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.
“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.”