Situated in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Aitkens Tractorland was founded in 1996 as an exclusive one store Kubota facility, serving a large customer base west of Calgary, AB. In 2007, the Hall family purchased the dealership renaming it Tractorland.
With a vision for growth, in 2008, the Hall’s acquired a neighbouring dealer known as Banner Equipment in Airdrie, AB. Seeing increased demand for Kubota’s expanding equipment line and a need for additional shop space to handle the growing volume efficiently, a third facility, also in Airdrie, was added becoming known as Tractorland Central.
In 2012, brothers Austin and Archie joined the family business founded by their father Archie Hall Sr. Archie said, “Neither of us saw it as a career aspiration at the time as we both dreamed of a sports career in hockey or golf. We both played high-level sports and planned on continuing to do so. Although we were encouraged to learn all aspects of the business, we naturally gravitated to the positions we currently hold.”
Austin was a natural in sales and soon developed a huge customer base built on honesty and respect. Archie was able to expand his fascination with numbers, focusing on metrics and efficiencies in the parts and service departments. The fit was meant to be, and the family found that each member was invaluable to Tractorland’s success. Currently, Austin and Archie have expanded their roles in the company as director of sales and director of operations, respectively, and their ambitions are focused on growing the business.
With the family’s vision for growth, Tractorland expanded again in 2014 with the purchase of the Kubota line from Farmway Machinery in High River, AB. Formerly under the leadership of Hugh Joyce and his family, Farmway was well respected in the High River area and offered both AGCO and Kubota equipment. These equipment lines were sold separately and Tractorland opened in the town of High River as a Kubota One dealership. The Hall family bought five acres along Hwy #2 in 2015 and began construction on a new 17,000 sq. ft. facility and moved into it in early 2016.
It was during this time, however, that Alberta suffered a major recession. Plunging oil prices caused many companies to close and many jobs were lost. Downtown Calgary vacancy rates rose to over 25% as the oil and gas industry saw unprecedented price drops.
With a proactive approach to their existing business plan, Tractorland did not hesitate to merge its Calgary and Airdrie locations in 2016 with a new 23,000 sq. ft. building on seven acres just north of the Calgary city limits in Balzac, AB. This facility was much larger and could accommodate growth, but was also more efficient to effectively handle the boom-and-bust economy. At the time, this facility represented a significant jump in size from previous facilities, but once again, the business was busting at the seams and will soon begin construction on a 13,000 sq. ft. addition to the service department. The addition will be composed of 10 additional service bays along with a 1,600 sq. ft. area dedicated to housing larger equipment and warranty parts storage.
Hall said, “That will be followed by Phase 2, a 6,000 sq. ft. addition of parts and showroom space as well as updating the fascia of the building to reflect Kubota’s new imaging standards. We are hoping to start in the 4th quarter of 2021. It is a 5-year stretch that we are quite proud of as a group but not one we are looking to replicate anytime soon.”
Kubota’s product line is segmented into lawn and garden, and construction and agriculture. Tractorland focused on training and providing the best service possible to support these lines and the result was a loyal customer following. Despite all the changes the company endured from 2014 to 2017, Tractorland’s revenue increased exponentially and Kubota market share in certain segments was approaching 60%.
In 2019, Tractorland was presented with another opportunity for growth. Although this store would be in another province, Tractorland shareholders have family ties in the province and were familiar with the area. The Hall family strategically chose to open its newest dealership in a 43,000 sq. ft. facility with excellent visibility along a major thoroughfare as a Kubota One facility in the Queen City, Regina, Saskatchewan. Hall said, “This facility and location exudes Tractorland’s management team’s confidence in the Kubota brand itself and the ability to efficiently service and sell Kubota equipment in this APR. This new location afforded the company a strong and diversified market anchored largely by agricultural exports and a wide variety of natural resources which gives strong stability to its stores in Alberta.”
“Tractorland’s business model largely revolves around Kubota’s “Kubota One” goal of building Canada’s network of dealerships dedicated and focused on Kubota as their mainline,” said Hall. “Our stores represent the full line of Kubota agriculture, construction, lawn and turf, and industrial engines and generators as well as the Kubota owned brands of Great Plains Agriculture and Land Pride attachments. Aside from these, we maintain 10-15 shortlines which have largely been brought in to compliment the sale of Kubota products.”
Since the Hall family’s initial purchase of their first location in 2007, they have grown from four employees to around 70 at the time of this writing. “We have been through a total of four acquisitions, seven buildings, a strategic merger of two stores, and are currently undergoing a renovation that will add 10 additional service bays to our Balzac facility,” said Hall.
