Cues from the Contractor

Before becoming a dealer, Doug Hampton was a landscape maintenance contractor who traveled 25 miles or more to get parts and receive major repairs. Putting the miles on driving to the nearest dealer, he saw a need for a servicing retailer in his area and he became one.

But instead of catering to the market he knows so well, the professional landscaper, Hampton became the resident expert for the do-it-yourself rural homeowner.

Dealing with the Right Products

Before opening the doors of Hampton Lawn & Garden in Marshfield, MO, Hampton was a successful landscape contractor providing lawn maintenance services to area residents. Once he tired of spending more time behind the wheel driving for parts than on his mower making money, he took on the challenge of becoming an outdoor power equipment dealer.

“In our town there wasn’t much available for equipment, parts or service,” explains Hampton. “Most of the people in this area were driving to neighboring towns and cities to find a better selection of supplies on hand. We ourselves were driving 25 miles to get to a dealer.”

In his landscaping fleet, Hampton operated Grasshopper mowers and had become acquainted with a few contacts at the equipment manufacturer.

“We set up our dealership through the sales reps we had met at Grasshopper,” says Hampton. “We started with that line and progressed from there.”

That progression included the addition of another mower line and also a handheld line. In the few years Hampton has been in business, he has learned what he needs from suppliers and assessed their offerings accordingly. Hampton knew he wanted to work with manufacturers who had a respectable brand, supported their marketing efforts, and would be a true partner for a dealer just starting out.

“As you move on you learn the support that’s needed from suppliers in order to be successful,” says Hampton. “After getting to know suppliers and how they would support us, we changed handheld lines. We keep adding new products and more parts, which has increased our selection for the customers considerably over the last few years.”

The Homeowner’s Resource

The customer base that Hampton attracts has always been more consumer than commercial, with 90% of their equipment sales coming from rural homeowners. He has used his knowledge and experience gained during his time spent as a landscape maintenance contractor to gain the trust and loyalty of customers.

A trusted dealer, Hampton isn’t just pushing the high-margin buys, but the right buys for every customer’s needs. Getting customers the right product for their needs the first time can go a long way. Hampton would rather rely on a large amount of low-margin purchases over an extended period of time than a one-time high-margin buy from a customer not likely to return.

“My past experience helps a lot when advising customers on lawn care products and how to care for their properties,” explains Hampton. “The homeowners appreciate our guidance and tend to be more loyal.”

Along with his heavy stock of equipment and parts, Hampton also offers gardening supplies, hand tools, apparel, bulk garden seed, garden hoses, lawn care chemicals and mulch. As a one-stop shop for customers, they enjoy a lot of add-on sales.

“We have a lot of customers come in just for mulch and will wander over to the equipment and start checking out the mowers,” explains Hampton. “It works both ways, and having such a wide product offering just adds to the floor traffic. The more you have the better.”

Hampton also educates his customers on how to do simple maintenance at home, reserving the service hours in the shop for repairs that bill higher. The take-home tips he offers are usually accompanied by a parts purchase.

“We stay on top of what parts are most commonly needed by our customers and are sure to keep them on hand,” says Hampton. “We want to help those that are in a bind to get their repairs done quickly.”

In the winter months, the dealership runs specials on preventative maintenance to keep the shop staff busy and the business profitable. He has five full-time staff members and three additional part-time employees in the peak season.

Wife Holly Hampton plays an active role in the business’s day-to-day operations. She manages the accounts payable and handles the inventory for parts and chemicals.

Managing for Profitability and Growth

Hampton became an outdoor power equipment dealer when business was easy. In 2004, sales in the industry were strong. Things since then have taken a turn and dealers have had to focus more and more on better business management, and so has he.

Becoming a dealer was a challenge that became more daunting with time as the recession set in. Through it all, Hampton managed to double his sales since opening. Finding ways to better handle his parts department was one way he upped his profitability. They now spend less time looking for parts, and more time pushing sales of the department’s inventory.

“Parts inventory had always been a challenge. You end up with so much of it, that it’s easy to lose track,” says Hampton. “As our parts inventory grew, we started using an Ideal Business Management System. While it’s been a little bit of a learning curve, it has helped out tremendously.”

Hampton uses the system to track inventory levels, special orders and deliveries that need to mail. They have several commercial customers that they regularly ship parts to, a number that grows every year.

With their sales growth, the Hamptons were able to add 3,000 square feet to their showroom in 2008 and 1,000 square feet to the service department in 2010. The larger service area was designed to provide a better workflow.

The facility they chose when they became a dealer was decided on for its price and location. The Hamptons thought about starting from the ground up, but went for a building that sat empty for 27 years.

“We were looking to build and were interested in the property,” explains Hampton. “We nearly gutted the whole thing and built it up to our liking. The property is by a school and on a corner lot. We are not on the main side of town, but it’s a very high-traffic area.”

Future plans include a revamp of the company website so new and existing customers can learn more about the business and peruse their product offering online. Hampton himself plans to focus on learning as much as he can about the industry and more ways to better manage staff, sales, repairs and inventory.

“We talk a lot with other dealers and reps, and attend every update school we can,” explains Hampton. “In becoming a dealer we learned a lot the hard way. We’ve tried many things and just continue to search for the best way for us to manage our business.”

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