Deere uses e-hubs to build relationships with dealers

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In 1998, John Deere & Co.’s agricultural division began looking for ways to help its U.S. dealers capitalize on the significant market for used agricultural equipment. Deere wanted to strengthen its relationships with those dealers and help them sell equipment more efficiently.

One way the company has done this is through online marketplaces that allow its dealers to search a database of used equipment. In 1998, Deere launched Used Xpress, a b-to-b Web marketplace created by Banta Integrated Media, Cambridge, Mass. Used Xpress, which dealers subscribe to on a monthly basis, currently has 1,300 dealers signed up.

When a customer asks for used equipment that the dealer doesn’t have in stock, the dealer can satisfy that request from another dealer’s inventory, said Roger Johnson, the agricultural division’s marketing manager. "Now he can say: ‘I don’t have one, but I can find you one,’" Johnson said.

Within a year of its launch, Used Xpress spawned a hybrid site called Machine Finder, aimed at businesses and consumers. Initially, the public site sold both new and used equipment via dealers or resellers. In many cases, dealers posted their used inventory on both Used Xpress and Machine Finder.

The two sites allowed dealers to serve customers, but they had no comprehensive method of organizing the product information. As the online inventory grew, thumbnail photos of equipment became inadequate because potential buyers had to scan pages of equipment instead of honing in quickly on a category, manufacturer or geographic location.

So Banta went back to the drawing board earlier this year and found a way to organize the more than 40,000 pieces of equipment in a searchable database. It applied that solution to the Machine Finder site in mid-July. It also created an online interface so the dealers and the manufacturer could easily access it and update content.

The database now generates search results as tables so users can compare products. A new administrative interface enables all parties to update content. In addition, the software helps overseas managers translate the site’s text into seven languages with only a keystroke, said Doug Gray, Banta’s art director.

Since the Machine Finder site relaunched, John Deere has seen a 40% increase in traffic, to about 2 million hits a week, with more than 75,000 pieces of equipment viewed a week, Johnson said. Based on this early success, Deere asked Banta to overhaul the Used Xpress site using the same product-management technology. Deere hopes to have the new system in place by the end of the year.

Deere sees the marketplaces as a boon to its business.

"We know that when dealers get overstocked with used equipment, they stop selling new equipment," Johnson said. "Used equipment sales help sell new equipment, because everyone’s got something to trade in."

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