Long gone are the days of equipment and service selling itself. Dealers today have to work much harder to attract customers and get the sale. Mark and Patty Williams of Mark Williams Outdoor Power Equipment in Murphysboro, IL, decided that with a tough economy paired with an increasingly competitive and saturated marketplace, it was time they thought of new and innovative ways to operate. As their website states, “Through economic necessity comes innovation.”
They have continued to implement new and innovative programs to draw and retain customers, motivate staff and grow their sales. These assorted programs have made doing business with Mark Williams Outdoor Power Equipment a no-brainer and returned them to the forefront as a retailer.
Getting back what they lost
As the economy took a turn, Mark and Patty saw customers and manufacturers alike looking for inexpensive alternatives. While others were looking for ways to spend less, they were challenged with the task of drawing customers back to their dealership. Mark and Patty did this with less help from their manufacturers than they could typically count on in previous years.
“A lot of our manufacturers cut back on our co-op dollars,” says Patty. “When it happened, we had to figure out how we would recover that marketing budget.”
That was when they created the Shop & Share Program. The referral program designed to build goodwill and their customer base. It is simple to administer, rewarding local organizations with up to 6% of sales referrals.
“Our success is dependent on the support of our local community, much in the same way local organizations are dependent on the community,” says Patty.
Local not-for-profit groups are invited to participate in the Shop & Share Program. The dealership provides printed promotional materials for the organizations to distribute how they like. The materials (wallet cards, banners, T-shirts, flyers, etc.) promote that 6% of each sale referred by the organization goes right back to them.
“They are our ambassadors, in a sense, and only get out of it what they put in,” explains Patty. “It has worked out really well. We benefit a lot because we get to meet people from organizations within the community. It’s kind of a grassroots effort on our part and each year it grows.”
In addition to losing some co-op dollars from manufacturers, Mark and Patty also saw a dip in their parts sales to commercial customers. The commercial customers started looking to online retailers for the lowest parts price they could score, regardless of the quality in manufacturing. Mark and Patty had to find a way to compete with the low-overhead, price-competitive retailers.
“We noticed a decrease in common, over-the-counter maintenance parts sales,” says Patty. “We knew that our landscapers were purchasing these parts, but not from us. Our solution was to develop a landscaper purchasing program that would give us the opportunity to sell more parts.”
Landscapers were invited to join the new Parts Co-op Program. There is no annual membership fee. Members are simply required to purchase a maintenance kit at the discounted co-op price for their specific mower. The kit includes filters, blades, spark plugs and belts. All of the parts used in the co-op are quality OEM parts.
“We were competing with the internet and wanted to keep those sales and tax dollars in our local economy,” says Patty. “Our manufacturers got aggressive that year as well, and the planets aligned just right. We were able to buy at a discounted price and passed that onto our landscapers.”
Patty says the co-op program has saved their landscape customers over $8,000 since 2010, and has brought a lot of that parts business back to the dealership. In the first year, they saw a 15% increase in parts sales. The second year, sales fell flat. Patty says she will gladly take flat parts sales over the alternative, which is handing those sales back over to internet retailers.