ABOVE: “McFarlanes’ huge new facility houses dozens of Kubota tractors and utility vehicles. “It’s really helped the power equipment business because we can have almost every model on the floor, not back in the warehouse,” says Chris Carnevale.…”

Editor’s Note: James DeGraff, who was serving a 3 month internship at Lessiter Media, accompanied me during a visit to McFarlanes’. He was given the assignment of researching the dealership prior to our meeting with managers there, prepare questions for the interview, take photos and then write it up with a focus on the new facility, itself. DeGraff, who is from suburban Milwaukee, is a journalism student now in his junior year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Upon driving up to the front of the new McFarlanes’ facility in Sauk City, Wis., I double-checked my GPS to make sure we hadn’t made a mistake. Expecting to see an average-sized dealership with some signage and maybe a few machines on display, I instead fixated my eyes on what could’ve been assumed to be an NFL practice facility or indoor theme park had I not known better.

The 209,000 square foot facility, a retailing, service and dealership conglomerate, symbolizes a 98 year-old business bouncing back from a devastating fire that wiped out their old Sauk City facility in May 2013.

While the retail center is an unusual setup for a dealership, Chris Carnevale, general manager, says it ultimately does the best job of simplifying the store for visitors who could be overwhelmed by its size, although the change has taken some getting used to for long time customers.

“Even though it’s big, the current layout allows for the shortest distance possible between each product area,” Carnevale says. “Still, there are some of our old customers who don’t like it because they preferred how small the old place was. They could just come in and they knew where everything was.”

Walking through the general layout of the facility, most of the general retail merchandise, be it hardware tools, garden equipment, toys or pet food, are visible right away in the center of the store, allowing for quick-stop customers to be in-and-out of the store quickly. Stationed to the right of the primary retailing department are the service desks of the True Value Hardware store, which offer a range of services including key cutting and blade sharpening. The tire department offers services like a database to help customers find the optimal tire based on preferences of tread life, comfort and more.

While investing in massive volumes of diverse merchandise carries some inherited risk, Carnevale says the store has greatly expanded its customer base. He adds that since the store has so much space to utilize, being the have-it-all, go-to store for local residents is essential. “We really have something for everybody here,” he says.

The showroom for the farm machinery can be found in the back of the facility. Featuring a wide array of tractors and other machines from several manufacturers, including Massey Ferguson, Kubota and several shortlines, the showroom provides perhaps the greatest benefit of the expansion noted by Carnevale.

In the past, management was forced to decide which machines could go on display inside and which ones needed to be kept outside, but with so much square footage to work with today, nearly everything in-stock is on display, including the tractors and balers with wheels taller than most grown men. Carnevale says the ability for customers to have the entire selection right before their eyes has done wonders for not only their quality of service, but also their efficiency of transactions.

“Now that the equipment isn’t out back or in the warehouse in another building, customers can walk up to a machine, sit in it and say, ‘That’s for me,’” Carnevale says. “We start it up, drive it out and you’re ready to go, which has made a big, big difference.”

Having so much space under roof compared with their previous facility hasn’t come without its fair share of ongoing challenges, however. Headlining the issues has been finding an effective way to communicate across the multiple departments. Carnevale says it’s easier now than ever for miscommunication to occur.

The key to solving the issues long-term, he adds, is not to rush to conclusions and instead view problems as the cause of a chain-reaction. “A lot of times, what we have to do is take a step back when something happens and diagnose where the problem started, because it’s easy to look at just what happened at the end and blame that person,” Carnevale says. “We’re trying to get that across, but I can’t look you in the eye and say we get that across every time.”

Carnevale says their goal is to have the inventory of a large-scale retailer while still having the service qualities of a local store, and he remains confident that over time, the business will get better at finding that perfect balance for customers.

Considering the short time since moving into the new location a few months ago, it seems illogical to discuss whether McFarlanes’ would ever consider expanding. In today’s world of dealership consolidation, however, it’s a difficult issue to ignore. While he’s uncertain, Tom McFarlane, vice president and co-owner, admits it’s an option that will always remain on the table.

“It’s possible that down the road our major vendors will want us to expand, but we’ve seen too many cases where a dealership gets spread too thin and finds it hard to get enough good qualified people. I’m not a big fan of it honestly, but down the road we might have to.”

In short, while the square footage may change over time, the local-store values of McFarlanes’, which originated as the Wisconsin Tractor Co. in 1917, aren’t going anywhere.