A look at the association’s pillar ELEVATE
Most members know all about the first two WEDA strategic pillars, ADVOCATE and EDUCATE. There’s never been a better time to discover the organization’s third strategic pillar. The wide range of pre-vetted partner services available under the ELEVATE pillar can help you build a more efficient, profitable, and customer-focused enterprise in the years ahead.
How valuable are the services available under WEDA’s ELEVATE pillar? They can provide a solid foundation for your business today and help you grow to meet the opportunities of tomorrow.
That’s the view of WEDA board member Steven Dyck, president of Lethbridge, Alberta-based Western Tractor. At both a board and dealership level, he’s seen first-hand how WEDA’s service partners are selected, and how they deliver significant benefits when engaged.
“We tap WEDA resources all over the place,” says Dyck, “from our insurance to legal support and sales support. We’ve had a very active relationship with the Dealer Institute and have used a number of their on-site training programs.”
In fact, as Dyck explains, WEDA’s partner services have been a key asset in Western Tractor’s drive to become a customer-focused organization and give its people a mandate and the tools to perform like one.
There’s no shortage of providers out there looking to coach businesses’ staff in the area of personal and career development. To Dyck, what sets WEDA’s offering apart is its far deeper level of industry knowledge, and that this expertise comes right to the dealer’s door.
“One approach is to send a couple of key people away on a course,” he says. “We’ve chosen to go down the on-site route. I just like to have everyone in the room together, all hearing the same message. The Dealer Institute knows our industry very well, so it gets away from that canned approach you can find with other training providers out there.”
Is working in an equipment dealership a job, a career or a personal calling? The answer depends very much on the individual, and all three perspectives have value. At Western Tractor, however, a focused effort has been made to encourage those so inclined to transition from job to career to calling.
From Dyck’s vantage point, he believes people who feel a personal calling will ultimately enjoy their work more and provide even greater value to customers.
“We want to move past managing widgets and systems and processes to really leading people,” he says. “We also take a very strong approach to succession management. We want to make sure that whenever we have someone who shifts or moves or leaves, we know who we’re pointing to next.”
New tools for new times
Some of the services available under ELEVATE have been used by WEDA members since the organization’s early days more than a century ago. The ELEVATE portfolio has very much kept up with the times, however. Today, not only is marketing on the menu, but so is its modern expression through digital media like apps and social platforms.
Dyck and Western Tractor were among the first WEDA members to engage the organization’s digital marketing partner.
“On the marketing side, what our marketing coordinator has done with WEDA’s Digital platform in the last 12 months has really accelerated where we have gone, making this new area more understandable and easier to digest.”
For many equipment dealers, 2019 has been a challenging year to be in business. To Steven Dyck, 2019 was a year when Western Tractor saw tangible benefits from the culture it’s developing, with assistance from WEDA’s partner services.
“As we see softer markets in some of our business, because of weather conditions and commodity prices, we’re not seeing a real drop in our revenues and our activity with customers,” he says. “I directly attribute that to the fact that we have a cohesive group that is focused. We have good people, clear objectives, good measurement and good accountability, and we give people the tools to do their best work for our customers.”
A rigorous selection process
When dealers visit WEDA’s homepage, at www.westerneda.com, members will notice the wide variety of member-only services available through WEDA’s partner organizations. ELEVATE programs, products, and services are designed to save dealers money and help members with organizational excellence, including: operations, finance, insurance and legal, ownership services, and digital marketing.
What the website doesn’t explain is the process that prospective partners go through before potentially receiving the ELEVATE seal of approval. For that, ask a WEDA board member like Arthur Ward of Swift Current, Saskatchewan-based Pattison Agriculture. Like Steven Dyck, Ward sees the value and benefits of these partner services both as a board member and dealership president.
“Speaking on it from the dealership side, we do use the programs,” says Ward. “We do quite a bit of training through the Dealer Institute and we’re involved in some of the other partner services, such as legal.”
For a dealership principal like Ward, there are never enough hours in the day. If the need arises for a new legal, insurance, accounting or operations consultant, where would you start? Even if there’s no shortage of candidates, winnowing down from many to one takes time. Not only that, many potential vendors lack equipment industry experience. Do they truly understand the vocabulary of the industry, the cyclicality of agriculture, and the unique buying pattern of the farm family? Not likely.
As Ward sees it, WEDA’s careful curation of partner services under the WEDA banner solves both the time issue and the expertise issue. When the stakes are highest – such as in a sale or acquisition deal – that stamp of approval means even more.
“Just think about something like mergers and acquisition or an audit,” says Ward. “From a dealer’s standpoint, it’s hugely important. If you have to explain to someone the difference between a combine and a sprayer, it’s just a lot more effort. This helps dealers get better, competitive pricing, plus it brings resources to dealers that we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Dealership groups with multiple locations have the buying power, and possibly the purchasing staff, to research service providers and select the best vendor for the situation. Smaller or single-store dealerships might not. Ward believes this smaller group will find the pre-screened ELEVATE services particularly valuable.
