Dealers across the nation continue working their way through COVID-19, and even though circumstances have started to improve, many are still building themselves back up.
Today, we’ll continue our talk with dealers to see where they believe business and financial conditions are headed over the next few months, as well as what pain points they’ve experienced during the pandemic.
Arin Monroe, president of Hayward Distributing, a Bob-Cat Mower dealer and wholesale distributor, says that though things have been uncertain, they were financially prepared for a tough year. He does believe, however, that profits will be impacted due to slower overall sales.
“I feel lucky that we have been able to keep the business open through this event and keep all of our employees busy,” says Monroe.
Since many of their sales are driven by long term relationships with customers and talking face-to-face, Monroe says social distancing has hindered that slightly. But, he adds, those same relationships have also allowed them to continue to provide ongoing support in spite of the situation.
Richard Miller, corporate sales manager, TriGreen Equipment, a John Deere dealer, says finances have been stable but like others in the industry, they have been cautious to navigate through the pandemic while also trying to serve both their customers and communities.
Ralph Helm with Ralph Helm, Inc., a Bob-Cat Mower dealer, says he is hopeful that conditions will improve. For now, he says they will continue to watch how quickly and safely the economy can open back up.
As the season changes to optimal green industry conditions, Monroe says he expects sales to improve slightly, but he does believe it will still be slower than the typical uptick they would see under normal spring circumstances.
“We will be watching inventory levels carefully so we don’t put ourselves in a bad position,” says Monroe.
Heading into the summer, Miller says they remain cautiously optimistic that they will be able to maintain the same amount of business that they’ve received throughout the start of the pandemic.
“People seem to be really focused on their property right now, which is good for business,” says Miller.
Helm says that dealing with extended delays in getting products due to the virus has been a struggle for them, and equipment sales have gone down in recent months, especially on the commercial side.
“Our customers’ expectations have remained the same or maybe are a little more demanding, and they struggle to understand why it takes three to five days to get in orders that always used to be next day,” says Helm.
Monroe agrees that larger products have suffered since the start of the pandemic, but smaller residential products have been steadily selling. He adds that the wholesale engine business continues to be strong in both dealer sales and OEM customers.
With more people getting outside and using this time of quarantine to spruce up their landscapes, Miller says more home projects have been planned and more residential equipment has been purchased, such as small tractors, residential zero-turn mowers, small compact utility tractors and UTVs.
“During this pandemic, we have noticed that people are getting closer to the land and focusing on their homes, and projects have been on the rise,” says Miller. “We see lots of people starting new projects or finishing old work, reconnecting with their homes and land. People are staying home more and spending money on home renovations and land improvement, and our offerings help the local communities complete those projects.”
As the weather continues to improve, these dealers agree that they expect to see sales improve, but they say that it will be tough to make up for the normal amount of spring sales that were lost due to the virus.
Monroe says on their end, residential handheld equipment has definitely seen an increase, and larger equipment like commercial zero-turn mowers has suffered the most.
Miller says that he believes their customers are feeling very supported by local stores at this time and therefore feel more positive about the purchases they are making.
“We have noticed that customers are not taking as much time to decide on what to buy, so the buying experience has greatly changed,” says Miller. “Customers will come in with a product in mind, find what they want and purchase faster than before the pandemic.”
Overwhelmingly, these dealers say shipping and receiving products hasn’t been too difficult, with the exception of getting in a few products sourced from Europe.
For Miller, having 22 locations has been handy because if a product is sold out in one location, there’s always a chance it is available at another one of their stores.
“There has been a lot of demand this spring, so the inventory for some products may be somewhat limited,” says Miller. “The supply management chain has been impacted for all sorts of products, but we’re doing our best to get our customers the parts and products they need as soon as we can get them.”
The new normal
The idea of establishing a new normal looks different to every business, but Monroe says they will take their lead from the government on when and how to continue reopening.
“It is difficult to say how long it will be before things are normal,” says Monroe. “This is made even harder due to each state having their own regulations. We are learning lessons from all of this, as we should from tough events. Hopefully, we come out of it stronger and wiser than before.”
Miller says their number one goal moving forward will be to make sure their employees feel safe while operating in this new normal.
“We hope we can help employees adapt to any societal changes that impact our business, and from this, we hope our customers will follow in their footsteps,” says Miller. “As a company that relies on face-to-face communications, we look forward to going back to our best practices of connecting personally with our local communities.”