When the city of Montgomery, AL, had nearly $50,000 worth of uninsured lawn equipment stolen in December, a nearby dealership helped offset the loss by donating $3,500 worth of handheld tools. Now, the dealer’s act of charity is paying itself back—and then some.
“In early January we were asked to put in a bid for some commercial riding mowers,” says John Williams, co-owner of Z-1 LLC in Prattville, AL. “We’re not sure if we’ll get it, but that’s not why we did this anyway.”
Williams—who runs the dealership with friends Arthur Alexander, Donnie Milton and Sherral Roberts—had heard that the city of Montgomery was inundated with phone calls from area dealers looking to sell the city new equipment. Williams felt like a donation was in order, and his dealership would be the one to do it.
“We donated some string trimmers, backpack blowers and hedge trimmers,” Williams says. “It worked out good for us because we’re doing a line changeover in our dealership, so I was looking to get rid of some Kawasaki handheld equipment. Plus, I was able to do it by the end of December so I could claim it as a 2010 tax deduction.” Z-1 now sells Hustler mowers, Tanaka handheld equipment and E-Z-Go utility vehicles. In addition to the Montgomery donation, Z-1 also donated equipment to the city of Prattville. “We didn’t want any feelings hurt,” Williams says with a chuckle.
From the Air Force to the Green Industry. All four gentlemen who run Z-1 are retired members of the 187th Fighter Wing of the Alabama Air National Guard. Williams most recently was the director of maintenance. In 2004, roughly one year before he was set to retire, Williams and his buddies started Z-1. “I had another friend who was part-time in the Guard, and also worked for Cook’s Power (distributor),” Williams recalls. “I asked him if they had any dealers in Prattville. They didn’t, so we started by operating out of the storage shed. Then we rented another space for a while. Three years ago we built the facility we currently are in.”
Williams says 2010 was the worst year they’ve had, for obvious reasons beyond their control. But overall, he and his partners are happy with the progress they’ve made, and don’t plan on exiting the business any time soon. “When you are a technician in the Guard, you can retire at 55 and draw civil service retirement,” Williams points out. “But you can’t draw military retirement until you turn 60. One of our partners is 58, so we will for sure keep going full-bore for another two years; I will be 65 at that time. But to tell you the truth, we are having too much fun right now to even think about it. Our dealership is kind of like our man cave. We are 11 miles from Montgomery, and if any of the larger dealerships want to buy us out in a couple of years, so be it. Right now, though, we’re not thinking about that.”