Location Manager (Mediapolis, Iowa): Jeremy Marston

Years with Organization: 3. Started as an AMS specialist for Elder Implement, and then became location manager at the Mediapolis, Iowa, store in November 2010.

Role: “I’m in charge of the overall performance of the Mediapolis store. The location manager is in charge of working out some of those inevitable kinks that can occur between departments and reporting to the company’s executive team.”

When he’s called in to fix problems at the Precision Equipment dealership in Mediapolis, Iowa, Jeremy Marston says he often feels more like a firefighter than a location manager.

Marston was promoted to the newly created position of location manager in November 2010, at what was then Elder Implement. “The location manager is in charge of working out some of those inevitable kinks that can occur between departments,” he says.

Before the location manager position was created, he says, “Elder Implement had managers in sales, service and parts working in silos, with no one to oversee all store operations. They were only taking care of their own departments and often ended up working against each other.”

Micro vs. Macro Decisions

Marston can quickly shift his attention between micro- and macro-level business decisions, an important skill for the role he plays at the Mediapolis store as well as within the company as a whole. Whether he’s focused on market share or the minute details of a tractor sale, he knows in 10 minutes he may likely be pulled away from that task to deal with something completely different.

To stay in touch with what’s happening in each department and prevent unnecessary surprises, Marston holds weekly meetings. He’ll also organize quick discussions to check the progress of specific special projects he’s assigned to certain employees. These range from organizing the row of used attachments to keeping the service department organized.

On a personal level, Marston works to set a good example when it comes to keeping organized. “Every night before I go home, I make a list of what I need to start in the morning, and then I get here and start in on it. At the end of the day, I cross off what got done and start a new list.”

Organizing & Measuring

One part of Marston’s daily routine is evaluating the overall performance of the Mediapolis location. Storewide, Precision Equipment uses John Deere’s EQUIP business information system to document the essential aspects of the business. The system ensures that all aspects of the business are evaluated regularly.

Jeremy Marston trains his technicians to set customer expectations upfront. "If you tell someone that the service is going to be done in 2 days, it should be done in 2 days," he says.

“It’s a system that has everything from parts, service and sales in it,” he says. “Every employee clocks in and out of it, and all of our sales go through it.”

At the end of the month, Marston receives a comprehensive report for each department. “I look at our margins for prior years and determine if we’re making progress. I look at the amount of wholegoods we sold, their cost, our margin percentage and whether or not we’re we maintaining that percentage.”

Technicians log their work in and can see, on a daily basis, what eats up the most of their time. Marston works with each of them to identify what they need to focus on in order to become more efficient. He also uses the data to consult with his service manager to evaluate the areas that might require more training. In the parts department, he plays a role in organizing the showroom and verifying inventory.

“On the sales side, the deals go through me, too,” he says. “We have margins that we aim for. In certain situations, when a salesperson comes in under that margin, I get involved.”

Marston also checks and processes sales paperwork and sends it to the administrative offices in Muscatine, Iowa. Marston reports to Pat McCrabb, operations manager for Precision Equipment. “I talk to Pat quite a bit. He gives me feedback and, looking at the reports, also gives me an idea of where we’re at and where we need to go as a dealership.”

Instant Customer Feedback

Spend an hour with Marston and you’ll see how important customer service is to him and his staff. Regardless of how bad of a mood a farmer is in when he walks in the store, Marston makes it his responsibility to make sure they leave happy. This ability to interact directly with the customer is a significant difference in Marston’s career, whose background includes seven years as a Product Development Specialist for combines at Deere & Co.

Working in product development, he says evaluating customer satisfaction on equipment was a complicated process, and he rarely had direct contact with customers. Then, making appropriate design changes based on customer feedback could take a while. “By the time you fix a problem in the design, get it through development and into manufacturing, it might take 3 years,” says Marston.

Now, working the dealer side of the farm equipment business, Marston says it’s infinitely easier to keep a finger on the pulse of individual customer satisfaction. If action needs to be taken, it can happen today — not next week or next year. Not only does the face-to-face interaction with the dealer comfort the customer, it also offers a level of self-gratification that was difficult for Marston to find during his days at Deere corporate.

“You get that feeling of job satisfaction a lot faster at a dealership because you’re right on the frontlines helping customers out,” he says.

Clear Communications

Stories about the dealership — both positive and negative — spread quickly in small towns such as Mediapolis (population 1,560). So understanding expectations and communicating clearly to customers and employees are a big part of Marston’s job as location manager.

“This business isn’t like a car dealership, where customers come in to buy a car and never come back. They’re buying on price and will likely get their service work done in another shop,” he says.

“Selling farm equipment, meanwhile, is a relationship-oriented business. Sales representatives are on the frontlines working with the farmer and they set the expectations.”

However, for Marston, the salesperson is just the start of the relationship. He places equal levels of accountability on each of the three departments to produce positive results for the customer and the dealership.

In the end, Marston’s greatest hope is that every customer who walks through the doors has their needs met. “What I’ve found is that nothing is set in stone,” he says. “Some customers will come in, buy a piece of equipment, we’ll show them how to use it and we’ll never see them again until they trade it in. Other customers want us to send a technician out to the field and run it for several hours to make sure it’s all working properly. Then there’s the farmer who wants a follow-up call every couple weeks.”

He tells people on his team to, “Set expectations upfront with your customers. That always seems to keep you out of a lot of problems because you’re up front with them and don’t overpromise. If you tell someone that the service is going to be done in 2 days, it should be done in 2 days.” And that goes for all parts of the business.