Dealing in Contractor Education

Michigan dealer makes it a goal to educate contractors on running a landscape business while sharing in their successes.

The staff at Pro-Mower & Snow Equipment from left to right: John Agostini (co-owner and service manager), Sean (service coordinator), Larry (service advisor-warranty advocator), Nikki (service writer and advisor), Mark (parts), and co-owner Mike Agostini.
The staff at Pro-Mower & Snow Equipment from left to right: John Agostini (co-owner and service manager), Sean (service coordinator), Larry (service advisor-warranty advocator), Nikki (service writer and advisor), Mark (parts), and co-owner Mike Agostini.

In their seventh year of offering the Pro-Mower University, brothers Mike and John Agostini are seeing results. Class numbers are holding strong and attendees are asking for further guidance on how to spend the money the seminars are helping them to save.

As a former landscape contractor who left the business due to a personal injury, Mike always felt he was lucky to have found a mentor in the landscaping business. When he took on the role of a power equipment dealer in 2000, he wanted to offer that same guidance to his contractor customers. There are many to educate, with commercial cutters making up over 95% of the customer base at Pro-Mower & Snow Equipment in Warren, MI.

"I realized that it wasn't just me," explains Mike. "We thought we could give them the same help that I was fortunate enough to receive, along with an opportunity to learn about the business aspect of it all. The cutting grass part is relatively cut-and-dry, but most of them haven't gone to school to learn how to run a landscaping company. That's why we decided to create a school to educate them on how to manage their business."

A full course load

Pro-Mower University classes are held once or twice a year—once before spring and once before winter. They often touch on lawn topics early in the year, and snow removal in the fall season. Municipality employees also attend some of the seminars. The courses cover various topics, from equipment maintenance to the very-popular topic of job costing.

"The job costing aspect is huge," says Mike. "I don't think most contractors actually realize what it costs them to cut grass. It's much simpler for a dealer who knows they paid X amount of dollars for a product and need to sell it at a higher price to profit. A lot of contractors are just guessing and undercut themselves."

Mike says job costing classes help contractors to know exactly what labor, materials and equipment costs them, and how to price their services so they are profitable. Additional topics include LEAN operating, sales and marketing, and expanding services with diversification.

"We generally pick topics based on what what's going on around us as well as suggestions from contractors and vendors," explains Mike.

Mike says some of his vendors also help with the events themselves and are glad he provides the service. Sadly, not all see the value in it. In addition to vendor partners, the Agostini brothers have teamed up with Wayne Volz, president of training and consulting company Profits Unlimited. Volz helps set up curriculum and has materials available for attendees to purchase at the events. The dealership also stocks Volz's materials so they are available for purchase at a later date or for customers who did not attend the training.

Driving attendance

Only a handful of individuals attended these seminars early on. Attendance grew to 80 people at its peak, and has now stabilized around 50. Mike hopes more contractors will take advantage of the opportunity.

"We would love to see more attendance," says Mike. "We know there are a lot of guys who need to be here, but they don't come for various reasons."

To spread news of the classes, Pro-Mower uses direct mailers, attends local tradeshows, sends email blasts and posts in social media. They also encourage referrals.

"We are doing whatever we can do to get the word out," says Mike. "We even encourage contractors to invite their competitors or friends in the business."

If a contractor does bring an extra crewmember, competitor or friend, they receive discounts on the already-low class fee for each person after the first attendee. Mike says the small fee—which is never over $20 and includes some learning materials and refreshments—is designed to encourage contractors to commit to the opportunity.

"It is human nature that if you feel like you have something to lose, you feel like you need to be there," explains Mike. "I think just registering for a free event and saying you will attend makes it seem like there is less value associated with it."

Enjoying the results

Many contractors return to Pro-Mower with tales of how the courses have helped them. Mike enjoys hearing the feedback and learning how the courses have given contractors better control over their businesses and finances.

"The attendees are very thankful to us. They come back and tell me time and time again how the previous seminar helped them," says Mike. "It reminds us that they are successful and the courses do help change people's lives."

What's next for the Agostini brothers? They will be finding ways to help contractors invest the money saved from applying things they have learned in these courses back into their businesses.

"We had a customer talk to us about what to do with the profit they're now making," says Mike. "It was something that opened up my eyes a little bit. Now that you're making money, what should you do with it? We want to help them with that, and focus a little more on sales too. That's a big aspect people overlook. It's always about price, when reality it should be about value."