Upfront: “The Dealer Experience” lives up to its name

By Steve Noe

I recently had the pleasure of serving on a committee featuring some of the finest consumer-oriented dealers as part of “The Dealer Experience” at the inaugural GIE+EXPO in Louisville, Ky. With a theme of “A Guide to Profitability,” this educational program was sponsored by the Ariens Company and Stihl Inc., with the North American Equipment Dealers Association serving as host and Kevin Lephart as program coordinator.

The consumer dealers committee was one of four committees that met and shared best business practices for four hours: two hours privately the day before the show and two hours publicly with fellow dealers in a panel discussion during the show. The other three committees consisted of commercial dealers, multi-location dealers, and landscapers.

I was extremely impressed with the best business practices of the consumer dealers committee. For example, Jerry Clay of Clay’s Power Equipment, Raleigh, N.C., established “Clay’s Cutter Club,” which customers may join for free with the purchase of any new homeowner mower from his dealership. Club members receive the following for free: 1) unlimited blade sharpening for as long as they own the mower (blade must be off the mower); 2) priority repair/maintenance service with faster turnaround times; 3) initial delivery on any riding mower purchase within the delivery zone; 4) initial oil change and check-over during the first 90 days after purchase (additional charge for oil filters); 5) pickup and delivery on preseason tune-ups during December and January (must be within the delivery zone); 6) 90 days same as cash on any mower purchase for qualified buyers with Clay’s Cutter Card; and 7) subscription to “Clay’s E-Clips” e-mail newsletter, which has service tips and exclusive offers. “We were already doing many of these things,” Clay said. “But we started telling them upfront about it through the Cutter Club.”

For every riding mower sold at Clay’s Power Equipment, a 6-inch by 8-inch, color decal with the dealership’s logo and phone number is slapped on the back of the seat. “When a landscaper goes down the road, you see it pretty clearly,” Clay said with a smile. “It allows us to know the mower is from us, and it’s good advertising.”

Other consumer dealers shared equally creative best business practices. Jeff Smith of Twin City Outdoor Equipment, West Monroe, La., hangs hundreds of handheld units from his showroom ceiling, while Michael Howell of Central Outdoor Power Sales, Baton Rouge, La., carpets his showroom floor because “women are involved in 75 percent of the buying decisions, and carpeting makes them feel comfortable.” J.P. Bliss of German-Bliss Equipment Inc. said that he bought a $600 flashing neon sign for his dealership in East Peoria, Ill., and it has “worked wonders” to attract business from a nearby highway.

Terry Coffin of Beards Outdoor Power Equipment, Crestwood, Ky., holds an annual “balloon sales event” in the spring. He mails invites to his customers for this one-day sale, and the first 70 customers to purchase a serialized product and present the invite get a chance to pop a balloon. Each balloon contains a $5 to $500 discount, with only one at $500.

Other best business practices included guerilla marketing tactics, menu pricing, on- versus off-the-bar chain sharpening pricing, color-coded inventory control systems, hang tags, do-it-yourself extended product protection programs, document fees, pre-pay parts orders, parts cabinets, on-hold phone messages, mailings, radio advertising, facility appearance, and customer dos and don’ts.

I would like to thank the sponsors, as well as all of the dealers who either served on a committee or attended a panel discussion. I would like to give special thanks to those who joined me on the consumer dealers committee. In addition to Lephart, Clay, Smith, Howell, Bliss and Coffin, they were Bob Burmeister, Cedarburg Outdoor Power Equipment Inc., Cedarburg, Wis.; Jim Miller, Four All Seasons Outdoor Equipment Center, Inc., Harrisburg, Pa.; Garry Thompson, T&S Mower Service, Olmsted Falls, Ohio; and Chris Wallace, Wallace & Son, Thomson, Ga.

OPE Editor Steve Noe


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