The Sled Shed
and North Liberty, IA
Owner: Mark Miltner
Employees: 6 full time, 3 part time
Annual Sales: $1 to $3 million
Sales Mix: 62% wholegoods, 23% parts, 15% service
Customer Mix: 75% consumer, 25% commercial
Shop Labor Rate: $65 per hour
Major Lines: Hustler, Lawn-Boy, Snapper, Stihl, Toro
The year 2008 proved to be challenging for most outdoor power equipment dealers. With gas prices up and consumer spending down, dealers had to do all they could to keep their businesses profitable. For some, these challenges were magnified by a natural disaster.
At The Sled Shed in Cedar Rapids, IA, the water was up to the top of the storefront windows in June while owner Mark Miltner was considering opening a second location. With the help of countless volunteers and an unwavering positive attitude, he was able to rebuild the old location and remodel the new. “It’s been an incredible challenge,” shares Miltner. “It’s taken patience.”
DOWN CAME THE RAIN
As the rain fell heavily on Iowa, Miltner watched reports of water levels continuing to rise. “I was concerned about the water in other areas and went to discuss it with some city contacts,” says Miltner. “They said there was no reason to worry yet, but after talking to other businessmen I decided it was best to sandbag.” Two days later water was quickly rising in the back alley.
Luckily for Miltner, in his mere six years as a dealer he had developed a strong customer base, as well as ties to the community and friendships with his suppliers. With the help of family, friends, customers, neighboring businesses and suppliers, Miltner was able to get much of his equipment and his customers’ equipment out of the dealership.
“A lot of equipment and other things were taken out of the dealership in time,” explains Miltner. “But much was lost, including our entire parts inventory.” As Miltner and his supporters worked hard to move things out of the dealership, people came out in droves to gawk at the flood scene. This, combined with street closures, limited what they could do.
Soon after, the river crested at the top of the dealership windows. Miltner was no longer able to access the dealership. It would be seven long days of waiting before the floodwaters receded and he could get back in.
During this time, the Miltners contemplated accelerating their plans to expand. Being confronted with extreme flood damage may not seem like the perfect time to bring on the added responsibility and risk of a second location. Miltner himself had some doubts, but wife Barb pushed for the new venture—and he’s glad she did.
THE SECOND LOCATION
Miltner attributes the survival of their Cedar Rapids store to the addition of the North Liberty location. “Being able to store equipment and do repairs there helped us stay afloat,” explains Miltner. “Just four days after the water was down and out, we were doing repairs at North Liberty.” The Miltners are proud to say that their employees never went without a paycheck.
Barb spent her summer off as a teacher lending a hand in any way she could. The Miltners and their crew used the North Liberty store as a satellite location for equipment repairs, redirecting some of their customer base there. Additionally, some equipment was delivered directly to customers’ homes. Equipment that didn’t make it out, and was previously repaired, was repaired a second time at no cost to the customer.
While purchasing the North Liberty location in the middle of the flood’s aftermath was a tough decision, Miltner had thought it out very well, with the help of Barb and dealership consultant Jim Yount. North Liberty is one of the fastest-growing cities in the state of Iowa. The population has grown 86% from 2000 to 2007.
Miltner saw the potential this dealership had and decided to take on the challenge. “I hope we can make it, but there are no guarantees,” says Miltner. “It sure is a wonderful opportunity to try.”