What does a grain silo, Steiner 4x4 tractor, tub of pipe putty and pair of Red Wing shoes have in common? They're each a part of the diverse product offering Mast-Lepley Silo Inc. has offered its rural customer base for 50 years. Now doing business as Mast-Lepley Ag-Hardware-Turf, the Apple Creek, OH-based dealership continues to focus on repeat business by staying ahead of the changing needs of its market.
Like most dealers, Mast-Lepley has always based everything it does on service after the sale. "That's what builds a large repeat customer base," says Dave Steiner, Mast-Lepley's general manager who's been with the company for 29 years. "We've also been willing to add new lines of equipment and products to stay diversified. As weather or economic changes have arisen, we've been able to ride out the lows while remaining financially strong."
Founded in 1957 as a builder of concrete storage silos, Mast-Lepley has evolved and grown over the years. It has relocated three times, most recently in 1984 to its present location in Apple Creek, about 30 miles southwest of Akron. That's also the year it branched into the lawn and garden business with the Steiner line.
Though it no longer builds silos, Mast-Lepley continues to repair them, while also selling silo feeding, milking and manure-handling equipment, along with other farm-related tools and equipment. The ag segment accounts for 47% of Mast-Lepley's total annual sales, which are slightly below $5 million.
Everything from mowing to planting
The other 53% comes from lawn and garden, which includes an extensive hardware operation. In 1999 the dealership added an 8,000-square-foot showroom, half of which is set up as a hardware store. The other half is lined with power equipment.
"Our lawn and garden market is mostly rural customers," Steiner says. "We're surrounded by estates and farms; people who like to mow their own properties and have a need for the many Steiner attachments we rent and sell. Our commercial customers include golf courses, schools and colleges, municipalities and landscapers of all sizes. Between our equipment offering and hardware supplies, I think we offer just about everything it takes to care for turf grass—from planting to mowing."
The success of the hardware segment has been a somewhat unexpected blessing. Steiner's original plan was to begin stocking many of the common supplies his service department was consuming on a daily basis. That way an employee wouldn't have to drive 20 miles to the hardware store to buy the supplies at retail price. The time and cost savings alone were more than enough reason, Steiner believed, to take on a limited hardware inventory. Any retail purchases his customers made would be considered gravy.
Surprisingly, sales took off right away, prompting Steiner to consider a broader product offering. Now Mast-Lepley stocks Carhartt clothing, Red Wing Shoes, Reddy Heaters, rakes and shovels, trailer parts, paint, plumbing and electrical supplies, pet food and more. The hardware segment generates an overall 30% gross margin, not to mention a substantial percentage of the total lawn and garden sales.
Still, power equipment remains the driving force. "When a customer is in our store, we're not only trying to sell him a piece of equipment, we're trying to sell him his next piece of equipment," Steiner says.
Steiner believes in the power of presentation, which is clearly evident in Mast-Lepley's modern-looking retail store. "Twenty years ago it was always a male customer coming in," Steiner relates. "He didn't care about a dirt floor and grinders going off. Now he brings his wife and sometimes a couple kids. They look at our showroom a lot differently, and we keep that in mind."
Mast-Lepley takes pride in its organization and structure—from the showroom to the service shop to the storage area out back. Steiner is especially mindful of potential eyesores such as accumulating used inventory. Taking trade-ins is necessary, he points out, but allowing the inventory to pile up is not.