Kearney Lawn & Outdoor Equipment
Founded: August 2003
Owners: David & Courtney Cox
Employees: 2 full time
Annual Sales: Roughly $1 million
Sales Mix: 60% wholegoods, 20% parts,
10% service, 10% rental
Customer Sales Mix: 80% consumer,
Shop Labor Rate: $68 per hour
Major Lines: Grasshopper, Stihl
David and Courtney Cox are in their early-30s. Neither have roots in the power equipment industry, which is why so many of the fellow dealers they meet often ask, “Are you sure you want to be in this business?” But to the Coxes, that question has never really crossed their minds in the six years they’ve owned Kearney Lawn & Outdoor Equipment in Kearney, MO.
OK, let’s be honest—that question has crossed their minds. Owning a business, whatever that business might be, can be a nerve-wracking experience. But when the Coxes were presented with the notion to start their own power equipment dealership back in the summer of 2003, all of their advisers unanimously agreed. And that was all the encouragement they needed.
“All of the family and friends we talked to thought it sounded like a great opportunity,” Courtney says. “Yeah, almost too good to be true,” adds husband David, a former Marine. “Starting this new business was as good as you could get without buying an existing dealership that already had a great reputation and staff.”
FILLING A VOID
David and Courtney were initially prodded by a family neighbor who was once a well-known area dealer himself. He’d retired several years earlier, selling his business to another dealership. But after a few years the new owner decided to close down. Suddenly the area was left without the strong presence of a Grasshopper dealer. “We knew it was still a very popular brand in our area, so we had an opportunity to fill a void,” David says.
The Coxes started slowly—sort of. They opened Kearney Lawn & Outdoor Equipment on the back half of a typical mowing season in August 2003. Initially they operated out of a storage facility off the beaten path. “I can’t believe people even found us,” David says. “We hung a 70-foot banner out front to try and get people’s attention.”
It must have worked, because customers definitely found them. Before long David and Courtney’s slow, controlled trot turned into an all-out sprint. Equipment (Grasshopper) sales grew quickly. Soon the dealership added the Stihl and Snapper lines to expand its product offering. In 2007 they moved into a better-located facility roughly five minutes from the original location. “It’s amazing what a little bit of visibility can do for a retail business,” Courtney muses. “Walk-in repairs and parts sales soared.”
Kearney Lawn & Outdoor Equipment also started a rental department to help further increase customer traffic. “That friend of ours who initially encouraged us to open our dealership also had a thriving rental business,” David says. “He’s really been a mentor to us. It was difficult getting started, mainly because we had to invest around $130,000 in equipment. But most of it will definitely pay for itself and then some; some of it already has. And the way we look at it, having a rental department helps get more customers in the door—especially homeowners.”
The dealership rents everything from specialty power tools to a Bobcat S175 skid steer. Other popular rental items include Classen and MacKissic turf renovation equipment, a Toro Dingo mini skid loader with attachments, and even inflatable jump tents, though Courtney is quick to point out that they don’t want to get too involved in the “party rentals” market. The Coxes would much rather stick to outdoor equipment, just as the business’s name implies.
FINDING THEIR FOOTING