With a customer base that reaches an estimated 40-mile radius, the dealership makes deliveries cost-effective by adjusting pricing with distance.
Bertels employees (left to right) Dan, Rich, Kyle, Rod, Vance, Bill and Darren.
Customers can view and purchase parts inventory online, and have it delivered or pick it up in the store.
Bertels Sales & Service
Owners: Carole and Vance Miller
Employees: 6 full-time, 4 part-time
Annual Sales: $1-3 million
Sales Mix: 60% wholegoods, 40% parts and service
Customer Sales Mix: 70% consumer, 30% commercial
Shop Labor Rate: $60 per hour
Major Lines: Ferris, Husqvarna, Shindaiwa, Simplicity, Snapper, Stihl
Having a dedicated, knowledgeable staff along with loyal customers is what helps a dealership achieve success. That is especially the case for Bertels Sales & Service located in small-town Dorsey, IL.
Carole Miller bought the already-established dealership in 2002, when the power equipment business was strong. With little experience, she relied heavily on her staff for the next few years as the industry took a turn for the worse. Despite the industry’s downturn, their sales have grown every year since she took over the business.
EMPLOYEES HELP TRANSITION THE BUSINESS TO NEW OWNERSHIP
Carole and her son Vance took over the dealership without an ounce of background in the industry. Their experiences in learning the business and taking steps to improve it have all relied heavily on the staff and their supportive community.
“We knew very little in the beginning, so we spent a lot of time observing them doing their jobs, and at first didn’t change a thing,” says Vance. “When we were able to offer suggestions we slowly implemented changes.”
There have been few staff changes since the Millers took over the business eight years ago. “Two of our guys had worked with the previous owner for over 30 years,” shares Carole. “They are still with us and are invaluable. They were the only employees two years ago and now we have 10.”
WORKING TOGETHER TO IMPROVE THE BUSINESS
Everyone on staff and in the family plays a role in the business’ day-to-day operations. Vance helps manage the business and is one of their best salesmen. His wife Kelly has taken on the role of bookkeeper. Darren, Carole’s youngest son, also helps by taking care of new projects and keeping computer programs updated.
“Their help gives me the time to take care of advertising and networking with business groups,” explains Carole. “I also enjoy traveling, and the staff knows that if I’m not at the business I’m just a phone call away.”
Together the family works with the dealership staff to implement careful changes to improve the profitability of the business as well as customer service.
“The business has changed only with improvements due to the knowledgeable staff of employees,” says Carole. “All suggestions by any staff member are considered and sometimes improved upon by the management. Everyone works well together and is open to new thoughts and ideas.”
Some improvements made include:
• New lifts and workbenches
• Cross-training employees
• Various facility improvements
• Addition of online parts sales
Keeping the employees focused on the business’ success is one part of the job that comes easy to the Millers. “Our employees always give their all,” shares Carole. “We offer the personal attention that a large company sometimes can’t. We are generous with vacation time, offer a retirement plan, and give annual raises.”
IMPLEMENTING CAREFUL CHANGES AT THE RIGHT TIME
The mix in ages and experience of staff, along with Carole’s background in the secretarial field, offers many different viewpoints as far as what is good for the business.
“My past working experience has given me the sense to keep things in balance and make sure the details have been covered,” says Carole. “The economy and weather are changing every year, and we have learned to not get too ‘big’ when things are good and not too ‘down’ when they are not.”
Offering online parts shopping was one change they felt was due. They recently added an online parts lookup to their site that is already being used heavily by customers. They hope an increase in online purchases will follow.
“So far we haven’t sold a ton online but we look for it to increase,” says Vance. “Our online parts lookup is being utilized a lot by customers to look up parts and check their availability. Locals just stop in to pick up their purchases, and we also occasionally ship to other states.”
Customers can also view wholegoods inventory, but it is only available for purchase in-store. As with parts, customers can go through the machine specifications, conduct general product research and email additional queries.
CUSTOMERS THAT BACK THEM UP
The Millers continue to trust in the knowledge of their experienced and dedicated employees, along with their loyal customer base. “We are located in a very small town,” says Carole. “But it’s a nice town with friendly people who support us.”
In their small town, the Millers host an annual open house that last year was attended by an estimated 400 people. “We look forward to the open house each year,” says Carole. “Sales on that day are very good, and people enjoy visiting and trying out the mowers in our grassy lot.”
Customers come from surrounding counties to attend the open house. With a rural customer base that reaches an estimated 40-mile radius, the dealership has to take special things like cost-effective deliveries and services into account.
“Pickup and delivery charge is $40 round trip within our normal service area,” says Vance. “If the customer is out far enough to make it a lot less efficient for us, then the charge is adjusted accordingly.”
While municipal accounts do come along, the Millers are more focused on providing great service for their dedicated consumer customers. “I try to be as reasonable as possible in my bids, but won’t just give a machine away,” says Vance. “There is too much work involved to make such low margins. I would rather be able to give exceptional service to the regular customer that walks in. That is the customer I go out of my way for in the future whether they need service, advice or just a part.”
The Millers and the rest of the Bertels staff continue to stay focused on improving the business and providing superior service. “We are still always evolving with everyone’s input, as it is always encouraged to speak up and share ideas to make things more efficient or better in any way,” says Carole. “It’s mostly about taking care of the customers. Most of the customers we have attracted have become friends.”