Sow it, Grow it, Mow it

Many dealers want to be a one-stop shop for their customers. They offer equipment, parts, service, and sometimes even lawn care and garden supplies like mulch and chemicals.

Paul Smith founded and established Sigma Organics, manufacturer and distributor of organic fertilizers, in 1999. During the next few years he was joined by brother Roger Smith and sisters Lisa Frith and Melanie Smith to help run the company.

For the Smith family, taking on an established outdoor power equipment dealership gave them the opportunity to offer even more to their customer base of golf courses, parks, municipalities and landscape contractors.

“By having an equipment division, we are able to offer a full line of service,” says Roger. The Smiths have gone on to expand the parts and equipment offering as well as offer educational opportunities for customers. Through it all, they have positioned themselves as a reliable resource in both businesses.

Maintaining a parts focus

The Smiths purchased the established Chilton Turf Center with locations in Nashville and Arrington, TN, in 2006. The dealership was known for its strong parts focus with a large inventory of parts numbers. The Smiths continue to offer a large inventory both in-store and now online.

“Because the Chilton name has been synonymous with small engine parts since 1975, we continue to focus on parts availability,” says Roger. “A significant part of the dealership’s total sales come from parts and accessories.”

While the majority of total sales come from parts, online parts sales represent a small amount of sales overall. The online service was added to increase customer satisfaction.

“The main goal of the online parts lookup availability was to add another service for our equipment-purchasing customers. Any other online part sales are simply an added bonus,” explains Roger. “The online parts availability allows both the commercial and consumer customers to view equipment at their leisure and order service parts for delivery or pick-up at the store.”

Offering the parts lookup is especially attractive to commercial customers who work past the dealership’s closing time and on weekends. They are able to order parts any time of the night and pick them up at the designated commercial-only parts counter at either of the two dealership locations. “Melanie is the magic behind the curtain,” says Roger. “She makes the extensive inventory of 25,000 parts manageable and profitable. She relies heavily on her business sense and the parts management system to keep parts inventory balanced and current.”

The parts kept in stock at Chilton Turf Center are primarily service parts for the brands they sell. “With the service parts in-stock, we can offer a quick turnaround on most service orders,” explains Roger. “This is highly appreciated by the commercial as well as the consumer customer.”

Offering more for thehomeowner

The parts inventory is not the only thing that has seen expansion. When the Smith family took over Chilton Turf Center in 2006, the dealership had a strong focus on commercial-level equipment. With homeowners coming in for service and eyeing equipment beyond their needs, the Smiths saw a need to re-evaluate their product lines.

They have expanded their equipment offering to include more options for the homeowner and in turn have grown their customer base greatly. They see more traffic on the showroom floor and in the service department.

“Our original customer base was the commercial customer, but as situations changed we put more effort into attracting the homeowners,” says Roger. “We offer more products, parts and service for the consumer. We have also increased our advertising in both TV and radio with the consumer in mind.”

Making these changes has shifted their customer base from nearly 100% commercial to 70% commercial and 30% consumer. The increase in consumer customers brought an increase in the overall customer base, tripling sales since they purchased the dealership five years ago.

“Our sales growth since we took over was due to the increase in consumer customers and the addition of more consumer-type equipment,” says Roger. “The entire company has had to learn to diversify into as many new markets as possible.”

An invaluable resource

The company solidified sales into the organics market, and then took on the challenge of becoming outdoor power equipment dealers. Through it all they have learned that the best way to position themselves as a business was as an invaluable resource to their customers.

The business model they developed with Sigma Organics proved to be a good fit for Chilton Turf Center as well. They make it a point to give customers easy access to products and service, as well as educate them along the way.

Customers are given access to online parts lookup, equipment pickup and delivery for service, and annual reminders of service needed. On top of that, they also offer many educational opportunities in the form of classes for consumer and commercial customers.

“Since 1999 Sigma Organics has either sponsored or held industry classes for commercial customers. These classes were related to the application of the materials sold by Sigma,” explains Roger. “Taking this concept of providing an added value to our customers, we started holding classes at least once a year in engine maintenance, engine troubleshooting, mower maintenance, chainsaw safety, and two-cycle operations and maintenance. With the change in fuels, we have added a class on proper use, mix and storage of today’s fuels.”

They give customers personalized attention in selling both Sigma Organics products and equipment. Sigma Organics products are available for purchase at the two dealership locations by homeowners and contractors. This is an added convenience for contractors who need Sigma products on the weekend when the Sigma store is closed.

“Sigma not only sells products, they analyze the customers’ situation and then offer a number of solutions,” says Roger. The Smiths do the same by asking questions of the customer to help determine the right power equipment for their needs.

With the increase in customers comes an increase in service orders. There, too, customers are treated to personal service that includes a follow-up call after each work order. Discounts are given on service and parts in the offseason.

“The service department has become our largest customer,” says Roger. “The personal approach for each customer has been the driving point for an increased customer base for the service department.”

Customers are also given the option of submitting a description of repair or maintenance needs online and receiving a quote before bringing equipment in. This saves the customer and the service department time when equipment is dropped off.

The Smith family has focused on offering more to each business’s customer base. By positioning themselves as a reliable resource, they have continued to grow the customer base and sales for both sides of their complimentary businesses.