“We were able to quit floorplanning by the mid-90s,” Whitt says. “Even more important than smart selling is smart buying.” Whitt says smart buying and selling comes down to three rather common-sense principles: know what your customers like, carry quality product that sets you apart from competitors, and make customers loyal to you.
“Here’s an example,” Whitt tells. “I had learned that a certain model of string trimmer was going to be discontinued. I knew that it was a popular seller in our area. What did I do? I stocked up on as many as I could before they were no longer available. I got a lot of new customers that way.”
Worldwide Web of Parts
Plano Power has also landed hundreds of new customers via its website, PlanoPower.com. Whitt has found a “niche” in online parts sales—a pretty big niche as a matter of fact, to the tune of more than $1 million a year.
Whitt’s son Jeffrey developed the website. It features parts diagrams, tips on figuring out a product’s serial number, and an extensive library of parts from Briggs & Stratton, Honda, Toro/Lawn-Boy and more. Consumers are also able to track their orders online.
When things were in full gear this past spring, online orders had the Plano parts department shipping an average of 100 orders a day. Due to a spike in weekend website traffic, more than 200 orders often went out on Mondays. Parts orders come in from all over the country. “We even sell snowblower parts during the winter, down here from our dealership in Texas if you can believe it,” Whitt exclaims.
Plano Power’s parts department doesn’t just stock and sell popular SKUs, either. “We have a reputation that if you can’t find it at Plano Power, there’s no sense looking anywhere else,” Whitt says. “We’re not just focused on the fast-movers; if there’s a demand and we can get it, we get it.
“Nothing creates loyalty like having a part the customer needs,” Whitt continues. “That’s all the advertising I’ve ever really had to do. I can honestly say that my best marketing investment has been my parts inventory.”
View of an Industry Veteran
In 1998, Whitt had made another important investment when he purchased Whipper-Clipper, a manufacturer of lawn edgers in nearby Bonham, TX. Plano Power sells the product to end-users in its area, while also selling to dealers in other parts of the country.
Reflecting on how the industry has changed over the past decade, Whitt says many of his challenges are the same. “There are still never enough hours in the day,” he laments. “There are always legal and bureaucratic challenges, technology changes and personnel issues.”
Some things are out of a dealer’s control, but Whitt seems to have a pretty good handle on personnel-related matters. Plano Power has instituted a profit sharing plan that’s been well-received by employees. The dealership’s fiscal year ends March 31. A couple of months later, Whitt earmarks a percentage of the dealership’s total profit for the profit sharing program. Each employee’s payout is based on a percentage of their earnings for the year.
“I realize that the two most important things to a business are its customers—and its employees,” Whitt says. “Another thing that’s pretty important is the weather. The economy, on the other hand, is a different story. My overall business is not affected by the economy. What is affected is my business mix. And that’s OK, because I love selling parts.”