South Country Equipment
With eight locations situated in the Land of Living Skies, South Country Equipment proper has been in existence since 2003. Family involvement and values run deep in the organization, having merged with other multi-generational family businesses to build upon a proven dealership model. Today, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation shareholders are excited to take this successful legacy into the future using proven cornerstone values.
The South Country franchise is a full line John Deere agricultural and turf equipment dealer, augmenting that line with complimentary MacDon, Brandt, Degelman, SeedMaster, and JCB light industrial products. With all locations situated in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan, their footprint encompasses approximately 7,000,000 acres, with store-to-store travel about 150 kilometers east to west on the south edge, and 250 kilometers north to south.
“South Country has grown to eight locations through acquisitions and mergers, with ongoing internal transitions enabling fluid dealer exits and partner retirements, accommodating succession while maintaining engaged ownership,” said Drew Watson, general manager. “Over the last year, our general manager, who was also one of the founding partners retired after over 30 years in the business. We were positioned to structure his buyout internally, with remaining shareholders acquiring additional ownership while providing the opportunity for the younger shareholders to take on more.”
Watson said this has been the case since 2003, and their goal is to position South Country for the future, building on the success of the current management team. “Change can be very threatening for anyone. One critical component to continued success is finding a way to embrace it without disrupting staff focus and the high level of customer service we have achieved.”
“Our staff make our business; without them, a building is just a building. Our success is attributed to the people who work here and their dedication to our customers and this company. They are the reason we often get to work with Deere in piloting leading-edge offerings, be it business system, equipment, or precision farming related.”
With 200 full-time employees, technical training to support the products they sell has always been very important to South Country as well as John Deere. Watson elaborated, “Virtual training and classroom training from Deere has always been top-notch, and our management team has always been an avid supporter of those offerings. Third-party trainers are also utilized to focus on the people and non-equipment forms of training such as Outlook, Excel, and communication skills. Our “Integrated Solutions” group help to level up staff knowledge of the technology advantages for our customers through internal training across the organization.”
He continued, “Also, we have been using the “Performance Management Group” services as we have been part of the Friend Management process for over 20 years. We have a linear management style with department managers empowered to make decisions at the local level. Strong understanding of the impact of our business metrics leads to strong supervisor leadership every day. Financial performance review and peer-to-peer goal setting have been key activities for years.”
He continued, “We have leveraged our industry-leading digital technologies to continue to provide the high level of customer service that our customers expect. Contactless services, including our parts texting app, John Deere Connected Support, and our customer online portal, all enable customers who prefer to do business online, to do so conveniently and safely.”
Operationally, South Country has dialed into short-term budgets across their organization, becoming more granular and moving from yearly to 4-month “kick-off” budgets ensuring a quick, strong start to the year. “The expansion of our in-house education on technology has seen the positive impact it can have on our customers’ business. As well, we can utilize technology internally to create expanded communication and efficiencies in serving our customers.”
Watson said when the pandemic first hit, South Country saw more disruptions initially as the world was figuring out the best ways to remain healthy. “The result has been the expansion of how we offer our services and the steps we take in doing so. We were already on the path of virtual shopping and electronic signing of contracts; the pandemic only expedited the rollout.”
Since the beginning of COVID-19, South Country has increased their safety measures, and they continue to offer all of the services they did prior to the pandemic. “We have had to move our customer clinic strategy to a more virtual format, but we continue to deliver the quality content our customers have come to expect,” said Watson. “I am very proud of our staff, and the measures they have taken personally to ensure the safety of their peers, our customers, and the communities we all live in.”
Internal meetings were also moved online. “The realized efficiencies in time management and the ability to include additional staff in key segments of the meetings makes this a practice we will include in our communication strategies into the future. John Deere was also proactive in their parts supply/shipping logistics, and very communicative on possible upcoming challenges to help us maintain a high level of standard in any machine down-time situations,” stated Watson.
South Country has experienced positive growth in their aftermarket over the past year. Watson said, “Being a part of agriculture has always been a rewarding experience, and the stability of the industry in which we serve has never been more apparent as it has during this pandemic.”
With the development of Crop Intelligence, South Country’s Integrated Solutions team has proven themselves to be an innovative leader in precision ag technology. Watson explains, “Crop Intelligence allows producers to make decisions based upon water driven yield potential, leveraging their data to improve bottom-line performance. We are proud to have developed this in Saskatchewan, working to distribute this technology throughout western Canada, through our 3rd party partners, which include other John Deere dealers and Agronomy service providers.”
The ability to have open and meaningful conversations with suppliers is one of the many assets South Country sees as a benefit to WEDA membership. Watson stated, “Having a central voice on issues that could be detrimental to us all, such as the recent right to repair conversations taking place in Canada and the U.S. Facilitating a stronger support system for the agricultural industry, with long-term benefits to manufacturers and customers is increasingly valuable.”
South Country attained the “Canada’s Best Managed Companies” designation in 2011, and will no doubt continue to be as they provide their customers and staff with strategies, efficiencies, and solutions to promote their success well into the future.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.