“It just saves the dealer the time and trouble of having to go out and source things themselves,” he says.
WEDA members have used legal, accounting and insurance services forever. More recently, changes in customer buying patterns have prompted more dealers to change how they reach people with their marketing messages. An ad in the local paper? These days, there might not be a local paper. New services for marketing can fill the gap.
Doing more business online has created new risks around data security. Recognizing this, WEDA recommends its carefully chosen data security consultant as the best place to start. To Ward, this is an area that dealers will want to examine closely.
“I would argue that, today, if those services weren’t available through the association, there would be a lot of dealers that either would not have access or the capacity to do it themselves, and would get left behind,” he says.
Final step: board approval
By the time a potential ELEVATE partner appears on a WEDA Board of Directors agenda, a lot of work has already gone on behind the scenes. Some years back, Ward notes, WEDA reached out to potential providers in order to offer as full a suite of ELEVATE services as possible. More recently, potential providers typically contact WEDA. Ward believes the organization can and should be choosy.
“Some dealers use a lot of these partner services, so we want to make sure the value and integrity are there, and that we’re not letting a fox into the henhouse so to speak,” he says. “Do we feel that’s a product or service that you might use yourself, or if not you, would it serve another dealer? If they make the cut, they go to market as an endorsed partner.”
WEDA itself benefits financially when a member chooses an ELEVATE partner for professional services. As Ward sees it, given that these services are professionally proven, dealership-specific and competitively priced, it’s a win-win for members and for WEDA.
“We want to try and be a good member and support those programs as much as we can,” he says. “If we want WEDA to continue to provide the ADVOCATE and EDUCATE parts of the mission, it’s important that we’re involved and supporting the association because that’s what makes the whole thing possible.”
Part of WEDA from the start
WEDA CEO John Schmeiser agrees that ELEVATE might be the least visible of the organization’s three strategic pillars. That’s ironic, in a way, because dealers’ needs for timely services was the spark behind WEDA’s founding.
“If we turn back the clock more than 100 years, this is exactly how WEDA began,” says Schmeiser. “Equipment dealers then had a hard time getting fire insurance, so they banded together and created their own. This was the start of Federated Insurance, which is one of our key partners to this day.”
Since then, when dealers need a service they can’t readily secure, they’ve asked WEDA to find a solution. On other occasions, as Schmeiser explains, providers come to WEDA looking to make their service better and more relevant to dealer-members.
One Canadian example is Farm Credit Canada, which came to WEDA some years back with a retail finance program. WEDA members indicated through focus groups that, to be truly useful, the package should also have a leasing and inventory finance component. These programs were developed from there.
“So Federated Insurance has a policy specifically designed for equipment dealers and FCC has an equipment finance program essentially designed by equipment dealers,” says Schmeiser.
Where’s the serial number?
It’s hard to overstate the importance of having industry-specific expertise available in areas like operational consulting, legal, tax and accounting. If a service provider works in forestry one week, transportation the next and software the week after that, will they really get the ins and outs of an equipment dealership?
“You want that deep industry knowledge in place, because you don’t have time to educate someone on the difference between a baler and a sprayer,” says Schmeiser. “You want someone who knows where to find the serial numbers. Our Canadian valuation partner, MNP, has a team that only works with equipment dealers. This service is provided by our long-term partner, Equipment Dealer Consulting, LCC, in the U.S. You’re not finding that in the Yellow Pages.”
There’s a lot of value for dealers in the products and services available under WEDA’s ELEVATE pillar. For the partners themselves, earning WEDA’s stamp of approval opens the door to working with established, progressive businesses throughout North America. When there’s close alignment between supplier expertise and dealer needs, both sides benefit in equal measure.
“When we recommend a product or service to our members, we as WEDA have a reputational risk,” says Schmeiser. “How widely adopted would that solution be? Is this the best provider we can find for that service? Our vetting process is rigorous and careful.”
With roots in insurance, accounting and legal, the ELEVATE suite of partner services has grown with the times. Before long, new services like digital marketing and data security will become part of everyday dealership management. Looking further ahead, new services will be added as market conditions, customer needs and technology change.
As ever, there will be a high bar for potential partners to address and great benefit for members who ultimately choose to work with ELEVATE partners. To Schmeiser, that’s how it should be.
“The existence of a trade association depends on the relevance you have to members,” he says. “Our partner services will continue to evolve. The key is relevance, usefulness and value to our members.”
Article Written By Kieran Brett
Kieran Brett is an Alberta-based agriculture writer who has covered topics ranging from crop production to farm business to agricultural research since 1989.