Know your customers, know their needs and educate them. These words of wisdom were often repeated to dealers who had the opportunity to attend the John Deere BTL (Beyond the Limits) dealer training program in Orlando, Fla.
Each year, approximately 1,600 dealers take part in the program, which runs over a four-week period. It starts in February and goes into March. Typically, dealers from all over the United States and Canada travel to take part in the Florida event.
John Deere's Bruce Morgart, center, enjoyed the opportunity to discuss solutions to common problems with dealers.
Photos by Brooke A. Rockwell.
Dealers typically spend two and half days in the program that has been referred to as Deere Camp. The days typically start very early with dealers boarding buses that await in the hotel parking lot for the trip to "the field." The field consists of approximately 200 acres, which is part of a 400-acre ranch, where dealers attend classes (which includes driving time), lunch and meetings. It's a full day for the dealers. They usually get back to the hotel at 6 p.m. or so.
There are five large product stations with many smaller substations for the dealer training. Tractors, commercial mowing, riding lawn equipment, utility vehicles, generators and hand-held equipment were all covered during the BTL program.
The big news this year was in the compact tractor station.
Following its own advice, the company listened to customers and researched their needs. John Deere took all that information into account when designing its newest tractors, the 4M and 4R Series. The new line includes six models - 4044M, 4052M, 4066M, 4044R, 4052R and 4066R - equipped with Final Tier 4 engines ranging from 43 to 66 hp.
What qualities are customers looking for? John Deere Product Marketing Manager Scott Schadler said, "Customers told us they wanted to spend less time installing and removing implements, wanted the ability to carry and store more tools, desired a more comfortable ride, and requested the ability to work in low-light conditions."
Time in the driver's seat is a big part of John Deere's BTL dealer training program. There were more than 200 machines at "the field" in Orlando, Fla.
Tool storage is provided with a center console storage area, with a second compartment located on the left-hand fender on the R Series. The operator station features a flat floor and ergonomic controls, and the deluxe seat that comes standard on 4R models can swivel 15 degrees left or right. Standard lighting includes wraparound-style wide-angle halogen headlights, two amber flashing warning lights and warning lamps. The optional premium lighting package includes two additional forward work lights and an additional rear work light.
That just leaves making the installation and removal of implements faster, which can be a challenge even for experienced operators. At Station #9, substation B, dealers got their first look at the industry-exclusive Hitch Assist in action. Standard on 4R hydrostatic transmission models, Hitch Assist allows the operator to move the tractor from the ground, which means the operator doesn't have to keep getting on and off the machine in order to attach or remove implements.
When asked which customers this feature can help, dealers responded: small landowners, landscape contractors, females, "everybody." That's the winning answer - everyone can benefit.
At this station, dealers were also experienced the downforce feature at work. The downforce kit is a dealer-installed option for 4R models and provides 450 to 500 pounds of down pressure for tasks such as posthole digging. It's an easy job in the sandy soil you find in Florida, but in locations with hard-packed or clay soils, this feature can make light work of this and other jobs.
The new machines are also easier to use, even for first-time operators (trust me), with Twin Touch Pedals, hydrostatic controls and automotive- type cruise control.
Another item that everyone is looking for when making purchases is value. For equipment that means the cost of ownership has to be taken into account. These new tractors have a 1,200-hour service interval for hydraulic oil changes, that's three times longer than the typical 400 hours required for other machines.
Running consecutively with the BTL was the Dare to Compare program. Dealers who attend both events get to increase the number of days they spend in the Florida sunshine, while at the same time increasing their knowledge ... and the amount of time spent in the operator's seat.
John Deere hosts training programs for dealers, service technicians and equipment operators throughout the year at various locations in the United States as well as online.
Brooke Rockwell is a senior editor at Moose River Media.