The Service Sells the Showroom

The second-generation Passmore Service Center in Bechtelsville, PA, is run by Dale and Dallas Fronheiser, with their sister Duane Riegner and brother-in-law Ronald Riegner. It’s been a good year for the team. Things started out slow as a result of light snowfalls through the winter, but thanks to a rainy summer, things are looking up.  

“We didn't have much snow last winter, but we have probably had the best rain season we've ever had,” explains Dale. “It rained once a week all summer long and is probably the first time our landscape accounts didn't skip cuts in the month of August.”

Service sells the showroom

Contractors were busy cutting all summer and turned to Passmore’s service department when the season’s wear and tear took a toll on their equipment. Dale said new purchases haven’t met pre-recession levels, but that the positive attitudes have returned.

“We don't have as many contractors coming in to buy new as we did prior to the recession,” Dale shares. “Their equipment is getting worn out and we're seeing more guys putting money into repairs than in previous years. More importantly, we are seeing an improvement in attitude.”

Dale says that the main thing challenging their business is the tight margins on wholegoods. He maintains his own positive attitude and sees plenty of opportunity in the service department to make up for the tight margins in the showroom. As the customers shifted their dollars toward the service department, Dale and the team shifted their focus there as well.

“In this day and age, we are really focused on making sure that our service department is profitable and efficient,” says Dale. “We set many goals for our parts and service department that encourage efficiency and are rewarded when met.”

The seven technicians on staff at Passmore obtain all the necessary and available manufacturer training. When customers do decide to make an equipment purchase, Dale says it’s their positive experiences with the service department that will close the sale in the showroom.

“My service department is what makes my showroom successful,” explains Dale. “The two most important things that affect our business are the weather and the service department. They will impact our business more than the economy ever will. If our service department is effective and accurate, customers will buy from Passmore.”

More power or less dollar

With a customer base that is half commercial cutters, Dale says he is noticing some shifts in their buying behavior. Landscapers are split fairly even, choosing mowers either with more power or something with a price that puts them right where they need to be with performance.

“Half our commercial cutters are going for power and the other half, economy,” explains Dale. “There is a certain group who feel they want a big engine for faster cutting. For others, valuable equipment at the right cost is what they are after.”

Dale says he sees the price of mowers climbing and contractors of all sizes taking a step back to evaluate their needs and whether a few extra thousand dollars invested will pay off. Helping them find the right mower at the right price is his focus. Dale would rather get the smaller sale today if it means a loyal customer down the road. 

“If I want their business in the future, I want to sell them what's best for them,” explains Dale. “I can sell them a larger machine, but if they don't think they needed to pay for that more deluxe chassis, they'll feel like I talked them into it. Our customers have grown to trust our approach.”

A future in parts possible

To back up their busy service department, Passmore has a sizeable parts inventory.  They have been thinking about venturing into online parts sales. The jury is still out, however, as they want to be sure they can do it successfully before taking it on. 

“Online parts sales is something we’ve been wrestling with for a long time,” says Dale. “Many people have been successful with it, but you have to spend a lot of time and money establishing and managing it.”

Dale says the only way he could see it becoming a part of their business is if they have a dedicated individual or team tasked with growing and managing the online parts sales. In this seasonal business, he sees the value of selling countrywide year-round, but fears the market may be too saturated with dealers trying to break into the online marketplace.

“I'm concerned that the market is already flooded with too many dealers. There are big pluses or big minuses,” Dale says. “You can spend a lot trying to be successful and end up hurting your regular business. I feel blessed with the business we already have.”