Vance Outdoor Power Equipment prospered for over 30 years by serving an ag-dominated customer base in rural Glasgow, KY. Things started to change in the 1990s, though. Once-loyal customers were now turning to the emerging home centers for some of the same brands Vance Outdoor Power had sold for years. Rather than shift blame to his suppliers and turn a blind eye, Garnett Vance decided to face his newfound competitors head-on and beat them at their own game. “We wanted to remain an independent dealer, but also become a savvy marketer and retailer,” Vance says.
After reassessing his business and the market it was serving, Vance determined that he needed to transform his dealership in order to remain competitive. In devising a strategy to do so, Vance first looked at some of the ways box stores were outperforming him: better parking, extended hours of operation, more variety of inventory and larger displays.
Next, Vance identified four ways his dealership was outperforming the box stores: better product knowledge with a trained sales force, factory-trained service department, substantial parts inventory, and a variety of name-brand inventory to lead the customer to the correct purchase.
Vance then rewrote his business plan around the premise of competing strongly in all eight areas, because that’s what it would take to continue moving forward.
Puttin’ On The Glitz
Vance Outdoor Power Equipment already had the strong brand offering, parts inventory, service department and trained sales force. Vance noted ways of becoming even stronger in those areas, while also identifying ways of improving marketing, merchandising and the overall customer experience. When Vance moved his business into its new facility in 2004, his vision came together:
- Building sits on four acres in a high-traffic location
- Extended hours of operation (7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. M-F, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday)
- Extended hours of pick-up and delivery (varies by customer request)
- Larger parking area with easy in/out flow
- Drive-around service department
- 30-minute quick lube for mower tune-ups
- Outdoor equipment displays
- 8,000-square-foot, arena-style showroom
- 100-plus units on the showroom floor
- Larger showroom signage and displays.
“We found that neon is a huge draw, especially in the evenings,” Vance points out. “Customers see 20-foot neon signs all through the showroom. Also, displays are changed frequently to create interest and spur sales. When customers come into our store, we want them to feel as if they are in the box store of the outdoor power equipment industry.”
At Vance Outdoor Power, moving displays, videos and music greet customers instantly. As customers wait in the lounge or stroll through the showroom, they can help themselves to popcorn and soft drinks. They can also pass the time testing equipment in the outdoor demo area while their mower is in for a 30-minute quick lube. “If we are to survive,” Vance emphasizes, “we have to elevate ourselves to where we are acustomer-friendly operation.”
In addition to dealership aesthetics, attractive financing programs help create a more customer-friendly operation. About 67% of Vance’s wholegoods business is retail finance. “We try to model ourselves after the auto industry when it comes to retail financing,” Vance says. “We have found that the customer who needs financing is not as interested in price as he is a monthly payment. We spend a lot of time with our customers to provide them with affordable payments so they can purchase equipment.”
Vance also requires a $20 application fee to use its financing. “Over the course of a year,” Vance says, “those application fees really add up. They help pay for some of the perks we offer our employees, such as 100%-paid health insurance, profit sharing by department, paid holidays and paid vacation, to name a few.”
The Bottom Line