Avoid Tunnel Vision to Achieve Success

As most dealers know, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities of owning and operating an outdoor power equipment dealership. You often find yourself spending most days putting out fires and fighting to stay afloat in this increasingly competitive industry.

This year’s Dealers in Excellence Award winner took over his father’s dealership in 2006, right when the economy started slipping. He quickly realized that in order for Humphreys’ Outdoor Power Inc. to succeed, he had to take a step back and look at the big picture. The Greencastle, IN, dealership was a part of a community that needed support, and an industry that needed scrutinizing.

Seeing the us indUStry

Brian Humphreys worked within the family business since the 80s and knows the ropes, but since the day he took over, the game continues to change. To stay on top of those changes, he keeps informed through industry associations and trade magazines.

“You need to have an ability to get your hands on information about what’s going on in the industry,” says Humphreys. “The way companies want to communicate now, you don’t get that verbal interaction as much. Things change so fast today; the company you’re selling for may not be here tomorrow, or could be bought by somebody else. These are all things you need to be aware of as they’re happening or you’ll just be set back.”

Humphreys subscribes to many trade magazines, and is an active member of countless industry and small business associations (see sidebar: Get Involved! for a listing of associations). He seeks not just information, but to have another player on his team.

“Equipment associations often step in to help with lobbying efforts on behalf of the dealer,” says Humphreys. “It’s important to team up with them because lobbying is something that someone running a business doesn’t often have the time to do. Let them know what you’re thinking so they can work on your behalf.”

Actively watching the actions of manufacturers is also a focus of Humphreys. He pays careful attention to where their products are sold and how they are constructed to be sure he is offering customers quality goods he believes in. Humphreys demands more from the manufacturers he works with.

“With the poor economy, companies are getting more aggressive in pricing structure,” says Humphreys. “It is hard for them to do because raw material costs have gone up as well as fuel and freight costs.”

Humphreys explains that for many manufacturers, cutting costs has led to low-quality goods and box store distribution. This is something he has decided he will not stand for.

“Some of the manufacturers are going to have to go back and build better products,” says Humphreys. “They sold their souls to the big box stores, and then let them dictate what kind of quality they were going to put out. I’m not going to sell ‘dime store mowers’ and force my customers to deal with the problems of a cheap product.”

Humphreys maintains that his business’ success relies on the credibility of the industry and the manufacturers and products within. “We will continue to evaluate the products we have and hold manufacturers to a standard,” he says.

Living to serve in the SERVice department

In the shop, Humphreys takes a step back from the workbench and sees the service department for what it is—the lifeblood of their business. As many customers continue to repair equipment rather than buy new, he continues to make improvements to staff, procedures and knowledge base.

“When things started getting tough, we decided we would dedicate ourselves to what we can do that nobody else can, and that’s fix it,” says Humphreys. “Service was always a big priority of my dad’s. It’s one of those things that we almost take for granted. We have always put service first and that has helped us out today.”

As many dealers were working to improve their service department as demands for repairs grew, the service department at Humphreys’ was already top-notch. That didn’t stop Humphreys from revamping it when he took over. He purchased new shop equipment to increase efficiency and maintains a clean, well-lit shop.

They have remodeled their dock area down to one lane from two, when they noticed only one was regularly used. It now allows easier access to the shop area. They also became a Rim Guard dealer to allow them more control as far as filling customer tires rather than taking tractors to the tire shop. Additional investments include:

  • Extra-wide lift tables for maneuverability and stability
  • Overhead cranes/hoists over each workstation for lifting equipment from the front when necessary
  • Ultrasonic cleaner for carburetors
  • Signed up for the Stihl Front Runner Program that automatically sends new tools developed for Stihl equipment
  • Access to PartSmart in the shop, as well as old service manuals

“Customers are coming in to fix things that five years ago they would have replaced,” says Humphreys. “Obviously there is a nice margin in parts, so we are happy to do repairs. We pushed ourselves to get back into training schools and strive to get better and more efficient. If I see that something is going to save me time and money, I’ll invest in it.”

After Humphreys transitioned into ownership of the business, he had some challenges with staff. Looking at the big picture, he saw how making the tough decision of letting a few employees go would lead to better service for customers in the end.

“We finally had a complete clean-house startover,” says Humphreys. “It’s tough, but if the employees are not willing to move forward with you, then that’s what you are forced to do. We have multiple generations of customers coming to us and we don’t need to lose them because we couldn’t fix their equipment right the first time.”

Like most dealers, Humphreys is cautious about investing in technicians to lose them to other service centers. He keeps himself up-to-date on service schools as well, and shares that knowledge with technicians.

“You’d put all this effort into training someone and then they would leave,” says Humphreys. “I started getting the training myself so I wouldn’t lose that information. If I’m paying for it, I would like to still have it six months from now. Then we have the ability to teach that information.”

He also sometimes brings back his retired father, who was the service department expert, to get a fresh look at a problem Humphreys and the two technicians on staff can’t figure out.

“My dad really enjoyed the technical side and enjoyed the challenge of satisfying a customer,” says Humphreys. “He liked to figure out problems and help people. That’s what made him a rock in the whole service department to start with.”

Humphreys argues that keeping a successful and profitable service department helps the business, as manufacturers that went to the big box stores take a second look at supporting the dealers that sell and repair equipment.

“Manufacturers are looking back at that servicing dealer knowing they still need someone to fix their equipment,” says Humphreys. “I think we are going to come full circle on where manufacturers choose to sell their products before we get out of this economy.”

Creating unity in the CommUNITY

Located 40 miles west of Indianapolis and 40 miles east of Terra Haute, IN, Humphreys’ Outdoor Power is in a rural community that it strongly supports. Humphreys believes that it is important to support the community that supports you.

“We always try to help when we can,” says Humphreys. “The stronger you keep your community the stronger you keep your business.”

Humphreys and his staff support many local community organizations and center a lot of their efforts around youth groups and sports teams. They also designed and installed a toy tractor for the local playground. Having a focus for their community support efforts keeps them from reaching out beyond the business’s means.

“There is a limit to how many things we can support as a business,” explains Humphreys. “We try to keep everything youth-based because there is no end to what we want to do. It keeps your community up and alive.”

Their support keeps the community alive and also ups the visibility of the business. Supporting and attending events gets the business name in the face of more potential customers while showing they care about the community.

“Supporting the community gives us a higher profile and says something about who we are,” says Humphreys. “Hopefully it also helps the person who is looking for equipment or service to remember that we were trying to make a difference in the town, and pushes them to choose us. If you’ve helped a person out, they are less likely to get on the Internet and shop around.”

Humphreys also makes a conscious effort to support initiatives that his family and employees are interested in. He is also working toward the possibility of one day offering a scholarship.

“All our actions come across to the customer,” explains Humphreys. “They know we are working for a bigger cause than just a paycheck—and that makes them more likely to support us.”

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