WHETHER YOU OPERATE equipment dealerships in the United States or Canada, the Right to Repair issue cannot be taken lightly. If the Biden administration and some policymakers have their way, how dealers provide service could be in jeopardy and the agricultural industry could face something it hasn’t faced in a long time – increased downtime from poor equipment performance unrelated to dealers or manufacturers.
In an executive order signed by the president on July 9, 2021, a federal agency would have discretionary power to enact rules regarding “… unfair anti-competitive restrictions on third-party repair or self-repair of items, such as the restrictions imposed by powerful manufacturers that prevent farmers from repairing their own equipment…”
At face value, the wording alone doesn’t seem unreasonable. But it’s based on misleading information that equipment owners and repair shops not affiliated with a particular brand are being denied access to parts, tools and equipment manuals to make repairs.
The Western Equipment Dealers Association has been involved in this issue since day one – and day one began more than six years ago. With the help of WEDA members and key supporters, the association has been able to refute claims by right to repair advocates. However, the association believes it’s time to change the narrative entirely and back up its position with facts, something right to re-pair advocates don’t have or have chosen to ignore.
Eric Wareham is the association’s vice president of government affairs and he explains herein how the industry is going to replace fiction with facts.
Beginning in January every year, Right to Repair legislation turns up like a bad penny in legislatures across the country. Since 2016, it has been introduced in nearly every state and, in every state, Right to Repair legislation has failed year after year.
Propped up by a lack of understanding and insincere claims from proponents, the issue draws the attention of legislators until they are dispelled of the notion that farmers can’t repair their equipment.
Over the last six years, our arguments against the legislation have been refined and the industry has combatted an avalanche of false information. The Industry Commitment to make parts, tools, documentation, and diagnostics available went into effect last year. Demonstrations have been held at dealerships throughout North America for legislators and stakeholders to show incontrovertibly what is available for equipment owners and third parties to perform their own repairs. There have also been countless meetings with legislators, farm bureaus and commodity groups to present what our industry is doing to support customer repairs and discuss what this issue is really about.
All of these efforts have had a positive effect. We no longer hear proponents of Right to Repair claiming they can’t get a manual for their tractor because, as we all know, that is preposterous. A 30-second Google search has led many legislators to see how disingenuous that claim is. Yet, the Right to Repair issue still claims a certain hold on people who have bought into the narrative that despite all the information to the contrary, dealers and manufacturers have a monopoly on repair and are preventing their customers from performing their own repairs. The Right to Repair executive order by President Biden last year repeated those unfounded claims against our industry without a shred of evidence.
That action by the president made it clear we needed to do more than kill legislation each year – we needed to change the conversation. As the old political adage goes, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” We have been explaining for far too long when the reality is our industry has a great story to tell.
Repair Done Right
Instead of talking about Right to Repair, which insinuates dealers and manufacturers are infringing on someone’s rights, we decided to change the narrative under a different banner. That is where Repair Done Right was born. When it comes to how our industry supports customer repair, the facts are on our side. A concerted campaign to provide dealership personnel and customers with irrefutable information about what our industry actually does to support repair is the foundation that will change this conversation over the long run.
Repair Done Right is launching this spring. There are two key components of the campaign.
First, the association will be hosting a training platform for dealership personnel. In that training, the association and manufacturers have teamed up to create a brand-specific video that talks about what Right to Repair is and provide details about what is available to customers and third parties under the Industry Commitment to support customer repair. Using data collected from industry surveys, the training will provide key talking points to equip dealer personnel with the knowledge to have a positive conversation with customers about what the dealership does to support customer repair.
The second component of the Repair Done Right campaign is material to convey the same message to customers. That will include material like trifold brochures and posters with Repair Done Right infographics and themes on them. It also entails digital versions of those materials to be used on closed-circuit televisions in dealerships or for social media posts.
The question you may be wondering about is what kind of information would that be? It’s a great question.
One of the most important data points from the industry survey is what percentage of parts a dealer sells out the door and are installed by customers or independent repair shops. This goes right to the heart of whether dealers have a monopoly on repair.
The answer is the average dealership sells 56% of its parts out the door. In other words, a majority of repairs are performed by someone other than the dealership. This is an important point to make because it clearly shows there is no monopoly on repairs. Having dealership personnel understand this will arm them with information to change the conversation with their customers from a defensive discussion to a positive one about how they support their repairs.
That is just one of the statistics that will be discussed in Repair Done Right training. There are many more statistics that point out what dealerships invest in parts inventory and technician training to support customer repairs.
There are other points that address what leads to downtime for customers. If there is availability and access to parts, tools, documentation, and diagnostics, then something else is the culprit. From the survey, the answer is clear: Our industry has a capacity problem. That is no news to anyone reading this.
The average dealership needs to hire five additional technicians to meet customer demand. The capacity problem doesn’t stop there though. Without rural broadband, a dealership cannot use remote diagnostics to stretch its limited capacity further. Workforce development and rural broadband are two issues that people understand and they represent valid limitations on the ability of a dealership to serve all the needs of customers, especially during peak periods. It’s important to make this a part of the conversation as well.
The Repair Done Right campaign will serve another important purpose. The Industry Commitment to push Repair Done Right was agreed to and went into effect in 2021, but it’s time that policymakers know this effort is more than a superficial promise. Under President Biden’s executive order, the Federal Trade Commission will be looking into Right to Repair. So far, policymakers and those in favor of Right to Repair have quoted “sham surveys” from outside groups to explain the need for regulations that would be harmful to our industry. The FTC relies on that contrived data because there has been no information to rebut it. That is, until now.
The results from industry surveys provide the data needed to portray an accurate picture of the repair landscape. We can also show our industry’s dedication to customer repair by training our people on the issue through completion of the Repair Done Right training program.
Aggregating hours of personnel training from dealerships across the country will eventually add up to thousands of hours dealers have dedicated to the issue of Right to Repair. Presenting this kind of information to policymakers shows the Industry Commitment is not mere words, but action. It also says to policymakers that mandates and regulations are not necessary because we are voluntarily addressing the issue within the industry and with customers. This will be an extremely important component of the advocacy campaign in future legislative events.
The rollout of the Repair Done Right campaign will be this spring. We hope every dealer engages in the training and equips their people with the ability to share a positive story about what our industry does to support customer repair.
Right to Repair is a complex issue and judging by the introduction of legislation and hearings on bills throughout the years, it can also be a confrontational one. It doesn’t need to be.
When dealers and their employees have the right information, it can help build on the positive relationships of trust that dealers have already cultivated with their customers.
Written by Eric Wareham
Eric Wareham is vice president of government affairs for the Western Equipment Dealers Association. He is a graduate of the Willamette University College of Law and Augusta State University. Eric may be reached by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.