Anyone who’s had the opportunity to tour Plano Power Equipment in the Dallas suburb of Plano, TX, will tell you that the only thing outnumbering the parts SKUs in stock are the witty one-liners coming out of owner Glen Whitt’s mouth. Both have helped build the dealership’s reputation over the past 36 years.
“I’ve never really tried to grow this business,” Whitt relates, adding that all he and his staff have ever tried to do is give their absolute best. “Then again, even a blind hog will find an acorn now and then.”
Whitt is hardly the equivalent of a blind hog. In fact, some consider him a real visionary. His dealership was ahead of the curve with respect to shifting wholegoods inventory from lawn tractors to zero-turn mowers. Plano Power was also one of the first independent servicing dealerships to say it would only service what it sold. “You cannot be all things to all people,” Whitt says. “Pick your lines and service them well.”
A couple of years ago, Plano Power became one of the first U.S. power equipment dealers to earn NAEDA Power Pro Dealer status. “It’s another tool to use as a way of showing support to the industry,” Whitt says. “It also distinguishes us as a capable servicing dealer.”
Whitt was also quick to realize, many years ago, that the Internet presented the opportunity to dramatically expand parts sales. Today, roughly 40% of the dealership’s near $7 million in annual sales come from parts—and nearly 40% of those sales take place online.
This all sounds like a pretty well thought-out strategy, not just some hog bumping his snout into an acorn by accident. Back in the early ’80s, however, it was a different story.
Stubborn Trumps Scared
Plano Power Equipment was founded in 1962, but Whitt didn’t enter the equation until 1974 when he became a co-owner with two partners. By the end of that year Whitt was the sole owner of the dealership, in addition to holding down his other job as a junior high school shop teacher. He relied heavily on his right-hand man to run the dealership.
Come 1980, however, Whitt’s right-hand man decided to go into business for himself by purchasing another dealership. “I went from the frying pan into the fire,” Whitt recalls. “The thing was, I never had enough sense to be scared.” Actually, it was more a matter of not having enough time to be scared.
Plano Power (at that time known as Plano Motor Mart) continued to grow steadily year after year. By 1986 it was topping the million-dollar mark. “We were highly profitable, too,” Whitt says.
Things were really good—maybe too good to last. The City of Plano kicked Whitt out of the store he was renting when it purchased the building from the owner. Suddenly, Whitt had a flourishing business on his hands, but nowhere to operate it from.
He decided to build a new dealership in a growing part of town. The 11,000-square-foot building sits on two-thirds of an acre; a third is devoted to showroom while the rest is used for parts storage, equipment setup and service. Excess parts inventory (including slow-movers) are stored on the second floor of the building, along with walk mowers and handheld equipment that can’t fit on the showroom floor.
As exciting as this point in the dealership’s history was, it was also one of the most unnerving. “We almost went under,” Whitt says, pointing to the struggling economy of the mid- to late-80s and a jump in overhead when moving into the new store. “Thankfully, my suppliers were very patient, and I was too stubborn to give up.”
Buy Smart, Sell Smart
Plano Power made it through, and was back to growing sales again. Whitt also got a handle on his new overhead burden, and soon managed profits back to a healthy level. This was about the same time that Whitt recognized the virtues of savvy buying.