From the CEO’s Desk
While I purposely have not been a regular contributor to Western Equipment Dealer, it seems that now is an appropriate time to gather my notes and look at where we’ve been… and where we are.
While I purposely have not been a regular contributor to Canadian Equipment Dealer, it seems that now is an appropriate time to gather my notes and look at where we’ve been… and where we are.
Your association, the Western Equipment Dealers Association, has undergone many positive changes over the past five years. Three regional equipment dealer associations were merged into one, creating the largest dealers’ association of its type in North America. Our focus and priorities were refined to meet the needs of equipment dealers, both today and into the future. The goal of these mergers was not necessarily to get bigger, but better. Therefore, this merger and consolidation of our resources allowed us to invest in each of our three key pillars: Advocate, Elevate, and Educate.
We are proud to state that this investment has resulted in an association that provides more services and programs than any other similar organization. One of our first steps was to build an advocacy team and infrastructure that allows us to be proactive in addressing dealer issues – and, at the same time, be positioned to have a timely and effective response when we must react to something unexpected or unprecedented.
That brings us to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though there were some early indicators the virus was spreading in China, it seemed too distant to affect not only our industry but the entire world. Suddenly, we learned this contagion isn’t fazed by distance, and our lives and how we do business changed dramatically. Never has our generation faced such a crisis.
Since we always encourage members to stay engaged with the association, calls to the association came swiftly as dealers sought advice and direction. Within hours, WEDA put a plan of action in place.
Our first priority was to ensure that dealerships were designated as essential businesses. This was important because it would allow dealerships to stay open and serve their customers. Everyone – dealers, manufacturers, and customers – were gearing up for the traditional planting and seeding period and the North American food supply was at risk if limitations and restrictions were imposed.
Our effort included reaching out to the respective leaders in both Canada and the U.S., namely USDA Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau, and the governors and premiers in the states and provinces where WEDA’s members operate their dealerships.
Fortunately, we received a quick and positive response. In both countries, the agricultural supply chain and related transportation logistics received essential services designations. We also proposed that it was critical that the U.S.–Mexico and U.S.-Canadian borders remain open for essential travel. We have an integrated market through production and distribution and a closed border would limit the intent of the essential business designation. It was welcome news that the borders would remain open to trade and commerce. That gave us hope that the customary transfer of goods through the equipment industry would experience limited disruption.
In our conversations with equipment dealers, they have repeatedly expressed their concern for the health and safety of their employees. Wherever possible, we relied on our partners and vendors and were able to share best practices and ideal workplace concepts. This was done to not only ensure the safety of employees but also the safety of our industry’s customers.
Navigating through the many ordinances and safe distancing protocols that came from states and provinces also was key. Communicating the information in a timely manner was essential to ensure the necessary balance between compliance and operations.
The relationships with our manufacturers and suppliers were also top of mind. Rightfully so, dealers were doing everything possible to manage their cash flow. This led to several conversations with industry suppliers where we asked them to consider a variety of measures, such as interest and curtailment deferral or relief, how to address canceled orders, stock order payments, parts inventory levels, to name a few. We were pleased to see manufacturers rollout (and adjust) support measures as they were needed.
As time goes on, the industry will continue to adjust to the challenges we face. I believe dealerships are well-positioned to address this changing landscape and the challenges before us. Although we all want things to quickly return to business as usual, it is perhaps in the best interests of our employees, customers, and the industry to be patient.
The uncertainty brought forward by the COVID-19 situation was unprecedented and all of us were in uncharted territory. It tested the strength of our businesses and our personal resolve. It has become a major distraction and it’s one more thing to add to the list of the many challenges equipment dealers and their customers have faced over many decades.
But make no mistake, the entire industry has done and still is doing its best to navigate through these challenges and issues. We also want you to know that WEDA will continue to grow its resources so the association can continue to serve equipment dealers’ best interests.
As noted in the beginning, I’m not a regular contributor to Canadian Equipment Dealer and the reason is simple: The editorial contributors to this publication are valuable resources and the information they share with you in each issue is to help WEDA members operate their businesses more efficiently and profitably. They reinforce the three pillars of WEDA to Advocate, Elevate, and Educate.
Written By John Schmeiser
JOHN SCHMEISER is CEO of the Western Equipment Dealers Association