From left: Frank, Madeline and Francis Fletcher
To add margin points, Fletcher’s also takes advantage of several discounts as often as possible. They’re able to do this because they’ve chosen to do business with just a few key manufacturers.
Francis Fletcher prefers to stay behind the scenes working in the shop, though he jumps at every chance to peak his head out and chat it up with customers, greeting them at their trailers.
Fletcher’s Sales & Service
Owners: Francis, Madeline and Frank Fletcher
Employees: 8 full time, 1 part time
Annual Sales: Over $3 million
Sales Mix: 74% wholegoods, 19% parts, 7% service
Customer Mix: 38% consumer, 51% commercial, 11% other
Shop Labor Rate: $65 per hour
Major Lines: Exmark, Stihl, Toro, Walker
You’ve probably heard the expression, “He’s so busy he lives at the office.” That’s the case with the Fletcher family, and not just figuratively speaking. For Francis and Madeline Fletcher, along with son Frank, 315 Fletcher Lane is where you’ll find their homes—right next door to the dealership they’ve had since 1985. It’s just as well. With the hours they put in, the two-minute commute home each night is a big plus.
“We work our tails off,” exclaims Frank, company vice president. “And I’m talking about everybody, not just me and my parents. Our entire staff works extremely hard to pull it off. Nobody’s ever standing around doing nothing. And we’re always looking for ways to be more efficient.”
With annual sales now topping $3 million, it’s hard to imagine that Fletcher’s Sales & Service in Greensburg, PA, employs only eight full-time people and one part-timer. To do that kind of volume with eight and a half people, you have to be efficient. And you have to sell a lot of iron.
Nearly 75% of the dealership’s revenue comes from wholegoods. The Fletchers utilize billboards, a website, and national advertising from Stihl and Toro as part of its marketing strategy. Several special events are also held, which include a spring open house and sale, a spring home show at a local mall, and a fall customer appreciation event at a local park.
Frank typically addresses customers at the fall event, and chuckles when he talks about it. “I was a really shy kid,” he tells. “I never thought I’d be able to get up in front of a crowd like I do now and give a speech.”
Francis, the company’s president, is much the same way. He prefers to stay behind the scenes working in the shop, though he jumps at every chance to peak his head out and chat it up with customers. Case in point: When contractor Shawn Iarussi pulled up to the landscaper-designated service area on the day Yard & Garden visited, Francis was out there to greet him before the truck was even in park.
As secretary, Madeline is often behind the scenes, too. But physically she’s front and center. Her desk is only 20 feet or so from the dealership’s main entrance. Her bright smile is the first thing customers see when they walk into the store.
This kind of personal touch is one of the many things that has helped Fletcher’s Sales & Service build up a loyal following and favorable reputation over the past 20-plus years.
So, too, have its credentials, which include:
• Toro Master Dealer of the Year for 2007
• Walker’s largest dealer in Pennsylvania
• Stihl Elite Dealer with two techs who’ve achieved Gold Level certification
• Briggs & Stratton Master Dealer
• Kohler Expert Dealer
• Tecumseh Premiere Dealer
Effective advertising and impressive credentials help draw customers. But once they’re in your store, Frank reminds, it’s up to you to close the sale.
To help do so, the Fletchers follow three main steps:
1. Talk to customers about your business and what you have to offer that other dealers and retailers may not
2. Sell them on the product, not just its price
3. Talk to them about how you’ll support them after the sale and actually live up to your promises to help facilitate this three-step sales process, the Fletchers have put together what they call the 13-point “Fletcher’s Advantage,” which is proudly displayed on signage throughout the store (see photo on page 18). They also offer a “commercial no downtime guarantee” and extended warranties. Again, Frank reiterates, customer retention requires living up to your promises.
MAXIMUM EFFICIENCY ALL THE TIME
For many organizations, that’s not always easy to do—especially when you’re stretched as thin as the Fletcher’s staff is. Frank says everyone has to remember that the customer is the reason you’re in business. And everyone has to be as productive as possible.
