100 Years in the Making

If a business stands for 100 years it sees many changes. It sees changes in staff, technology, products and the economy. But there is one thing that never changes, and that is how a customer should be treated.

At W.H. Preuss Sons they have learned that if you focus on pleasing the customers who keep your business alive, you can make it through all the changes that challenge your dealership.

What started out as a general store a century ago (run by William Henry Preuss) has turned into an outdoor power equipment destination in Bolton, CT. Coming on full time in the dealership roughly 40 years ago, Jim Preuss (pronounced price) and wife Sharon have turned the dealership into a go-to place for customers seeking a breadth of products and knowledgeable staff.

It is up for debate as far as who is whose right-hand man, but it’s clear that both strongly focus on quality customer service—something many would say is a thing of the past.

Old-fashioned customer service

As customers have become more choosey about when and where they spend their money, it is more important than ever to provide them with quality customer service. How some dealers can forget this is a mystery. Preuss has made it his main focus at his dealership which he likes to refer to as a “destination”.

“I consider us more of a destination than simply a place to stop and shop,” says Preuss. “We have been here a long time and people know what to expect from us. We are really careful about treating customers well. Whether it’s a busy time of year, the slow season, a slow economy or a good economy, we try to treat people the same all the time. It makes a difference.”

Preuss understands that the service they provide is what brings a customer back or turns them away forever. A simple but effective rule he lives by is to acknowledge every customer who walks through the door.

“We acknowledge everyone as soon as they walk in or as they are waiting in line,” Preuss explains. “It takes two seconds to lift your eyes and say something to show the customer you are thinking of them. How busy can you be to be too busy for customers? They are the whole reason we are here.”

With today’s customers learning as much as they can about products through Internet research before entering the dealership, dealers have to work hard to get customers to understand they are a trusted source.

“The customer usually knows more about the product when he comes in than he ever did before,” says Preuss. “Sometimes it’s a challenge because what they perceived as the right information is wrong for their application needs. You have to spend a little time with them to change their way of thinking.”

The Preuss is right

To make the customers’ visit to the dealership even more enjoyable, the dealership underwent a remodel which took several years. Dark wall paneling was removed and white slat boards put in its place. A new lighting system was added and tile floor replaced with an epoxy finish.

“We wanted to improve the front showroom so when customers walk in they experience the ‘wow factor,’” says Preuss. “It’s all about making the customer comfortable.”

The main facility and a separate large storage facility house a large inventory of products. Preuss says this is what differentiates him from the big box stores.

“We have tightened up inventory a little bit in recent years, but I like to still have a large inventory on hand,” explains Preuss. “I don’t want to have to tell the customer he has to wait a week until we get inventory in. If a customer walks in today I can deliver that piece of equipment to them today or tomorrow.”

Preuss says the variety of equipment offered goes beyond the limited selection at the box stores, making it easier to find a better-fitting product for the customer. One of Sharon’s many contributions to the dealership’s success was insisting each product be ticketed with price and product information.

“I’m now a true believer in having all the equipment priced,” says Preuss. “Twenty years ago we never had price tags on our equipment and always talked off the top of our heads. We want the customer to trust us, and when they walk in and nothing is priced they wonder if you are haggling them. We are all trying to get the best margin, but you have to be fair to the customer if you want them to come back.”

Customers who are unfamiliar with power equipment and come into the dealership to take a look around might not be as comfortable with asking questions and could potentially walk out the door without inquiring about price or making a purchase.

The team to beat

Many of the staff members at W.H. Preuss have been with the company for many years and have watched the business grow. Products are supported with a full parts inventory and the knowledgeable staff, each an expert in their own department.

“Years ago we all bounced around and did other things, repaired lawnmowers, sold parts, waited on customers,” Preuss recalls. “Now techs are just techs and we call them specialists. All they ever do is service and very rarely interact with customers.”

Another specialist in the dealership is the service manager who acts as the go-between with techs and customers. She answers all queries with confidence and saves the valuable time of the mechanics.

While the service manager is great with the customers, every once in a while she encounters a customer who insists on talking to the technician. Griping will get them nowhere, as Preuss knows his people are the best at what they do.

“As much as they complain or insist, we don’t let them talk to the tech,” says Preuss. “If we do it once we will have to do it all the time. The more the technicians can produce in the shop, the better off we all are. That’s why I have a staff that is knowledgeable.”

Technicians also rely heavily on the parts manager who has been in the parts business for almost 30 years, 15 with Preuss and before that working with a parts distributor. While employees are experts in their own area, they will all lend a hand in another area when needed—especially if it means guaranteeing customer satisfaction.

Everything Preuss does reflects on his time spent learning the business over the years and what measures as success. “I’ve seen so many dealerships sold and people think they can step right in and just run it,” says Preuss. “It takes a long time to understand the power equipment business.” One hundred years to be exact, and like most businesses it all goes back to one thing: customer satisfaction.