Up Close & Personal

Parkrose Mower is surrounded by several large power equipment dealerships, including Moen Machinery (profiled here). While Parkrose Mower isn’t the multi-million-dollar, multi-location “powerhouse” some of the area’s heavy-hitters are, the 100% family dealership has a solid reputation, loyal customer base and sound business plan that allow it to hold its ground in an extremely competitive market.

Gary Kjenslee, together with wife Nancy, have owned Parkrose Mower since 1986. Prior to that, Gary spent 22 years in the hospitality industry with Westin Hotels. When Parkrose Mower was profiled in a 1993 edition of Yard & Garden, Gary talked about how the power equipment business, just like the hospitality industry, is all about personal relationships. It’s a belief he still stands by today, despite the fact that the outdoor power equipment industry has become more “big business.”

“Some people don’t realize, or have maybe forgotten, how important it is to partner,” Gary says. “This is still a people business— one that’s built on relationships.”

Mike Stevens of Power Equipment Systems in Salem, OR, one of Parkrose Mower’s parts suppliers, says the value Parkrose places on relationships is evident in just about everything they do. “I can’t think of a customer who’s easier to work with,” Stevens relates. “They always go the extra mile to make sure the customer is satisfied, even if it means referring that customer to another dealer.”

Gary and Nancy strive to build relationships with not only suppliers and customers, but also other dealers. Gary says, “Another dealer is not my enemy. We’re all in this together. If the public is left to the mercy of the box stores, I think people are going to get hurt.”

All money’s the same color

To do his part in keeping that from happening, Gary actively pursues partnerships with area mass merchants. He and his sons Kevin and Jason hold various certifications from Briggs & Stratton, Tecumseh and the EETC. “We’ll fix it right,” Gary says with a grin.

That didn’t seem to matter to Home Depot a couple years ago when it shifted all Portland-area service work to Altaquip. The lost Depot business stung for a while, but Parkrose Mower seems to have recovered. Like many smaller Tier 1 dealers with annual revenues below $750K, Parkrose Mower relies heavily on back-of-the-store sales. In 2004, roughly half of the dealership’s revenue came from service. Today, as a result of the lost Home Depot business, only 35% does.

But service revenues are growing once again, thanks to a contract signed with N.E.W. Customer Service Companies last year. Coordinated through MTD and N.E.W., Parkrose Mower now provides service for seven area Lowe’s stores, the furthest being about an hour and a half away.

Gary makes two trips a week to each of the seven stores. He calls ahead to schedule pick-up/drop-off times, and tries to work it out so his 14-foot cub van always leaves and comes back full, even if it means hitting two stores in one trip. Gary says he can haul 18 walk mowers or a half dozen riders at once. Parkrose Mower is paid a $75-per-unit pick-up and delivery fee for every unit Lowe’s sold for more than $800, helping offset some of the transport costs.

The inaugural year in 2006 naturally brought some bumps in the road, but it also brought well over $40,000 in revenue. Nancy says that once the communication bugs are worked out, this should prove to be a very profitable arrangement for Parkrose Mower.

“I don’t particularly like the box stores, because they’re competition,” Gary says. “But their money is the same color, so I don’t mind taking it. Besides, we’re not in a position to turn away business; we’re not that big. Service is what we do best—so the more the better.”

Small Ball

Still, equipment accounts for half of Parkrose Mower’s total annual sales. Walk mowers have been the dealership’s bread and butter, though it’s getting tougher to make much money selling certain brands and models. For instance, 6% on a $300 model won’t buy lunch for two.

In any event, the snug properties that blanket Parkrose Mower’s market area in northeast Portland have a need for compact machines. To help boost gross margin and create some separation from the box stores, Gary has shifted emphasis to commercial-grade models, not only for his landscape customers, but also his homeowners. Parkrose Mower has also added the Ariens line of high-end walk mowers. Gary says the brand is not extremely well-known in the Portland area, but plans on helping change that. He’s already had some success.

Parkrose Mower has also had early success selling some of the Ariens zero-turns, a product category the dealership has never really been known for. Nancy says most of the units have been sold to customers on the Washington state side of the Columbia River, a mere 10 miles from Parkrose Mower. Those customers typically have larger yards that require a riding mower. And they really appreciate the fact that they don’t have to pay sales tax since they’re making the purchase in another state (Oregon).

“It’s not just the Ariens zero-turns,” Nancy points out. “About half of our equipment sales go to customers in Washington. We even have a second phone number set up with a Vancouver area code.”

If this trend continues, which he expects it will, Gary would like to start stocking and selling more riding equipment, which would definitely help Parkrose Mower grow at a faster pace. But space is an issue. “You never have enough square footage in a lawn mower shop,” Gary says.

For now, the Kjenslee family will continue doing what it does best: provide outstanding service and build its business one relationship at a time.