Automation is Only One Piece of the Puzzle

Beverly Written by Beverly Leavitt February 24, 2023 Member Updates

Four men standing in front of a white tent on a sunny day holding a STIHL trophy.

Come along with us. We’re travelling to the not-so-distant future. 

Our guide today is Craig Smith of O’Neil’s Farm Equipment in Binbrook. 

But first, let’s take a quick look back. 

The Short Version of History

O’Neil’s was founded in 1917-1918 by Jim O’Neil, who later transferred ownership to his son, Maurice. 

In the 50s, Maurice brought Home Hardware into the dealership to provide farmers with plumbing supplies. This was shortly followed by International Harvester, who began producing Cub Cadet for the lawn and garden market.

In 1962, Larry Smith joined the dealership after working for International Harvester in Hamilton. He later purchased the business in 1971 and opened a second location in Dunnville. Due to high interest rates in the 80s, he had to make the decision to close this location. His sons Casey and Craig joined the dealership, and now all three of them run it together. 

“Casey runs the sales department and helps manage the business, I run the office and oversee the parts and service department, and Larry checks in daily to make sure we don’t squander his retirement fund,” Craig laughs. 

Over the years, O’Neil’s, like many other dealers, has experienced change. The manufacturers come and go, their product lines change, and sometimes the business just doesn’t adapt in the same direction the manufacturers do. 

As a result, the Smiths dropped the Home Hardware business and shifted toward their other core product lines. 

Either Move Forward or Fall Stagnant

It’s easy to look back and see the trends and reasons for what took place. It’s a little harder to look forward and anticipate what will come next. 

But since Craig started in the shop with the dealership, the tech side of the business holds a strong interest.

“Autonomous is the next thing coming down the pipe, and it fascinates the hell out of me,” exclaims Craig. 

“I have an idea of how it will progress in the industry, and it will be interesting to see what actually takes place. With all the advancements in technology, we’ve focused on growing the technical side of the business and hired a GPS specialist.”

Two Sides to the Story 

The switch to automation has obvious implications for the farmer’s ability to repair their own equipment, and with the current climate in the US, the conversation turned to the “right to repair.”

Craig shares, “we’ve had a couple of customers purchase the service software tool, and it makes sense for them. For the average farmer, the expense isn’t always advantageous.”

Outside of the option to repair it independently or not, Craig sees some other potential issues.

“It’s a double-edged sword, and it puts the companies and dealers into a legal grey area. I don’t blame the manufacturer for protecting their technology, but what scares me is a customer or outside technician changing the transmission speed, emissions, or another safety aspect. Who does the liability fall with? And what happens when that tractor is traded in?”

“I try to take my dad’s advice, ‘if you worried about everything that could happen, you would never get out of bed!’”

He continues, “for some of our customers, it makes sense. One is working in extremely remote conditions and has to physically get the tractor out to the road for service or repair. He needs the ability to reset the code to at least get it that far.”

Craig speculates that the right to repair in the equipment industry could have farther reaching implications. “Some of the articles I have read tell of auto manufacturers and smartphone companies who have a great interest in seeing how all this right-to-repair legal action plays out because it will affect the service side of their business as well. What’s to stop consumers from using the same argument when it comes to those products?” 

Finding the Right Resources 

Since everything is shifting toward online, it’s only natural to consider the possibility of hackers. 

“You have to take precautions against ransomware where you can, or you’ve got your head in the sand. I don’t wear a tinfoil hat, but we do our best to protect ourselves and hire the right people to try to protect us as much as possible.”

“We also rely on other people in our industry, and it helps to know that we aren’t the only dealership going through the same thing. That’s why we appreciate CEEDA. Both dad and I have been on the board and have seen the advantages and friendships that have helped us grow the business. 

We aren’t experts in everything, but we have the association to lean on. Plus, it’s way cheaper than a therapist,” closes Craig.