The ABCs of Caring for the Contractor

Commercial mower sales led to a banner 2013 for Ray Harney of ABC Lawn Equipment in Cape Coral, FL. The equipment dealer has in recent years established a product mix that offers contractors good options to meet their varying equipment needs. And with what Ray says is the largest parts department in the area, customers keep coming back for maintenance and other service after the initial equipment sale.

“Business has been amazing this past year,” says Ray. “Sales were up last year mainly driven by Wright commercial mowers and the addition of Scag mowers.”

Gaining ground with social media

Ray has seen great sales on the commercial side, as well as lots of traffic in the dealership, thanks to a more active internet marketing approach. The year 2013 was the year he decided to really put the time and effort into pushing their online marketing.

“It was the first full year we started doing advertising and marketing online with Google and Facebook,” explains Ray. “I would attribute a lot of new customers to that online presence.”

Many dealers and contractors alike are turning to social media to expand their customer base. Small business owners have long touted the power of word of mouth, and social media allows you to gain exposure with existing customers as well as potential customers though shared connections and their visible “likes”. Ray wisely advises that the best way to gain exposure is to get yourself out there.

“If you’re not doing it, you should start,” says Ray. “We post very actively on social media and have seen great results. Our Facebook page went live in January, and we have accumulated over 600 likes with an average weekly reach of 20,000 people.”

Posts to the ABC Facebook page highlight exclusive specials, equipment photos and giveaways. The Facebook page also helps draw customers to ABC's website. Ray uses manufacturer co-op dollars to invest in marketing for their website and Facebook ads to grow their following. He has increased his own marketing budget as well.

Diverse products in the spotlight

The existence of social media isn’t the only thing that changed since the dealership first opened. When Ray’s father started the equipment dealership 30 years ago, they simply stocked one commercial line, one residential line and one handheld line. ABC now offers a more diverse, yet focused, line of products to appeal to the different needs and desires of customers.

“We offer a much more diverse line of products than years ago,” says Ray. “It seemed back then customers were loyal to the dealer and they bought whatever you sold. Now, customers do so much more research and spend time talking to other landscapers about equipment options. You can’t carry every line, but we think the mix of lines we do carry opens us up to the most customers.”

Ray wants to focus on showcasing the many models available across their lines so customers can see all that they have to offer. The desire to display more equipment in the showroom has led to plans for an expansion.

“It’s difficult to display each line’s complete model mix well with the showroom we have. We have outgrown our current showroom but have the sales to support a larger one,” shares Ray. “We're looking at expanding our showroom in early 2014.”

Taking care of the contractor

A large portion of Ray’s customer base is made up of landscape contractors. As their buying habits and business needs have changed, so has the ABC offering. Contractors are looking for more from both their products and dealers.

Ray says contractors are more educated, doing much more research and expecting that same level of knowledge from their dealers. Part of that contractor research is demos. ABC has been doing more and more demos to close sales. The equipment which contractors are taking out for demos has been trending toward mowers with smaller decks.

“Contractors are looking for smaller decks that fit through fences,” shares Ray. “The majority of our sit-down mower sales are 48-inch decks and standers at 52 inches.”  Ray has also seen an increase in sales of 36-inch decks with a decline in the larger, 61-inch deck sales.

Ray says customers are also looking for more than affordability when shopping for equipment these days. Customers—especially landscape contractors—want a reliable product and a reliable dealer to service that product. “Price isn't always the driving factor in a purchase,” explains Ray. “Customers are paying for reliability.”

In the commercial landscape business, a day down adds up to major profits lost. Ray knows that to keep ABC customers happy, he can’t let them lose that time out in the field. When contractors run into trouble with their equipment, they turn to ever-reliable Ray for a loaner piece.

“We offer loaners during shop repairs to a customer who purchased mowers from us,” says Ray. The loaner fleet at ABC offers many mower options and currently includes a 52-inch Wright Stander X, 36-inch Scag V-Ride, 48-inch Wright ZTO, 48-inch Scag Cheetah, 52-inch Toro Z and a 52-inch Wright Stander.

A well-stocked and well-managed parts department

A stocked parts department also keeps contractors’ equipment in working order. Careful management of parts inventory helps Ray keep ABC liquid, and customers cared for with a lush parts department.

“Parts is one of the most challenging areas of the business,” explains Ray. “You want to have the parts in stock so your customers’ downtime is minimal, but at the same time you don't want to have thousands of dollars tied up just sitting in your parts room.”

Ray maintains a full inventory of belts, blades, pulleys, switches and bearings, as well as many other SKUs for the brands ABC represents. In April of 2013, the dealership installed new computers and switched Business Management Systems (BMS) from Softpower to Ideal. From the parts counter in the showroom, to the workstation in the shop, the new technology is helping Ray and his team to take care of customers in a more efficient manner. He has cited reduced paper and simplified filing systems as two of the ways they have simplified administrative tasks and improved customer service. Better parts inventory management with the new BMS is keeping them well-stocked and customers happy.  

“Our new BMS has been a huge help in assisting with parts ordering and stocking levels,” Ray says. “No one wants their mower down over something small like an out-of-stock part.” 

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