Monroe Tractor

When Laura Wilkas joined her family’s company, Monroe Tractor, as the marketing manager four years ago, her first major undertaking was to rebrand its image. In rethinking its brand, the equipment supplier matched its marketing overhaul with internal efforts to improve service to commercial and agricultural customers and added more product specialists. The result, Wilkas says, is that Monroe Tractor today is better able to deliver on its brand promise: “We’re there to keep you doing your job.”

The rebranding created a consistent message and customer experience, no matter which of its 11 New York locations customers visit. “It has been rewarding to see that it is catching on and our associates are supporting our message to our customers,” Wilkas says of the initiative. With the initial phase of the rebranding in place, Monroe Tractor is now looking at how it can best support current customers and reach new customers. “As my grandfather always said, if you take care of the customer, the business will grow,” Wilkas says of the philosophy.

The company began in 1951 when Wilkas’ grandparents, Henry and Dorothy Hansen, moved to Henrietta, N.Y., to open a Case Agriculture distributorship. In its early years, Monroe Tractor was purely an agriculture equipment company, but the business evolved to serve commercial businesses as suburban expansion changed the market. “It took a long time to see enough growth to warrant expansion,” Wilkas explains of the company’s gradual growth in the New York market. “It took 20 years for the second store to open and time, growth and the right opportunities to get to the 11 locations we have today.”

Founder Henry Hansen retired in 2013, but Monroe Tractor remains family owned and operated. His daughter, Janet Felosky, now serves as CEO and president of the company, which last year earned Monroe Tractor a designation as a woman-owned business from the state of New York. Other family members are involved in the company, as well. Wilkas, for example, heads up marketing and public relations while her brother, Chris Felosky, manages the agriculture division.

Becoming a recognized woman-owned business has created new opportunities for Monroe Tractor. New York mandates that 30 percent of state business must be with minority- or women-owned companies, putting Monroe Tractor in a better position to bid on equipment contracts. “It’s opened up a lot of doors that have been closed in the past,” Wilkas says. “Getting our WBE certification has given us more opportunities to build and foster relationships with state agencies and authorities.”

The company mainly serves the central and western New York markets, but also parts of Pennsylvania and upstate New York. As a supplier of new and used equipment, Monroe Tractor sells to a wide range of customers, including municipalities, contractors, recycling facilities, home-builders, schools, farmers and the state of New York. Its customer base essentially breaks down into two areas: agriculture and commercial. Although there is some overlap in equipment, Monroe Tractor treats each area separately to better specialize its service and equipment for those customers. 

For construction customers, Monroe Tractor provides construction and road building equipment such as pavers, mills, aggregate equipment, backhoes, excavators, skid steers, dozers and wheel loaders. Agriculture customers, on the other hand, typically come to the company for everything from mid-sized tractors up to giant combines and choppers containing the advanced technology required for precision farming.

Since its beginnings, Monroe Tractor has sold Case equipment, and the manufacturer remains an important partner today. But as the company has grown, it has diversified its offerings to stay nimble during industry downturns. Its construction lineup now includes utility and heavy equipment from Case, Doosan, Hamm, Vogele, Kleemann, Wirtgen and LeeBoy, among others. Wilkas says Monroe Tractor builds relationships with those manufacturers by participating in trade shows and manufacturer events, and is in touch with territory representatives on a daily basis. 

Full Service

When a road rebuilding project is delayed, or a recession slows home building activity, the impact is felt at every company along the construction chain. Not knowing what outside forces will influence its customers can make inventory a challenge for equipment providers. Monroe Tractor works to get ahead of those industry trends by holding annual budget meetings. Company managers review last years’ sales and take market activity into account to forecast inventory for the upcoming year. 

“We try to keep as much inventory as we can depending on the previous years, but you never know exactly what you’re going to need,” Wilkas says. The potential for shifting construction schedules means there is always some risk. Some customers might pre-order a piece of equipment, but most buy equipment on demand throughout the season. By having 11 locations, Monroe Tractor is better able to handle that uncertainty. If one location needs additional inventory, the company can have it delivered from one of its other stores. 

But having the equipment in stock is only half the job. Customers want to know a supplier will support a piece of equipment long after it has been delivered to a yard or construction site. Each of Monroe Tractor’s locations has its own service department and fully equipped field service trucks, and the company continuously invests in its technicians by sending them to manufacturer training schools to be certified on the latest equipment, Wilkas explains. The company makes daily stock orders for each make and model it sells to keep parts on hand to speed up repairs. When a part is out of stock, Wilkas says Monroe Tractor usually can have it ordered and delivered within 24 hours to ensure equipment is returned to the field as soon as possible.

Product support has been an increasingly important part of Monroe Tractor’s business. When Wilkas joined the company four years ago, she realized that the equipment wasn’t what was going to differentiate the dealership from the competition because the equipment had become more and more the same. To differentiate itself, the company needed to win on providing exceptional product support and put more emphasis on Monroe Tractor’s ability to service any make and model. 

The New York construction season only lasts about eight months, but Monroe Tractor’s service department stays busy all year-round. The offseason is the best time to bring equipment in for service, Wilkas says, so that customers are ready to work as soon as winter ends. The company encourages those offseason inspections and maintenance by offering promotions and discounts, she adds.

For clients with multiple pieces of equipment or those who are working at a job site, bringing it into the shop for repairs is usually not an option. In those cases, Monroe Tractor dispatches a service truck that takes the shop capabilities out into the field, directly to the customer.

‘Well-Oiled Machine’

During its nearly 65 years in business, Monroe Tractor has always looked to expand if given the right opportunity, Wilkas says. “It’s really about making sure we are operating at our best and we’re a well-oiled machine before we take on more,” she explains. Monroe Tractor found one such opportunity in 2008 when the company acquired SC Hansen, a competing Case and Case IH dealer, and expanded its New York operations to the cities of Albany, Elmira, Binghamton and Hornell. 

The company has no immediate plans for another acquisition or expansion, but even if its number of dealerships remains the same, Monroe Tractor will continue to grow its market. Wilkas believes the roadwork and aggregate side of the business will help fuel future activity. For the last two years, Monroe Tractor has been taking cues from the farming product specialists it already has in place to build a similar team focused on supporting this niche market. “Because it’s a specialty product, we found it really needed dedicated support,” Wilkas says.

The Wirtgen specialists are currently a team of three: one to manage the team, one to focus on service and parts and one expert salesperson. Having those product specialists has helped the company build better relationships with customers and increased its repeat business, Wilkas says. “What we’re trying to focus on now is continuing to build relationships and create new ones so we can have a bigger share of the market,” she explains. 

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