in management, customer service, leadership, and personal development. We firmly believe investing in our people is a critical component to having a healthy, engaged, and high-performing team.”
Dyck says Western Tractor has a strong enterprise focus when it comes to looking after its customers. This involves a communication strategy and a collective effort to deliver the right solution to its customers the first time.
“Training and developing learning pathways for all our employees is one of the cornerstones of why we have been successful at building a high-performing team,” says Dyck. “They have a clear vision and set of values that are focused on our customer success.”
Western Tractor’s belief is that every employee has the chance to grow and learn with the company. “We don’t think of (succession tracking) as just an executive activity; we filter that right down to the front lines,” notes Dyck. “We’re looking for that next shop foreman, we’re looking for that next lead tech, we’re looking for that next lead part person. We really live a philosophy of promoting from within and making sure that we’ve developed employee talents so that when somebody does take a leap to another position or happens to leave us, we’re not scrambling, we know who’s taking that spot next.”
Customers, too, can feel a part of the dealership through hands-on customer service imparted by staff. “One of the things that we do relatively well is surrounded those customers with every part of our dealership and truly understand their needs as a producer,” says Dyck. “And if customers are engaged with other parts of our dealership, we try really hard to find out why, so we can build better enterprise solutions for their entire farming operation.”
“If they did have a bad experience, has anybody ever gone back and had a conversation with them? The worst thing is a customer who just goes away silently without their issue addressed. We work very hard to avoid that.”
Keeping up with the times
Dyck says Western Tractor is constantly trying to find new ways to differentiate the Western Tractor advantage in its space. “This does not happen by continuing to do what we have always done,” he notes. “That may have helped get us to where we are currently, but the road ahead is changing rapidly, especially with the influence of digital platforms to aid our customers in their education and purchasing habits.”
Besides a for-fee agronomic department, the dealership also offers a for-fee prescription ag strategy program. “We’ve realized technology is becoming an increasingly important tool for our customers. Indeed, 80 percent of customer downtime is technology-related, and not machinery-related,” says Dyck. “We know it’s important to the efficiency of a farmer’s operations, and we have skilled staff on the ground who can handle those increasingly important (technology) issues and we want to make sure our customers recognize the investment we’ve made.”
Keeping on top of all the new technology, the training, the competition, and other aspects of a dealership is not for the faint of heart. Dyck says Western Tractor’s membership with the Western Equipment Dealership Association (WEDA) has been a boon to the whole organization. He currently serves on WEDA’s board of directors.
Riley Svoboda, heavy-duty mechanic in Lethbridge, servicing Deere equipment
“From the lens of a WEDA director, I have the privilege of seeing first-hand the amazing work that John (Schmeiser, WEDA CEO) and his team are doing as an association for its dealers. From our government relations to partner programs to OEM relations with our manufacturers, professional development and so much more, there is a tireless group of professionals working behind the scenes helping to elevate, advocate and educate our industry and its members,” says Dyck. “They’re working hard to prepare us for the next generation of dealership complexities, challenges, and opportunities. I find that our dealer group is leaning on WEDA and their team more than ever.”
Western Tractor has engaged WEDA on a number of fronts, and Dyck says the biggest return on investment comes from its work with the Dealer Institute and their onsite training and development. “For us, getting our entire leadership group of 30 people together to learn from one another and build a collective enterprise strategy has been a big accelerator in our success,” he says. “The training is targeted and relevant to us now, and we can come away from the sessions with strategies with full buy-in from our leaders.”
“We have also been actively engaged with WEDA’s digital marketing platform, to better help us understand how we position our dealership in a crowded online world. This has required us to think differently and understand we need to be out in front of this wave, not entering at the back of the bus with no plan.”
Dyck says that in addition to training and development, Western Tractor wants to be an employer of choice in southern Alberta and create a culture of high-performing team members. “That means making our company attractive to multiple generations and creating clear paths for our people within Western Tractor. We are constantly looking at ways to enhance our compensation and benefits plan. We are working hard at providing an open and transparent communication strategy that shares information with our staff at every level in the organization, so they feel they are truly part of the Western Tractor story.”
Article written by
By Janet Kantars