He noted that Kubota’s product line and market presence have changed immensely over the past 10 years and their group has been doing everything it takes to stay ahead of the manufacturer. “Things really came to a head for our group in 2014 when our three locations combined for 675 new retails from a total infrastructure base of 25,000 sq. ft of buildings and less than four acres of total land. Looking back, I can’t comprehend how we got through that year, but it really set us on a path for making some major investments in our facilities.”
Training Imperative to Success
Due to the growth of their organization and Kubota’s product lines, training has been absolutely imperative to the success of Tractorland.
“We offer scholarships to each of our technicians going through their apprenticeship to help absorb the costs of their education, and once they complete it, we work as hard as we can to keep them for the long run,” said Hall. “Investment in training really pays dividends in this business. With our recent acquisition of our Regina dealership in 2019, we were forced to staff the business from scratch due to the fact that the Kubota line was previously alongside another major manufacturer. We spent a significant amount of money flying staff in each department from our Alberta locations to spend a week training our Regina staff throughout most months of the year.”
“Whether it was a senior technician spending a week working in our new location, teaching a complex tear down, or a service manager sent to mentor the new department in the processes, we were really able to get it done,” continued Hall. “We feel this type of training and cross-development has given our staff a huge amount of insight into how our business runs and allows them to take another level of ownership and pride in their roles.”
“We are constantly looking for the next department manager or leader to set up our team to fill roles as we grow,” Hall explained. “Our real success has come from cultivating our people from within our organization. Both of our Alberta branch managers started with us in parts associate roles and worked their way up. We have also had a yard manager successfully work into a position as our corporate inventory controller, and another individual who started with us as a delivery driver in High River and is now one of our top territory managers in our Calgary location. These represent a few of many, but we believe it is vital in today’s environment to keep a team stimulated and seeing a future in our organization.”
From good to great
Hall believes that people in the industry make the difference between running a good organization and a great one. “It takes years of perfection to prove ourselves as a reliable partner for our customers and it takes only one phone call to give that same customer doubt, so it really is about making sure we’re performing at a high level all the time.”
“One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my parents in this industry is that if you do your best to take care of your staff, they will take care of the business and that is something that we focus on with every decision we make,” said Hall. “Many of our people have made a large investment in us by spending a significant amount of their careers with us already and we owe it to them to do everything it takes to grow, push the boundaries, and ensure they are taken care of for the long run. That mentality has worked out for us very well so far, during our 14 years in the business and we’re excited to see what our group can accomplish over the next 14.”
From lockdown to today
During the initial lockdown due to COVID-19, Tractorland experienced an instant decline in revenue as customers were unsure how to proceed. This resulted in delays in picking up equipment, cancellations, as well as many customers deciding to wait to finalize their purchases. The company temporarily laid off approximately 20% of its employees, although the layoffs were short-lived as they quickly saw business return. Since then, business has shown a heavy shift toward an online and digital relationship with its customer base.
Hall said, “We have experienced website traffic increasing by over 100% this year and a much larger social media following across all platforms. We’ve, in turn, started to bring a larger focus to our social media channels and online presence in response, and the feedback has been fantastic. It feels as if we have experienced five years of change packed into the last 6 months, but ultimately it is the right move as we look to the future of Tractorland and our industry.”
“I believe the one thing that all major manufacturers have going for them in this environment is they have spent years perfecting doing what it takes to move parts across the country and world,” added Hall. “We have been fortunate that Kubota Canada worked very hard to get ahead of the curve and were able to maintain a consistent fill rate throughout the year. Staying ahead of schedule and giving our customers one less thing to worry about in this environment is so important.”
Along with growing its footprint, Tractorland has also seen considerable growth in both its parts and service departments this year.
“We have worked to integrate free drop shipping options for existing customers and curbside pickup upon request into all of our store operations and have remained open to accommodate those wishing to come in. This coupled with a strong desire from our customer base to catch up on the home projects has driven our over-the-counter parts sales up 25% year to date,” said Hall. “Alberta and Saskatchewan also had a very good hay crop season which helped the sale of ag-related equipment. Overall, Tractorland managed to have a very positive year.”
Association a valued resource
Hall noted that WEDA has been an invaluable voice for Tractorland as it navigates the trials of the pandemic and growing the business.
“With so much misinformation, constantly changing municipal and provincial guidelines, we have relied heavily on WEDA’s direction to ensure we have made the best possible decisions for our staff and customers. WEDA represents our business with integrity, passion, and a dedication that would require an extremely significant organization to support so we are very grateful for the work they do on behalf of our industry,” said Hall. “Relatively, we are a young organization and WEDA’s Dealer Institute and consulting services will definitely play a huge part in continuing to develop and grow our staff and execute on our long-term objectives.”
With its visionary fortitude of growth, ingenuity, and continual positive outlook, there is no doubt that Tractorland is positioned to provide many more years of successful service to its customers.
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 21 years. She may be reached by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.