Ron Zipp moved Southern Indiana Equipment from an urban setting to rural Lanesville in order to open up his equipment line options. He is still easily accessible, located right off the interstate.
The SIE Team Front Row (left to right): Angela Zipp, Ron Zipp; Middle Row (left to right): Joe Heathcock, Chuck Shaver, Mike Abell; Back Row (left to right): Mike Walter, Kenny Summerville
Customers at SIE are given the time and space to roam the show floor checking out equipment. After being greeted with a friendly “hello”, they are informed that salesclerks are easily approachable at desks located along the far wall when they are ready to talk.
Ron Zipp says displaying mowers in high numbers cues the customer in on their popularity.
“I’ve been there and know what’s going on,” says Ron Zipp, owner of Southern Indiana Equipment (SIE) in Lanesville, IN. “It helps me in my business, because having been there I know what’s necessary to help equipment last longer and get the job done as a landscaper.”
Zipp has used his background working as a landscaper to make shopping at his dealership as easy as possible for his customers. Taking the thinking out of it and gaining his customers’ trust has led to his success as a dealer. He continues to build on that success by taking calculated risks with his floorplans.
Trust in the Simple
Zipp, who became an equipment dealer after stocking and selling parts to other landscapers, says his customers want to walk into a dealership and ask what equipment option is right for them—and trust that the dealer can answer. His main concern when becoming a dealer was offering options that made it easy to make a purchasing decision.
Zipp assessed his lines to see which had offered the most to end-users, and narrowed it down to a few mowers and handheld options to make their decision-making that much easier (see Dealership Data box on opposite page for a full list of product lines carried).
“I want to make everything simple,” explains Zipp. “Before I do any work, they already have it in their mind what they want from seeing the mowers on the show floor.”
For Zipp, selling relies a lot on first impressions. “When people walk in they are always looking at what the best-looking mower is,” says Zipp. “They also look to see how many are stocked.”
Zipp says displaying mowers in high numbers cues the customer in on their popularity. “If only a few are stocked, it may appear as if they aren’t a big seller,” explains Zipp. “Having a lot of product shows that the dealer is sure of the line. If you don’t stock it, you won’t sell it.”
At SIE they believe that showing the dealer trusts in a line helps the customer trust the dealer.
Simple shopping for Zipp’s customers will soon go beyond a visit to the dealership’s show floor. He has plans to develop an online parts store. While Zipp realizes this is something he could implement quickly and easily with purchased software, he wants to develop his own.
“It’s complicated, and what is being offered is not necessarily what we are looking for,” Zipp explains. “We want to build our own system so it is user-friendly for the average person.”
While dealers and landscapers may know model and parts numbers, Zipp understands that the consumer will likely only know general terms. He is hoping to develop a program that allows customers to search with those terms, once again making the process simple.
“When it’s easy for them, they are not going to go anywhere else,” says Zipp assuredly. “Parts are so competitive, especially now. You have to make it as simple as possible.”
A Helping Hand Washes the Other
In building further on his trusting relationship with the customer, Zipp goes beyond offering an easy, simple shopping experience by offering equipment demos and maintenance training.
“I’m a fanatic about on-site demos,” says Zipp. “It is a sales tool you cannot beat.” At SIE they have demos out practically every day. While some dealers may not want to chance the headache that it may cause, Zipp is adamant about doing it, and doing it often.
He uses it as a sales tool and a trust-building exercise, tacking few restrictions onto the demo deal. “We let them take it on their own without collateral instead of bringing it out there and supervising use,” explains Zipp. “They won’t trust us if they don’t think we trust them.” Zipp is doing them a favor by letting them try before buying, but he often reaps the benefit of the sale.
For the commercial customers who have decided on purchasing equipment from Zipp, the dealership offers extensive training. “We like to give landscapers a lesson on the simple things, the things we don’t really profit from,” says Zipp. “Otherwise, they will call to get help with it or come in. Our biggest problem isn’t that repair, it’s the phone call they make to the technicians. It takes time and money to answer these calls.”