“We cross train our people,” Frank points out. “That way our employees can help each other out so there’s never any downtime. We try to create a friendly atmosphere where we all work together.” Frank says the dealership also promotes constant self-improvement, company profitability and its effect on employees. Bonuses are attainable by everybody, not just technicians.
Speaking of technicians, Frank is happy when the shop is running at 70% efficiency, which is almost always the case. As a matter of fact, he’s not sure how it could do any better. “I’ve heard the philosophy that technicians should stay in their bays turning wrenches,” Frank relates. “I understand that, but am not sure it’s always practical for a staff of our size. I’ve thought about hiring another person to run parts, but what would he do in between? We use parts cabinets to keep things clean and orderly, so our techs can find what they need pretty quickly. I’m OK with 70% efficiency because I know we’re at least making money in the shop, while also being more productive in other areas and taking better care of customers.”
INVEST IN PRODUCTIVITY
Outside of people, Frank says it’s important for a dealer to take advantage of every available option to simplify daily operations. “If it’ll make us more productive, I’ll buy it,” he says.
The most notable investments have included:
• Modern compressed air system for the shop and warehouse areas
• Exhaust system for the shop
• Three 2,000-pound Heftee lifts, one 4,000-pounder and four 250-pounders
• One 2006 rollback truck and a 2005 Ford F-350 extended-cab pickup truck with 10,000-pound dual-axle trailer used for deliveries; the pickup truck and other company vehicles are traded every five years before they become outdated
• Triple-decker warehouse that’s undergone several renovations to enhance organization and reduce setup times
• Franzen chain sharpening machine
Fletcher’s Sales & Service is also equipped with all the latest software, Frank points out. “c-Systems is our system for everything,” he adds. “We use it for accounts payable and receivable, payroll, warranties, returns, inventory control and point of sale. The system self-generates daily orders for parts and wholegoods, which greatly assists us in controlling excess inventory. We only stock parts that are sold a minimum of three or four times a year.”
The dealership then uses PartSmart to facilitate parts searching and ordering tasks. “Every work station in the dealership, including the shop, is equipped with both c-Systems and PartSmart,” Frank points out. There are 11 terminals total. The computers themselves are upgraded every five years (typically two or three each year).
In addition, a Stanley Vidmar bin storage system is utilized in the parts room to improve organization and efficiency. Bar coding has also been implemented.
These improvements have helped reduce some of the costs associated with operating the parts department. To further boost profitability, parts are priced to cover shipping and storage costs. And of course, Frank takes advantage of his purchasing power and spring discounts to get the best pricing.
Good pricing from suppliers is critical as Fletcher’s strives for maximum profitability. The dealership has recently eliminated one of its handheld lines in order to increase buying power with the other. Frank says he’s also pleased to see that one of his primary mower lines is transitioning to a dealer-direct distribution strategy. “Buying direct will add around four points,” he says.
To further add margin points, Fletcher’s also takes advantage of several discounts as often as possible. They’re able to do this, Frank says, because the dealership has chosen to do business with just a few key manufacturers. “If we focus on a few key brands, we can often get our gross margin up to 27 points when we take advantage of volume, growth and cash discounts,” Frank relates. “When a rep tells me that, I start listening.”
Still, the Fletchers are cautious not to fall victim to excessive purchasing. Frank says they never order more inventory than they’ll need for a 30- to 60-day period. “We refuse to pay interest,” he adds. “Interest is a dirty word.”
On the other hand, profit isn’t a dirty word—and Frank wishes more dealers understood that. “If more dealers understood how important profit is and how to go about making one, all dealers would benefit,” he says. In the meantime, more of his competitors are joining the ranks of those who’ve been forced to close their doors, though Frank believes there are still more dealers than his market really needs. That’s OK, because not too many go to market with a home court advantage like the Fletchers do.