Even the most well-run, perfectly positioned
companies can hit a wall sometime during their existence. That seemed to happen to MMI Power Equipment last year. While a complete overhaul wasn't necessary, owners Brett and Brian Santo decided their maturing business could use a bit of a makeover.
The dealership had grown steadily over the course of its 20-year history. But the poor location of its second store and a variety of customer service issues were keeping it from clearing the next hurdle. The Santos decided they needed to address both of these issues—quickly—and let their customers know about it the second it happened.
Two stores, two strategies
Founded as Milpitas Mowers in 1985, the dealership purchased a second store 15 years later under the name Garden Equipment Clinic, and moved it to nearby Sunnyvale (only 10 miles away). Although close in proximity, the geographic and demographic idiosyncrasies of the bay area left the two stores seeming worlds apart.
"About 90 percent of our business at the Milpitas store is commercial," Brian points out. "In Sunnyvale, only 70 percent is commercial, and we think we can do even more residential business there."
Potential homeowner sales were a primary driving force behind the decision to open the Sunnyvale store in the first place. However, a less-than-ideal location in an industrial area kept the Santos from creating the shopping destination they hoped would pull consumer business into the store.
Their partner, someone Brian knew from past experience working at another dealership, would run the Sunnyvale store. Things got off to a decent start, but gradually headed in the other direction for a variety of reasons—namely personnel and customer service issues. For a good part of 2007, the Santos worked on buying this partner out, and embarked on a quest to reinvent the company—primarily the Sunnyvale store.
"We wanted to get back to what we really wanted when we first opened in Sunnyvale seven years ago," Brett relates. "We wanted to create a truly unique store; one where both landscapers and upscale consumers would feel comfortable. That's not always easy to do. Sometimes, like at our Milpitas store, consumers can feel overwhelmed by all the contractors. The layout of our Milpitas store doesn't help, either."
Roughly 2/3 of the 8,000-square-foot Milpitas store is designated for parts, service and warehouse operations. Plus, that section of the facility is right up front, adjacent to the showroom area. This layout, Brett says, works just fine for contractors—but not when it comes to affluent homeowners.
CREATING A DESTINATION LIKE NO OTHER
Conversely, the new 5,000-square-foot Sunnyvale store, which just opened five months ago, is almost entirely showroom. A customer service counter is stationed roughly 50 feet from the front entrance. The main parts counter is toward the back of the three-section showroom. Service is in the far back with a separate entranceway and ample parking lot space to maneuver a truck and trailer.
This new location, Brett and Brian concur, is almost too good to be true. Knowing they'd been wanting to move the Sunnyvale store, the Santos contacted their real estate agent to start the hunt. For several months nothing worthwhile presented itself. Out of the blue they got a call from him. A prime spot right down the road had become available, and would soon become the new home of Milpitas Mowers dba Garden Equipment Clinic.