Memphis Style Dealer Appreciation
MacDon Dealer Events set a stage for listening and learning from one another while having fun along the way, and it's the not-so-secret ingredient to MacDon's success
Famous for being the location of Elvis Presley's Graceland and the iconic Sun Studio where music legends Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and the King himself recorded some of their biggest hits, Memphis, Tennessee rightfully claims its title as "home of the blues and birthplace of rock and roll."
But Memphis holds another title.
Between March 15-17, 2023, the city became home to the largest gathering of MacDon dealers in history when more than 1,200 met in Memphis for MacDon's latest dealer event. All told, they came from 21 countries – places as far away as New Zealand, Estonia, South Africa and even Mongolia – making it MacDon's most international assembly of dealers as well.
"It was absolutely gratifying to see so many people, some coming from great distances, attend the event." said Al Ballantyne, MacDon Vice President, Global Sales and Marketing. "Having so many dealers take time away from their businesses shows how invested they are in their relationship with us. We know how difficult it is for them to get away, and we couldn't be more thankful."
The historic event was held at Memphis' Renasant Convention Center, where MacDon took over its voluminous Exhibit Hall (118,000 sq. ft.), providing ample space to showcase 25 pieces of MacDon equipment, including its latest FlexDrapers, corn headers and windrowers.
"The convention center was well organized and turned out to be a great venue for us," said Neil Barnett, MacDon Vice President, Product Development. "The room we had for the main event was huge, and even with seven combines, all our equipment and well over 1,000 people at any given time, the room still gave us lots of space to move around."
In addition to being able to inspect MacDon's latest machines, like its new FD2 Draper, up close, Memphis was the first chance for many attendees to see each other in person since the start of the pandemic.
"This event was very important for reconnecting with people we know and forming relationships with those new to MacDon," said Barnett. "Being able to meet in person at an event like this changes the quality of the relationship and is essential in our business. Online meetings are great, but it's hard to really get to know someone in a format like that."
The Memphis event's packed two-day schedule included numerous product information sessions and detailed presentations from key MacDon personnel. And if anyone had a question about anything, the right MacDon person to answer it was also close at hand.
"It's a big benefit of attending an event like this that a dealer can have a one-to-one conversation with anyone they need, be it a parts expert, one of our warranty people, someone in IT or even myself," said Ballantyne. "We always have everybody there, so if there is a specific issue that a dealer wants to talk about, the person they need to talk to is near at hand."
But the conversations were more than one way at Memphis, says Ballantyne and MacDon made sure to do as much listening as they did talking.
"We hear things at these events that we absolutely wouldn't hear otherwise. Our dealers are the ones closest to our customers and know what's going on in their areas of the world. They can give us tremendous insight into up-and-coming changes in our industry, whether they're related to technology, agronomics or something else. Those insights are hard to get any other way."
One of the highlights at Memphis was a panel discussion featuring MacDon's senior leadership answering questions that had been submitted by dealers before the event.
"The panel was a chance to introduce our new executive group who had completely changed since COVID hit," said Ballantyne. "We were able to share our vision for the business and how we intend to run it, as well as address many of our dealers' concerns. From the feedback I received, most dealers were thankful for our transparency regarding the last two years, which have been a big challenge for us, just like the rest of the manufacturing world."
Doug Meister, MacDon's Vice President, Global Parts and Service, said that dealers were particularly anxious to hear about MacDon's parts situation, especially about the availability of high-volume wear parts like guards and sickles.
"The last two or three years of the pandemic probably resulted in our poorest fill rates to our dealers and customers," said Meister. "This event allowed us to apologize to our dealers for the pain our parts issues have caused them and their customers, as well as explain what we have learned and what steps we have taken. A big question on their minds was if parts availability in 2023 would improve to which we were able to answer 'yes,' but supply will still take a while to be perfect."
According to Barnett the opportunity to have candid two-way conversations with the dealers is one of the things that makes MacDon dealer events so special.
"With these events, we're always hoping to get a pulse on our dealers and how they feel about our performance serving them," said Barnett. "This was especially important this time given the difficulties we've had over the last couple of years, and I think the dealers appreciated that we acknowledged our challenges and that we had taken measures to improve."
Large dealer events like Memphis are not new to MacDon; they've been going on since the company's 50th anniversary in 1999. In recent years they've been held every two or three years in locations like Las Vegas, Nashville, Fort Worth, and Phoenix, in 2019.
Usually, preparation for a MacDon dealer event starts two years out with the booking of show space and hotel rooms, but with Memphis there was just over half a year to get ready due to lingering uncertainties caused by the pandemic. The work also requires the efforts of a large and dedicated team of employees. In the case of Memphis more than 125 MacDon personnel were involved in setting up, hosting and tearing down the event, plus many more in support back at MacDon's headquarters in Winnipeg, Canada.
"Some other companies may have stopped doing these types of events, but we still see a lot of value in putting on something like this where we can really visit with our dealers over a couple of days," said Ballantyne. "From the top down, everyone at MacDon has always been accessible and that culture remains a big part of who we are today. It's why we continue to invest in these events."
And just like all other MacDon events, dealers at Memphis could enjoy themselves after each day's formal program. With Elvis in the building on Thursday and the sights and sounds of Beale Street on Friday night, some great memories were shared in Memphis.
"Every MacDon event always has a big emphasis on fun," said Michael Flintoft, Director of Global Product Support. "It's never just all work. MacDon always makes sure that there is a good chance to get together and enjoy a little camaraderie with each other. To me, this is the secret sauce as to why these events are so successful."
Flintoft says that giving the dealers opportunities to mingle is essential as it is then that some of the most important work for them gets done.
"For many dealers, it proves to be an excellent opportunity to network with other dealers in the same business but maybe in a different part of the world. You can learn a lot from someone doing the same things you are doing but in a different country or representing a different brand. It's a chance to hear about what others are doing and take back a few things to apply in your home market.
Ballantyne agrees that the increasingly international flavor of MacDon dealer events has an added benefit for many who attend.
"It's not every day a dealer from Canada or the US can have a good conversation with a dealer from Europe or South Africa. They may be united by all being MacDon dealers, but there is also a lot to learn from each other on a wide range of topics in those conversations."
Many times those conversations are the seeds of new business relationships.
"Our dealers often get a lot out of being able to talk to a dealer from another country who may represent different brands and products than they are familiar with,' said Flintoft. "In fact, a number of our dealers are international in scope with operations in multiple countries. These events allow dealers to form new contacts with people to explore potential business opportunities down the road."
Beyond bringing a record number of international attendees, Doug Meister says that Memphis was also notable for the number of people for whom this was their first dealer event. "
At one of our sessions, we asked how many people in the audience had attended a previous event, and I was actually surprised by how many didn't raise their hands. To me that illustrated how much time has passed and how much the company has grown."
"It also drove home to me how much of a global company we have become, and why the investment we've made in transitioning the company from being North America-centric to one whose systems serve an international market is so important. It just emphasizes that we have to continue to reshape how we do things so that we remain responsive to not only changes in world supply chains but also the needs of our dealers and their customers."
But for Meister one thing should not change, and that's MacDon's commitment to holding events like Memphis.
"It is important that we keep hosting these events where we can connect with our dealers in a very personal way. This has always been the MacDon way of doing things, and these events remind us that what we do is as much about people as it is about business."