“It’s about people,” said Tim Phillips, National Sales Manager for Kioti Tractor, when I asked him why dealers attend the company’s dealer meeting. The manufacturer did not unveil or announce new tractors or power equipment at its dealer meeting, held Nov. 13-14 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Kioti dealers already knew about the TL and SL750 compact loaders; in fact, they have been waiting for a year or more for that compact construction equipment. They had heard about the new 7340 tractor, the diesel zero-turn mower, the utility vehicles and more.
I kept asking Phillips and others the same question: Why do dealers attend this meeting? “The ‘Ride & Drive’ events are popular,” said Phillips. “Dealers can try machines in real-world environments. But mostly dealers like the camaraderie; they can network and share tips. They build relationships and friendships.”
Before I could speak with Kioti dealers in attendance, I heard the same story line from Kirk Gibson, Kioti’s new Director of Dealer Development, and others wearing the Kioti gear at the event. “I have spent a lot of time in the field visiting dealers since I started in June,” said Gibson. “It’s about people, both in our dealerships and at Kioti.”
“We’ve talked about holding regional dealer meetings,” said Phillips, “but dealers have pushed back on that. They like gathering as a large group.”
I saw this camaraderie at the breakfast table before we loaded buses for the test drive session held at a nearby farm. I shared a table with three dealers from different parts of the country who talked and laughed like old friends. And I heard the same words from dealers I spoke with at the Ride & Drive.
“These meetings are important for relationships,” said Pat Lyons, owner of Pat’s Power Equipment, in Charlestown, R.I., who attended the Kioti meeting with his son Tim. “The meeting includes a lot of good education sessions, and we do share and learn from other dealers. That kind of professional networking, that’s the number one thing.”
Tim Lyons agrees, saying, “This meeting is a good time, first of all. And the Ride & Drive helps a lot; we don’t get to try all these vehicles otherwise. It can be hard to make these equipment decisions based only on a visit from the manufacturer rep.
I watched the Lyons father-son duo as they evaluated attachments on a Kioti CS tractor at the Ride & Drive site. Their location in Rhode Island provides a large market for equipment of varying sizes. “We sell a lot of subcompact tractors,” said Pat Lyons. “And we’ll go back to our store and talk with people about these attachments and other things we saw at this meeting.”
A few dealers I spoke with were interested in Kioti’s new 7340, a 73HP ag tractor that is the newest addition to the manufacturer’s RX line. The K9 UTVs were popular during the Ride & Drive. Kioti set up a short but interesting trail ride for dealers in attendance. And even though this diesel-powered UTV leans heavily toward utility uses, this is the closest Kioti gets to a recreational vehicle.
Compact Construction Equipment
The TL and SL750 compact loaders were the most popular vehicles at the farm test site. Kioti had several models of both the skid-steer SL and tracked TL vehicles equipped with a variety of attachments for brief evaluations. Most dealers I spoke with about this compact construction equipment seemed interested in ordering the TL and SL machines – though some were more committed than others.
Mike Bolivar owns OCR Equipment & Rental in Nova Scotia. I spoke with Bolivar before he tested the new loaders, and he was interested, but not at a six-vehicle minimum order. Mike Elpers, of Straub Outdoor Power in Evansville, Ind., said, they’re interested in the compact equipment, but that his dealership was “probably a Stage 2 delivery for Kioti,” he said. “They’re providing these first to dealers who are already in the compact equipment market or on the construction side.”
Quintin Aune, meanwhile, is ready for the new TL and SL equipment. With three dealerships in western Montana, he and LTTM, LLC owner Larry Corona have a proven marketplace for this type of equipment.
“This compact construction equipment is opening a new segment for us,” said Kioti’s Phillips. I asked him how many dealers are ordering the TL and SL equipment, and he said, “We are here to gauge interest in that. We are working through a process that will probably take another year.”
Along with asking “why” dealers come to this meeting, I asked people “how” the year has been. Peter Kim, CEO of Kioti Tractor USA provided the answer during the event’s final banquet and awards ceremony. “Together with your quick responses to the market and unwavering support for our focused sales strategies,” said Kim to the crowd of dealers, “we grew our market share from 1.1% last year and 1.3% this year, outpacing all of our competitors. Meanwhile both number 1 & 2 lost their market share significantly.” He added, “in 2023, the industry had 11 percent overall market decline, but Kioti grew 4.8 percent. So let’s get excited about 2024.”
Kim stressed that the company’s success allows them to continue growth and development. “Our business this year has been outstanding while the market is down, and that comes with significant improvements and exciting developments. We’ve expanded into compact construction equipment, a confirmed Canadian warehouse expansion, and are launching a new ecommerce platform, all of which will further strengthen our dealers and enhance our capabilities.”
He added to Kioti’s own to-do list. “To compete as the best one in compact tractor and construction equipment industry,” said Kim, “we need to work on future product roadmap, improve credit line availability, improve parts supply, provide utmost impressive customer service and stand behind our product.”
As Kim addressed the dealer group and congratulated the award-winning dealers the company announced that night, it was clear that the company’s “It’s about people” theme starts at the top. The dealers see it too.
“I always wondered why Larry defaults to Kioti all the time,” said Quintin Aune, speaking of Larry Corona, the owner of the three-location LTTM dealership. “Now I see it. They are a family. It’s about people and not corporate structure. They take care of people.”
“It’s part of the culture,” said Corona. “They are big on face-to-face and relationships. And we (Kioti) are on the move up. Plus, during the ride and drive, Kioti leaders were out asking us how we liked everything and what we thought. And they were dressed just like us, not executives in suits. It’s all about people.”
Peter Kim answered my “why attend the meeting” question best when he spoke to the dealers at dinner. “The best part,” said Kim, “is that we see each other every year and renew the bonds of friendship and collaboration that have been the foundation of our partnership.”