Interview with Bill McKeel, East Coast Equipment: John Deere Dealer Spotlight

March 5, 2014

Dealerships are one of the key components behind what makes John Deere one of the most successful agricultural equipment producers in the world. Without these dealerships (and their employees), equipment or product purchases and servicing would be made next to impossible, crippling the agriculture industry.

Last week, we featured an interview with Dale VanSlyke of Heritage Tractor. This week, we had the opportunity to sit down with Bill McKeel, CCE sales representative of the Nashville, North Carolina, East Coast Equipment location to better understand what elements comprise a successful John Deere dealership.

Nashville ECE

Bill was kind enough to share some business tactics and interesting stories he has encountered as a sales representative at East Coast Equipment. Excerpts from our interview are as follows:

Q: Could you give us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in the agricultural and turf equipment business?  

A: I grew up in this area (Nashville). I actually owned my own business, I was a motorcycle dealer. I was in the Honda and Suzuki business for 28 years before selling my business in 1999 and basically retired. A couple of years ago I decided retirement wasn’t for me, so I came out of retirement and I had the opportunity to come on with East Coast in their turf department.

My son had actually been working with East Coast for about six years at the time and he kind of hustled me into a position that opened up in the Wilson location. From there, I was able to transfer over to the Nashville location. My son has since been bumped up the ladder and now he’s my boss.

Q: Specific to the Nashville dealership, can you provide us with a bit of background regarding customer characteristics or crop diversity in the area?

A: The Nashville store is one of East Coast Equipment’s newest locations. It’s a little more turf and compact tractor oriented than it is full blown agriculture but both lines seem to be going pretty big over here. The area itself is a real tight-knit community with a lot of word-of-mouth, and that’s sort of the way things roll around here. If you make a good impression with one customer, they usually build you up pretty good to all his neighbors which makes a big difference for us.

We’re kind of low-key around here and customer service is a big, big plus for us. We try to push that and that makes it a lot better for the people we deal with.

Q: When it comes to staying embedded in Nashville’s tight-knit community, do you sponsor or put on any events at your dealership or off-site that helps keep the community aware of East Coast’s presence?

A:  We try to take advantage of all the John Deere promotions that go on. Deere already has a very strong customer base in our area and just their name alone being out there draws a lot of people to us.

John Deere Promotion

But we’re real active in a lot of the community activities around here. We always try to participate in a lot of the festivals that the smaller towns have in this area. We also have a very good connection with the high schools in the area and we’re always trying to make ourselves available for those people. They need little things every now and then and we also get involved with a lot of the volunteer fire departments and those kinds of avenues, doing things with them helps us get our name out there.

Q: Does East Coast use any specific or unique tactics to better assist customers?

A: Well that’s the big thing, we try to have a lot of activities to stay in contact with the community around here. Being that I was in the motorcycle business for the number of years that I was, I’ve found that the majority of the people I deal with here at East Coast are a lot of my old customers, so we already have that connection.  I’ve felt like that may have given me a little bit of a step-up from the competition around here because I do know a lot of the people that come through the front door.

The agricultural business and the recreational business that I was in seem to cross over with one another a whole lot. The UTV and ATV business bridges with the farmers and the hunters so we have a good market both ways. It’s an ongoing rapport with the customer base, any time you have a good rapport with a customer, it doesn’t matter if it’s five years ago or 20 years ago, if they feel comfortable with you, they’ll come visit and do business with you.

Q: What’s an average day like in your role as a sales representative and what are some of the responsibilities and challenges that you’re faced with on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis?

A: Well basically here I’m kind of a do-it-all type of guy with the turf and compact tractors. I try to greet each of the customers that come through the door and a lot of times I may have to direct them to the parts department or the service department. But, primarily, I’m here to help the customer decide what they need.

A lot of people come through the door and really don’t have a clue as to what they’re looking for as funny as that may sound. I just have to kind of listen to the person and qualify them, determine their needs, and send them in the right direction. My experience in the past has been if you undersell of oversell, that can hurt you and come back to bite you. So, we try to pinpoint exactly what it is the customer is looking for.

Q: This time of year, what’s going on at the dealership? Do you experience any noticeable changes in terms of seasonality?

A: We do. Right now (winter), the turf business is pretty much non-existent but the compact tractor business has been pretty steady and UTVs have had a lot of activity. A lot of farmers are using the UTVs which has drawn a lot of interest to that side of the business lately. Also, a lot of service work is coming in.

John Deere UTV

Q: Do you see a specific piece of equipment being a hot seller in Nashville? Do you have a favorite piece of Deere equipment or technology?

A: Well, I’m kind of partial to the UTVs because that’s where my background goes. This area, the compact tractors, the 1023s, 2025s are real popular. Everything from the 3 Series down is good for my selling interest. The ag boys are doing real well with the 100+ horsepower tractors but the turf and maintenance department has been the most popular.

John Deere Compact Utility Tractor

Q: Do you have any interesting customer stories or anything out of the ordinary that comes to mind since you started working at East Coast?

A: I’ve had a commercial customer in lawn maintenance in the area here that I took to the John Deere Fly-In a couple of months ago. He basically told me when the time comes to move-up or trade-up, he’s definitely going John Deere because of how impressed he was with the whole John Deere concept. He was very, very impressed with the whole system and I’ve seen him a few times since and he told me he will be buying John Deere equipment.

If you’re in the area of any East Coast Equipment locations, be sure to stop by, as they will be more than happy to assist with any of your needs. A special thanks to Bill, for taking the time to shed some behind-the-scenes light on the John Deere dealership business! If you have any comments about this post, feel free to connect with us on Facebook or Google+! Also, be sure to keep an eye out for additional John Deere Dealer Spotlight posts in the upcoming weeks!