Winning WITH Mass Merchants

The following insights are from an equipment dealer, but are also relevant for a landscape contractor/garden center that is also facing competitive pressures from mass merchant retailers.

Like most equipment dealers, I am highly competitive as well as passionate about the industry I serve. I know what it feels like to have a vendor inform you of a new competitor that they have just set up in your market even though you may have been brand loyal for 20 years or more. I also know the anxiety of hearing that a new Big Box store is opening in your town. Like a lot of life’s fears that eventually prove not be as bad as first expected, I have discovered that mass-merchant competition can actually be good for local business.

A surprise surge in sales

In 2002 a Home Depot store opened up almost directly across the street from my location. Being a large Toro dealer who was already upset that Toro was now offered by Home Depot, I wasn’t real thrilled to welcome them to the neighborhood.  Additionally, I quickly realized that I could not compete with their advertising and marketing budgets nor could I compete with some of their price and in-store finance promotions.

However, just a few months after opening, I began to notice an upward trend in our business. Our Toro sales were up, we were getting more floor traffic, and the workload increased in our service department. Every time my new neighbor advertised for outdoor power equipment, we immediately saw an increase in sales. Over the years, I came to realize several benefits of having a mass merchant as a neighbor discovering some proactive steps to take in order to grow my business.

Step 1 - Develop a Value Statement

The first thing to recognize is what strengths you have as an independent dealer and convert those strengths into a value statement or value proposition. A value statement simply answers the question of why someone should buy from you versus a competitor. Come up with at least 10 bullet points of why people should buy from you and then write them down, print them out and laminate them. Be certain to share at least 2-3 of those bullet points with every customer or potential customer every time you come in contact with. You know what services and value you offer but the customer doesn’t know until you tell them. Just think about all the benefits you offer compared to the mass merchant. With the combination of your expert knowledge and quality product offering, the customer is certain to choose the right machine for their application producing a properly educated and satisfied customer. 

Step 2 - Introduce yourself

It is very beneficial to introduce yourself to the folks who work in the lawn and garden sections of the mass merchant store. While their responses do vary, I suggest taking a business card and informing them that you offer warranty repair for the brands that you have in common. Let them know what products you service and what services you offer.  Be certain to stop by at different times introducing yourself to each of the different shifts including the weekend staff.

After personally taking this action, one mass-merchant employee began referring as many as 10 customers per week to us. Why not offer to put on a service class or seminar for their customers. Most all of the mass merchants know the value of informational marketing and regularly host free seminars for their customers. You could get in front of new clients and establish yourself as the expert.

Step 3 - Get’em in the seat

I actually learned this years ago working with a franchise automobile dealer. They shared overwhelming statistics stating that you were 50% more likely to sell a car if you just got them to sit in the vehicle and 75% more likely if they actually took it for a test drive.

It is highly unlikely that a mass merchant is going to encourage a potential purchaser to take that new lawn mower for a test drive. However, as an independent dealer, you have a great opportunity to differentiate yourself and encourage them to experience it.

Keep in mind that there are still a staggering number of potential customers who have never actually driven a zero-turn mower. Most are afraid of or intimidated by the lack of a steering wheel or they’ve had a bad experience with a neighbor’s zero-turn mower. If you can walk them through the proper operation and help them overcome their fear, then you will certainly close more sales while establishing your value over your competitors. This success is wholly dependent upon your ability to get them in the seat.

Step 4 - Increase your social media efforts

The main thing to understand is that activity such as Facebook posts, Tweets, and blogs increase your ability to be found online. Share seasonal ideas and tips that benefit your customers. Special events are also good to share with your clients. These events can be internal or external. An example of internal could be events such as your open house, special promotions, or perhaps special vendor financing. External events and information could be activities such as local parades, tradeshows, garden clubs, holidays or local weather forecasts.

The quantity of the posts are not nearly as important as the quality. The point is to have your name seen and establishing yourself as a trusted source, making you the first person thought of when a consumer is ready to purchase.

Step 5 - Advertise and promote to their customers

Any way you slice it, mass merchants attract a lot of foot traffic. With that in mind you may want to consider the following ideas:

  • Rent an outdoor billboard in close proximity to the big box store pointing consumers to your location either physically or online
  • Host a demo day at a vacant location or field that is close to your targeted competitor  
  • Ask for permission to distribute fliers in their parking lot promoting your service specials

As more manufacturers seek to increase their brand name and grow market share through mass-merchant channels, it is important that local dealers continue to look for new ways to attract customers, to share their value, and creatively promote their business. By being proactive in establishing expertise in your market, you can not only survive but thrive. Regardless of what steps you choose, it is important to take action on behalf of your business, employees, and market refusing to allow any big box to overshadow you.

Jay Gaskins is a 25 year outdoor power equipment and Green Industry veteran as a mechanic, manager and owner. He now works with dealers as a coach to help them realize maximum sales results and efficiencies.

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