Just as the eyes are often referred to as the window to the soul, a distinctive showroom can be the window to an OPE dealership’s success.
So when Allpower Equipment in Athens, Ohio, was once again flooded by the neighboring Hocking River overflowing its banks in 2020 – the third time in 24 years – owners Gil Elmore and Tom Parfitt decided the time was right to create a brand-new showroom far from the river’s reach. He had, in fact, prepared for this: Nearly 20 years ago, a new building had been constructed on higher ground behind the existing showroom. The plan at the time was to establish a new showroom, but the timing was off; instead, they used the new building for service and warehouse space.
A watery start to 2021, however, provided the perfect motivation, and the Allpower team knew just what it wanted to do to serve its customer base.
Tractors, mowers and much more
In business since 1996, Allpower serves Athens County and southeastern Ohio with two locations: the primary dealership in Athens and another in Lancaster, about 45 miles away. Athens is a small college town with a “permanent” population of about 25,000, but that number nearly doubles when the university’s classes are in session and students return to town.
The company boasts two primary product lines – Kubota (it won a Kubota Premier Award of Excellence Award in 2019 and 2020, and a Kubota Elite award for service in 2021) and Cub Cadet – as well as Honda, Stihl, Ferris and more, including small power equipment. Tractors make up approximately 60 percent of its sales, with mowers accounting for 30 percent.
Most of Allpower’s business comes from consumers and small landowners, says Brian Travis, Allpower Athens assistant manager, company webmaster and director of customer happiness/well-being.
“We don’t have a lot of the commercial business that dealers in larger cities and metropolises have – for instance, we have just two golf courses,” he says. “We’re probably at about 5-10 percent commercial max, we’re typically selling to homeowners, landowners and a bit to ag/farmers, although we’re not a huge ag area.”
At Allpower, customer relations is a priority. “We do a lot of things other dealers don’t when it comes to customers – for instance, follow-up calls after all sales,” says Travis. “You can’t keep the dealership alive without the customer.”
Creating a unique customer experience
When it came time to design what would become the new showroom, Elmore already had some general ideas in mind. He still took the time, however, to bounce initial questions off the staff – asking about their specific needs and requirements.
“We really wanted to make the new showroom interesting and exciting, a place customers would want to come into,” says Travis. “We wanted it to be different from the standard showroom, and feel more open and spacious but still be easy to maintain and clean.”
In the end, they settled on a theme that was certain to stand out: “We wanted to create the feel of walking through a small town in the 1950s or ‘60s, providing customers with a unique experience and atmosphere,” says Travis.
Elmore produced the two-floor showroom’s final design, while the actual construction was executed by Allpower’s own Bryan Young, the company’s delivery driver, with some help from other employees. “Like all dealerships, we tend to slow down in the off months, so we took advantage of the time and all pitched in where we could,” says Travis.
The new showroom’s first floor includes these offices/faux buildings, all resembling storefronts in Anytown, USA:
- A sales counter, designed to reflect the look of a 1960s Texaco service station;
- Finance, resembling a local bank;
- Sales manager;
- Finance 2; and
A breakroom and two restrooms make up the rest of the first floor, with the service area located behind the offices. The second floor, primarily for employees, comprises three offices as well as a small kitchenette and another restroom.
All told, the new showroom comes in at around 4,000 square feet, says Travis. “It’s just about the same size as our old showroom, but we have fewer obstacles, like pillars, to work around.”
‘As soon as it hits the floor, it’s gone’
Although the new showroom launched during the pandemic, “We’ve had a very good year – sales are great,” says Travis. “We don’t currently have the inventory we’d like to see, of course.
“And I would have loved to have seen what our numbers would have been this year if we had everything we would have normally had,” he continues. “Right now, for instance, we only have three Cub Cadet mowers that have not been sold. We have a little bit of inventory coming in at a time, but as soon as it hits the floor, it’s gone. It’s all trickle down. So, for instance, tillers were held up all through spring. Now we’re selling tillers, and we’ll have tillers for spring again next year. Hopefully, manufacturers will be able to rebuild their stock up again this fall and winter. But, anything we order right now we might not receive until March or April of 2022.”
Similarly, they’re also experiencing a scarcity of used equipment: “We’re not seeing any used equipment come in. I’m not sure if that’s because people are trying to hold onto their equipment longer, or maybe they’re selling it themselves. And any used equipment we do have come in is typically gone within a couple of days,” says Travis.
When used equipment is brought in, Allpower will market it in a variety of ways – everything from custom ads to eBay.
“A little bit of everything,” says Travis. “Our website is different from many others – we don’t use a standard template that you might find with many dealers. Instead, we decided against having a cookie-cutter look online, and we’ve designed our own site. I’ll create custom ads for used equipment and we’ll place those on our site. And we do sell a little on eBay – and some customers will first look on eBay and then come into the store to buy.”
Recognizing the value of a good tech
Service has been a mainstay and Allpower has been striving to offer onsite as well as in-house techs. “We’re trying to put a little more effort into that. It’s typically a lot more difficult to bring a tractor in than send a tech out,” he says. “But if we have to send a tech out to a customer a couple of times, then it might make more sense to just bring the tractor in.”
Currently, the bigger challenge can be finding a quality technician – or any position, for that matter, says Travis. Allpower relies on word-of-mouth as well as several online resources, including Facebook, indeed.com, Monster and Craigslist.
“There are a lot of considerations that go into a new hire, especially a tech position. The more interviews and people you meet, the closer you can get to that ‘ideal’ employee,” he says. “The tech position is one you’re going to be investing time in, especially with a multi-line store like ours.
“Beyond small engines and diesel, you have manufacturer-specific training. It’s important to find the right candidate before making that investment,” he continues. “Finding a tech is one thing, finding a good tech is another and can be quite challenging. You have to find the right balance – someone whose work you’ll trust, someone worthy of putting your time into, and someone who will quickly benefit your company. I see a lot of applicants applying for a tech position but not very many stand out, or they have very little to no experience or knowledge.”
When you do find a good tech, he says, “You hold on to them as long as you can and you make sure they succeed. The better your tech does, the better the company does as a whole.”
This article first appeared in our September 2021 issue.