Customer Service That Sells

HOW WE DID IT:

- Holding strong on prices to maintain a high level of service

- Provide one-on-one interaction between customers and technicians

- Offer landcape customers solutions to make their businesses more profitable

For Joel Thomas at Oakboro Ag, Power & Turf in Oakboro, NC, growing his business and remaining profitable has been about taking care of his customers. Holding strong on equipment prices affords him the time and resources to give customers the individual service they deserve and require.

Thomas refers to his dealership as “your super-store for farm, landscape and yard needs.” They sell lawn and garden tractors, zero-turn and walk-behind mowers, the full spectrum of handheld equipment, trenchers and tillers, utility vehicles and more. They’ve added medium-hp tractors for the growing hobby farmer market, along with mulch, fertilizer and other landscape materials for their diversifying landscape customers. The dealership has also branched into irrigation supplies and propane-powered mowers.

With past droughts in the area and a slowed economy challenging their competition, they have seen many dealership doors close. Oakboro has outlasted the other dealers by maintaining their prices and growing their customer base.

“We’ve seen a few of our competitors close their doors, and have been fortunate to pick up some of their customers and employees,” says Thomas. “Their customers come in here and say, ‘Hey, your prices are higher than so and so’s were.’ I respond with, ‘You’re exactly right, which is why we’re still open and able to take care of you today.’”

You have to make a profit if you want to keep your doors open long-term. “Most customers will understand and appreciate that when you explain it to them,” Thomas adds.

Service for All

At Oakboro, they have figured out that making a profit is about more than simply holding strong on your prices. Service is a healthy contributor to Oakboro’s overall profitability and remains the dealership’s primary business builder. As Thomas points out, anyone can sell something. It’s the service that gets the customer to come back.

For such a large dealership, it’s unique that Oakboro Ag, Power & Turf is willing to service brands it does not sell—even the more inexpensive handheld equipment. Thomas says it’s been a great way to build their customer database, which is now in the thousands. He’s also found a couple ways to make it profitable.

One technician is assigned to this equipment and works out of a bay at the far end of the service department. He’s neighbored by another two-cycle technician. Commercial turf techs work at the other end of the shop. Larger tractors are serviced in an adjacent building. “Everybody stays out of each other’s way,” Thomas explains. “As long as working on off-brand equipment doesn’t bog our shop down, I’m happy to do it.”

A True Resource for Customers

Technicians stay in the shop, although Thomas is an advocate of allowing them to interact with customers from time to time. Some dealers don’t like this because it cuts into shop productivity. Thomas says there’s a trick to making it work.

“If a customer really wants to talk with a technician, we escort the customer back to the service bay,” Thomas says. “Our guys are good—they can talk and work at the same time. So they don’t really stop working, and the downtime of having to walk out to the front counter isn’t an issue.”

This doesn’t happen very often. But when it does, the result is a happier customer. Even for a large dealership like Oakboro Ag, Power & Turf, this personal touch is why so many first-time customers have become lifelong customers.

Thomas and the Oakboro staff take their role as adviser and educator very seriously—not only with technical information, but also business information for their professional customers. “I’m always talking to my landscapers, especially the newer guys, about how business is going and what they’re charging for their services,” Thomas says. “I talk to them about making a profit and planning for that day when they need to replace their equipment. Some listen, and unfortunately some don’t.”

Oakboro’s more established contractors who often grow frustrated when new cutters come into the market and low-ball. Thomas’ efforts to educate these new contractors and encourage them to charge what they’re worth goes a long way with his established customers. He explains: “I have to make money to stay in business, and so do my customers.”

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