Buying a new tractor once involved the same age-old routine: a visit to the local dealer, plenty of coffee, a sharp intake of breath, a calculator with only a minus button – and eventually a large discount if paying upfront.
For the past year, it’s a been a very different story. A friendly face-to-face chat with our local machinery rep has been impossible during the coronavirus pandemic – making it hard to walk away with a good deal.
Zoom meetings are not on my bucket list. They may save the local rep travelling time. But I am not interested in buying a tractor from the comfort of my own home – no matter how much time and money it might save.
I prefer the personal touch. Buying anything should be about building a rapport and developing a working relationship. It may be my age, but I have always found it difficult to do that on screen.
It’s not only when buying new. The pandemic has seen online auctions of secondhand machinery come to the fore. These sales are great – but I much prefer the atmosphere of a live auction and long for their return.
Times, though, are changing. More and more machines and vehicles can be bought at the click of a button. Volvo says it intends to make only electric cars by 2030. It says they will only be available for sale online. I think agriculture will soon follow suit.
Clothes, food and even houses are also being sold this way. The manufacturer or builder can cut out the middle man and go direct to the consumer. With this in mind, farm machinery dealers owning or leasing bricks and mortar may be a thing of the past.
It used to be that you could only purchase certain brands of tractor from your local dealer. Venturing further afield to another country would see a reduced discount because dealers were restricted to their selling areas. In effect, they controlled each region.
Of course, the major farm machinery manufacturers may keep some premises and retain dealerships. But these may only be used for advice and to store the latest models to showcase individual ranges of machines.
After all, when most people who buy a car today use the various online price comparison sites to source the best deal. The market may be smaller but it wouldn’t take much to extend this concept to farm machinery.
As machinery becomes more reliable, farmers are less reliant on local dealers for servicing. Much of it can be done in the field. Service intervals are increasing. And smarter machines automatically contact the engineer remotely.
All this means today’s dealers can tell farmers when faults occur with their machines without leaving the comfort of their office. In some cases these faults are detected before the farmer or operator knows.
That said, there will be downsides if dealers disappear and direct selling becomes the norm. There will be no friendly, no warm banter and no opportunity for either side to haggle. Many friends have been made over a coffee – not by staring at a screen.
As for me, I need help to engage with farming friends and family using modern technology. It certainly shows what is possible. But I prefer the personal touch, a 24mm spanner and a big hammer.