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Opening Day

By Jason Milligan

Opening day for the 2013 Major League Baseball (MLB) season is around the corner. Its hard to imagine that we as twenty-first century Americans are still very much attached to a nineteenth century game like baseball. With our cable television, world-wide-web, smart devices, and i-everything lifestyles, I find it amazing we still allow time in our lives for this great American past time.

Of course MLB has had to evolve over the years to maintain its connection with the youth of America. In order to add more offense and interest into the game MLB in 1973 added the designated hitter rule, and they added teams in every major city to draw in more fans. In addition MLB built huge stadiums that rival most carnivals for festive family fun, and as monuments to the game’s role in our society and history.

Despite these efforts, MLB almost lost its entire fan base in 1994 due to a drawn out and destructive labor dispute (scrapping the first World Series since 1904). It was only revived by an explosion of Herculean home run records set by two prolific hitters in1998 and in 2001. These events and more were responsible for exciting and attracting a whole new generation of fans, thus setting the stage for the game and industry’s renewal that extends to this day.

Another concern for the game is the financial disparity among teams. Exacerbated by major market television advertising, which allows big city teams to pay larger sums to the best talent, thus shutting out smaller market teams. Efforts to spread wealth in the league have not eliminated this major market advantage. Despite this inequity, it’s still a team game, and individual talent while compelling, doesn’t win championships. As evidence, since 2000 two small market teams have managed to win the World Series…think Arizona Diamondbacks, and Florida Marlins.

Like MLB the equipment distributor’s business model was squarely rooted in the last century. Back then, having two rotary phones and a mimeograph machine was the information technology department. A calendar, and a yellow pages ad accounted for the entire marketing budget. Today the world is connected by instant information, smart phones, 24-hour access, and sophisticated clients who want instant access, low costs, and no hassle agreements. Oh, and no more can decisions be made locally, or in a vacuum…bring on the lawyers, CPA’s, and professional purchasing agents….handshakes are so 19th century!

What can equipment distributors learn from MLB and its struggle to remain relevant as a game and a business model? We all know manufacturers are looking to partner with larger dealers (major markets) who require fewer resources from the OEM, while maintaining a strong sales team, everyone wants top notch sales personnel, and dealers must possess a drive to invest in the necessary technology resources required for today’s fleet management culture. (Sound like Moneyball?)

Creating a distribution model on the leading edge will require some hard work, vision, and leadership. Mostly, it will require a fanatical focus on what clients are seeking. Take a nod from MLB – create real loyalty with clients by focusing on the way they experience your team, sit in their seat – how’s the view? Build comfortable environments, by lowering client risks. Above all else, deliver a competitive product on the field by seeking and retaining the best talent you can afford. Dispatch hyper responsive parts and service personnel to engender greater loyalty, add data rich fleet maintenance products to foster greater client fleet awareness.  Create and maintain transparent client partnerships, and find ways to creatively share risk with all involved.

These efforts can lead to real advantages for your whole dealership, and provide a real competitive niche. Small market or large, this century requires new strategies, and great talent. So, if we learn nothing else remember to keep moving to where the market is going to be. If you do, you too can make it to the bigs, and not just for a cup of coffee. Play Ball!