Closing Tomorrow's Sales Today

For the third year in a row, the consensus among dealers is that parts and service is where the majority of dealership activity is taking place this spring. Of course, plenty of dealers are also having good luck selling equipment—albeit smaller units (typically) that are easier to get financed. But even if you’re one of the many dealers saying, “Thank goodness for my parts and service departments,†that doesn’t mean you aren’t closing any equipment sales right now. On page 22 of the April/May issue of Yard & Garden you’ll read our special report entitled, “The Changing Landscape.†Findings from a recent survey of PRO Magazine readers show how contractors typically start out in lawn maintenance, but gradually branch into various services as they look to grow their businesses. The report then discusses how dealers can do some branching out of their own to provide some of the equipment and products landscapers come to demand in time. I guess it makes perfect sense: Dealers can diversify and grow with their customers. At the same time, it’s important to remember what your customers need today, and will likely need every day for the next 10 years, even as they grow their businesses to impressive sales levels. One afternoon while working on this “Changing Landscape†article, I received a phone call from a smaller lawn maintenance operator in Alabama. He couldn’t get his mower started, so he naturally called his dealer. But the dealer told this growingly anxious cutter that he wouldn’t be able to get to it for at least a few days. In a panic, the contractor called me when he saw my name and number in a recent issue of PRO—because he didn’t know where else to turn. (I simply gave him the 800 number of the manufacturer.) That whole encounter reminded me of something. Most landscape contractors, especially those who are relatively new, are sort of on this little island all by themselves. Until they join an association or networking group or something, they don’t really have anyone to turn to for good advice, which is why they rely so heavily on their dealers. Here’s the interesting part: As contractors mature and grow, they might not rely as heavily on their dealers, but they seem to value their dealers more. According to the results of that PRO survey: 67% of contractors in business less than five years said “the dealer†is an influential factor when making a purchase decision, compared to 78% of contractors in business for more than five years, and 88% of contractors doing at least a million dollars in annual sales. Now that spring is here, and hopefully temps have warmed up enough to kick-start the turf in your area, try to remember something: Some of those little pain-in-the-butt cutters could one day become some of your biggest and best customers. Will they fall into the category of “those who become more loyal to their dealer†in time? More importantly, will they become more loyal to you? The encounters you have with these contractors today will likely influence the outcome. ~ Gregg Wartgow, editor-in-chief of Yard & Garden