Zipp also warns that time is not all that is lost, but also focus. He fears that having the techs answering these calls pulls them away from repairs they are making, distracting them and leading to mistakes.
This is why Zipp offers training to commercial customers. “Teaching them simple things like preventative maintenance takes just a few minutes,” says Zipp. “We also screen the calls and call them back in between jobs instead of walking away from the current task.” Once again, by teaching proper maintenance and routine repairs, Zipp is helping his customers while he and his staff also benefit.
“We do consumer training at the time of purchase or on-site,” says Zipp. “In the winter months, we invite commercial cutters to watch us on the lift and work with us through repairs with their whole crew observing.”
In the fall, Zipp invites them back to work through snow equipment repairs, estimating and bids. “We use it as an opportunity to push future sales,” shares Zipp. “To win them over, we show them the cost of the mower or snowplow and how long before they get the cost back in hours and profit made.”
For Zipp, much of his success has been due to the helpful and trusting relationships he has with his customers, but the calculated risks he’s made along the way are equally responsible. His risk taking began with relocating his dealership.
SIE has been at its current location four years, after moving there from their original Floyds Knobs, IN, store (opened in 1993). Moving from an urban setting to a rural one was a risk for Zipp, and the reason he took it: more equipment line opportunities. “The Floyd county line was the territory line cutoff for many manufacturers,” explains Zipp. “By coming out here, I can have all the equipment I couldn’t get in a local metropolitan area.”
They have moved just over 10 miles, and are still easily accessible for customers old and new. “We are out in the middle of nowhere, but right off the interstate so we are easy to get to,” says Zipp. “Interstate 64 is a major artery, so we now get as many out-of-state as in-state customers.”
Now with even more line opportunities, Zipp buys big. “I have to buy right so I can sell right,” he explains. “I don’t buy mowers unless I’m getting truckloads so I can get a good price. If you don’t buy bulk, it’s hard to make it as a dealer.”
Zipp has also been attending the annual GIE+EXPO for eight years in nearby Louisville, KY. While there, he stocks up on manufacturers’ show equipment. “I try to buy almost every piece they bring to the show floor,” says Zipp. “Getting equipment at the show is great, because I don’t have to pay freight.” Last year, Zipp and his team hauled four trailers full of equipment between the dealership and the show for 10 hours straight, stocking up on show deals. They typically have so much equipment that they store it in the lot and at a warehouse down the road.
Zipp realizes that the way he does business may seem too risky for some, but he assures that he knows what he is doing. “I do well because I’m a careful gambler,” says Zipp. “Yeah, I get burned sometimes, but I win more than I lose.”
One place Ron Zipp won’t take a chance is with his marketing. He knows what venues work and uses them often. “The Internet is the best place to advertise,” says Zipp. “People are on the Internet more and more each day. Even at work on company time they are shopping for their next purchase. They go online to get an idea of price, and it’s that way with parts and engines too.”
Zipp believes that the customer won’t visit the dealership until they are ready to complete the last phase of their pre-equipment research. He keeps his name out there for when they are ready to make that trip in.
“I like to go out to the Indianapolis Colts and have a mower sit out at a ball game,” explains Zipp. “Just so they see it and it’s in their minds. It’s like Nike does. That’s how I want to be with SIE. I want them to know where to go when they need a lawn and garden product.”
Southern Indiana Equipment
Owner: Ron Zipp
Employees: 5 full time, 5 part time
Annual Sales: $3.2 million
Sales Mix: 60% wholegoods, 10% service, 30% parts
Customer Sales Mix: 55% consumer, 45% commercial
Shop Labor Rate: $68 per hour
Major Lines: Ariens, BOB-CAT, Branson Tractor, Curtis, Echo, Encore, EverRide, Grasshopper, Gravely, Hiniker, Hustler, Kawasaki, Meyer Plows, RedMax, Scag, Simplicity, Snapper, Snapper Pro, Snow-Ex, Tanaka