California Dealer Proves His Relevancy

Richard Ogawa grew up in his parents’ outdoor power equipment dealership. As a young kid he knew the business well and was well-acquainted with Ray Matsumoto and Glenn Kurimoto —owners of another dealership in the area. After pursuing a successful career in retail merchandising, internet marketing and social media, he wanted to resurrect the dealership his parents left behind.

Once Richard reunited with his friendly competitors from the old days, the three decided to join forces and bring Gardenland Power Equipment in Campbell, CA, to its next phase with a strong focus on marketing and a plan for succession.

“I wanted to build on the success that Ray and Glenn have had since 1960,” says Richard. “They've done a really solid job in building a business that is very profitable—one that is poised to expand and grow.”

Focusing on products and programs that help their contractor customers stay on top of the competition is what has helped them to beat out the price-competitive Big Box stores and stay relevant to their customers.

Multi-platform marketing

With a strong background in internet marketing, social media and retail merchandising, Richard felt he possessed the tools and knowledge needed to take a well-known dealership to the next level online.

“I had a lot of retail internet experience, and pairing that with a successfully run retail business really helped us to explode in the last four years,” explains Richard. “Gardenland didn't have any digital marketing before I came along. We added a multi-channel marketing strategy to communicate with our different customer segments. The whole online and mobile arena is something that we're going after and really investing in.”

Putting a strong investment in their online presence is a no brainer for Richard. They are looking to invest even further in solutions that provide insight into customer needs, and to format their website to be compatible on several mobile devices. 

“To be able to serve content on multiple platforms is critical to our solution,” says Richard. “You have to think of it as another channel or store for the customer and treat it that way.”

While part of their online efforts are for attracting new customers, Richard explains that they use it mainly as a tool to communicate with their commercial customers to ensure they are getting fast and friendly service.

“On the commercial side we use the internet as more of a vehicle of communicating with our customers,” says Richard. “A growing percentage of our customers access our website with a smartphone or tablet, so we use texting and email to provide alerts about when service repairs are completed and when ordered parts become available. It's a way to communicate more efficiently to the commercial base.”

Faster, better, more-relevant customer service

The marketing campaign at Gardenland is not the only segment of the business that sees heavy investment. They made several investments into the facility and technology that will help them to run the business more efficiently and in turn provide time-saving solutions to their customers.

“Increasing our efficiency is a priority,” says Richard. “We can turn a lot more transactions and handle a lot more volume having invested in the infrastructure. We are not afraid of change and will continue to invest in ways to make our business a lot more operationally efficient.”

Six parts counter employees balance the needs of the service department and walk-in customers. Gardenland recently invested in a new Ideal Business Management System (BMS) and Rousseau high-capacity parts cabinets. This has helped take their parts counter average transaction time down from three minutes to 30 seconds.

The business will also be moving to a more automated inventory management system to improve turns and maintain a healthy stock of parts for customers who visit the dealership, use their onsite parts locker programs, or take advantage of their mobile service. These systems and programs are all a part of ensuring that Gardenland remains relevant in the customers’ eyes.

“Customer service today is very different from what it was in the past. Customer service is also about relevancy and saving the customer time,” says Richard. “We have to continue to look for ways to provide great customer service and be relevant with the right products at the right time for the customer.”

Each Gardenland customer has a profile that helps the dealership staff know what equipment they are operating, while also helping staff to anticipate customer needs and wants. Any special offers sent through the mail are tailored to that customer’s needs.

“When they (customers) come in we know what they need and get them in and out of here as quick as possible,” says Richard. “We have so many customer that come to us because we have all of their information instantly available so we can better service their needs.”

The environmental edge

One of the ways Gardenland stays relevant is with their inventory of environmentally friendly products. The California dealership is no stranger to the noise and emission restrictions placed on landscape contractors and municipalities in their area. They have seen a strong growth in demand for alternative fuels like propane, along with battery equipment from commercial users, municipalities and homeowners.

“More and more dealers will realize that it is not a replacement, it’s an alternative,” says Richard. “We are providing a differentiating service and it is becoming very popular. Landscapers can do jobs an hour earlier than when they are used to because the equipment is quieter and suitable for use near the buildings. A lot of hospitals and school districts are also investing in adding a battery lineup to their program.”

At the homeowner level, Richard believes quality battery-powered equipment is still a bit too pricey and out of reach for most. But he says with more advances in technology, the more those prices will come down. New and improved technology is exactly what he says is keeping his customers coming back for more.

“The challenge on the battery side of the business is how to make money when there are no parts or service and the equipment margins aren’t that great,” Richard explains. “You have to continually offer innovative products and accessories. As manufacturers are continually innovating on the product line, there is always something for the customer to replace their equipment with or upgrade to.”

Products like battery belts—and improved batteries that are lighter, longer and charge quicker—are attractive buys for Gardenland customers. Systems with multiple accessories to plug one power unit into are also popular.

With a continued focus on building and improving their product offerings, operations, marketing and customer support programs, the team at Gardenland Power Equipment is poised to see continued success as they move toward the future.

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