Caterpillar is making some big changes to its retail experience with the goal of making buying a machine faster and easier.
Specifically, Cat is encouraging its dealers to clearly display pricing on new machines, something the automotive industry has long provided, but the heavy equipment industry has largely shied away from.
This all started with an effort to better reach and provide a more hassle-free shopping experience to buyers in the market for Cat’s compact equipment. Alex Stokman, Cat’s retail development manager for North America, says the company surveyed its own dealers and the showrooms of the competition, and also took some time to better understand the car- and truck-buying experience. “A lot of our compact construction equipment is kind of on par in terms of price with a luxury car or a well-suited pickup,” Stokman says.
We sat down with Stokman to discuss the new strategy and you can watch our full conversation in the video below.
A lot of Cat’s compact equipment is bought by small business owners including landscapers, plumbers and farmers. Usually, these customers buy between one and three pieces of equipment and many times these purchases are made without even coming into the dealership.
“This is not a traditional Caterpillar customer,” she adds. “As such we didn’t do a good job of serving that customer base. But that customer base is extraordinarily critical to Caterpillar… All of our dealers, especially here in North America, the majority of their unit opportunity comes from these smaller customers, which we have dubbed ‘Retail Customers’.”
Stokman says Cat’s answer to this problem is to make Cat retail stores a one-stop shop that is easy to navigate and browse—even if you don’t want to talk to a salesperson.
“We need to make sure that once they get into our showrooms that they can see exactly what it is that they’re looking for,” Stokman says, adding that they want to keep customers from driving around a dealer campus looking for a parts counter or rental pricing.
In other words, if a customer wants to explore a Cat retail store completely on their own, gathering prices and browsing Cat swag as they go, Cat wants them to be able to do just that.
“It’s our job as a manufacturer to make sure that we are giving these customers options of how they want to view our equipment and our machines. So within the showroom, you can find all the specs (and pricing) you need to know about those machines but you can also find it digitally, online,” Stokman says.
And if you need to buy a machine, but can’t go into a store due to time or other constraints, Caterpillar is now starting to offer online equipment purchases as well. Stokman says right now 20 percent of its North American dealers are offering online machine sales. However, by the end of 2020, every dealer in North America will offer this service.
Though online machine sales might seem like the hardest piece of this new retail strategy to get dealers on board with, it was actually the plan to clearly mark machines with easy-to-understand pricing that gave many dealers the heaviest pause. To show the extent to which this mindset affected some dealers, Stokman said that in one dealership she visited, even the Cat ball caps on sale inside the showroom weren’t marked with a price tag.
Beyond empowering customers to shop smarter and with less hassle, Stokman says sticker pricing will also help combat an aspect of the Cat brand that is normally a huge advantage but sometimes causes issues in connecting with customers.
“[Compact equipment] customers see Caterpillar as an aspirational brand. They know that it’s a premium product and they make an assumption that it comes with a premium price—which we sometimes have talked ourselves into as well,” Stokman says, adding that hiding the price of their machines tends to add to the belief for many customers that Cat machines simply aren’t within their reach.
Stokman says the sticker price tells “folks these machines are more affordable than what they think. Now this becomes more attainable and achievable than just a pipe dream that they could not afford. Once that barrier comes down it’s incredible how we can work with customers.”
Ultimately, Stokman says dealers were convinced. Cat is rolling out on-machine pricing to dealerships across North America starting with compact equipment including UTVs, compact excavators, skid steers, backhoes and more. Stokman says the strategy could extend to larger machines in the future.
“We’ve brought a lot of strategies to our dealers over the years, but I’m proud to say that this is the one strategy that every dealer in North America has committed to be on,” she says.
For those customers who are ready to buy, Stokman says Cat has done a lot of work on making that process faster too.
“We have worked to smooth out that process, inclusive of getting credit decisions through Cat Financial. So now you’re taking a few hours to get that machine in your hand, on the trailer, loaded up going out the door, versus what used to be in some instances, more than several hours and in several instances, days.”