Cultivating Relationships with Farmers All Over the World
CLAAS in North America
CLAAS is a family-owned business that has been producing agricultural equipment for more than a century. Founded by August Claas in 1913 and headquartered in Harsewinkel, Germany, the global company has since expanded to include manufacturing facilities in 11 different countries, from Krosnodar, Russia to Omaha, Nebraska.
CLAAS machines have been harvesting crops in North American fields since the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1979 that CLAAS of America was born. The CLAAS North American Headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, is home to three entities: CLAAS North America Holdings Inc. (the holding company for all North American activities); CLAAS of America Inc. (the sales company for CLAAS in North America); and CLAAS Omaha Inc. (the production company for CLAAS in North America).
When CLAAS Omaha was originally established in 1999, it began production with the LEXION combine series. These combine harvesters, or simply combines, are among the world’s largest and most reliable, designed to harvest grain crops efficiently. Other CLAAS products marketed here in North America include forage harvesters, round balers, square balers, tractors, hay tools, and precision farming technologies. The CLAAS enterprise has remained firmly committed to the agricultural industry, specializing in harvesting products, since its inception more than a hundred years ago.
Agribusiness has changed a lot over the last 105 years, but CLAAS has endured due to the value that it places not only on the industry, but also on the end users: the farmers.
“CLAAS values our relationship with farmers,” says Eric Raby, President and GM of Sales for CLAAS of America. “By and large one of the key performance indicators we have is customer satisfaction. We really have two sets of constituent customers: one is the end user, and the other is the dealer network we work with. We pay close attention to taking care of the customer and want to have a close relationship with them to stay in tune with what’s going on in their operation.”
CLAAS of America’s Omaha headquarters has an interesting history. When CLAAS established its first physical presence in the United States, it was headquartered in Columbus, Indiana. In 1999, the manufacturing company CLAAS Omaha Ltd. began as a 50-50 joint venture between CLAAS and Caterpillar, the world’s largest construction equipment manufacturer and a Fortune 100 company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The entities partnered to produce LEXION combine harvesters under the CAT brand. In 2002, Caterpillar decided to exit the agricultural market, and CLAAS bought out Caterpillar’s share. The two multinational firms now share a friendly relationship, as the combines CLAAS produces are still sold through Caterpillar dealers as well as other distribution channels. The original headquarters of CLAAS of America in Columbus, Indiana is now its North American Parts Distribution Center.
Raby tells us that there are many ways that CLAAS cultivates its relationships with customers. “We have a very comprehensive customer satisfaction program where we reach out to customers the year after their first purchase as well as during the second year,” he shares. “We want to know what’s going on with the customer and their relationship with the dealer.”
Additionally, CLAAS actively participates in a number of local, regional, and national farm shows and hosts events before, during, or after the show to inform the public about agriculture-related topics and products. Last year, CLAAS displayed new product developments at Agritechnica, the world’s leading trade fair for agricultural technology, featuring thousands of exhibitors and almost half a million visitors at its Hanover, Germany location. CLAAS brought a large group of farmers to the show and offered them an opportunity to extensively tour its facilities in Germany and France.
Then last month, CLAAS introduced a new range of square balers into the marketplace. This new model of QUADRANT series balers was introduced at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California. CLAAS is constantly developing and updating its products, and farmers can expect to see further innovations in the near future.
Moreover, CLAAS uses a number of CRM (customer relationship management) tools to reach out to customers and stay in touch after agricultural shows as well, so the firm has an idea of who would be interested in the LEXION combine harvesters and other equipment the company produces. CLAAS also conducts joint events with its distribution partners/dealers to hold “customer clinics.” In these customer clinics, CLAAS sends its service and salespeople to the dealer’s premises to meet with customers and discuss best harvest practices, harvesting issues, and how its machines can be improved.
“There are a lot of ways that we engage with our customers, and we also encourage our dealers to engage directly with the customers and do whatever we can to support that, whether it’s direct mail to bring customers to an event, or to let them know of new technology and products. We work closely with our dealers as well as with customers because ultimately, we cannot be in as many places with our customers on a daily basis as our dealers can. That’s why we rely quite heavily on them,” says Raby.
Indeed, CLAAS’ commitment to farmers is evident in the positive way that it has consistently treated its dealers and end consumers for over a hundred years. That being said, Raby also points out that no business can do the same thing for over a hundred years and remain an industry leader. CLAAS is an agile, innovative company that is always open to growth and improvement.
Two years ago, CLAAS purchased Shredlage, LLC – a manufacturer of a critical component of CLAAS’ forage harvesters. This move allows the company’s industry leading JAGUAR forage harvesters to produce a highly nutritious form of corn silage for dairy cattle. SHREDLAGE® is a patented conditioning process that enhances the feed value of silage and provides a better milk-conversion ratio. It involves chopping the plants to greater lengths, and then processing the chopped material with a special SHREDLAGE® processor.
In late 2017, CLAAS opened a new facility in Dissen, Germany to serve as its global electronics development center—a large, eight-figure investment. The state-of-the-art facility prepares CLAAS to serve its customers in a digital future, where electronic assistance systems, software, and communication technologies are becoming increasingly important.
“We are looking at all the facets of our relationship with dealers and customers, and which parts can be streamlined or digitized in such a way to not just make them automated for the sake of automation, but more efficient and with a better interface for the customers,” Raby explains of the 105-year-old business, which has never shied away from the use of technology.
Overall, the harvesting equipment powerhouse employs more than 11,500 people. In Dissen, more than 170 software developers, engineers and other specialists from CLAAS E-Systems are doing pioneering work, and about 250 people are employed at CLAAS of America’s headquarters.
Raby mentions that when hiring, CLAAS looks for those who genuinely care about taking care of the customer. Though classified as a manufacturer, at the end of the day, CLAAS is a people business, and therefore customer service skills are paramount.
“We’re not as much about hierarchy as we are about getting the job done: focusing on the needs of the customer, listening, and making sure we’re not the ones talking all the time. It’s quite amazing if you stay connected to the customer, how much they’ll tell you and how much of that you can put to work. This is not only in terms of future product development, but also making things easy from a process standpoint. So, we look first and foremost for someone who genuinely has the customer’s best interest at heart.”
Looking to the future, CLAAS of America would like to continue its development by expediting delivery and service solutions in its parts and services division and maintaining seamless integration of technology into machines.
“We maintain a truly open architecture, where not only can we put our own technology solution on a machine, but also a third party’s. We will continue to have that stance, because it’s like being able to read an Excel sheet—a Microsoft product—on an iPhone, which is an Apple product. Customers expect that seamless interaction, and we want to continue to deliver that on the machine side,” Raby explains.
CLAAS is also looking to broaden its footprint in North America, both regionally (in terms of locations and its ability to reach greater numbers of people from within those location centers) and product-wise by broadening its portfolio. “We have the introduction of some fairly significant harvesting products on the horizon,” Raby reveals.