Finding a Sweet Spot in a Long Shot

North Carolina equipment dealer sticks to what he knows and what customers need. Refusing growth beyond his means keeps customers happily traveling a distance for the quality service he provides.

321 has been one of Ferris’ top 10 dealers since opening.
321 has been one of Ferris’ top 10 dealers since opening.

Located on Highway 321 in Maiden, NC, 321 Lawn Mower Sales & Service has grown to $2 million in sales a year despite their town’s small population of just 3,500 people. In operation for just a decade, they have seen year-over-year sales growth since their opening—even throughout the recession. With a focus on customer service and adjusting their offering to meet changes in demand, they have grown to a size they are comfortable with and will work diligently to maintain.

History leads to a future

Owner Patrick Havens opened 321 after a long career at another North Carolina dealership. He was ready to purchase the dealership he worked at for 20 years, but the deal fell through. Havens remained eager to take on the responsibility of his own dealership and told his wife: “It’s now or never.” With the help of his wife Sherry and brother Gerald, they opened their own dealership in 2003 in Newton, NC. A year later they moved to another location on the same highway that brought more traffic.

“We were there almost a year and decided it wasn't a good location,” says Havens. “We ended up buying this place. We never thought we’d need all this space, but 10 years later we're using every bit of it. It's amazing how a business can grow.”

Their current facility has a 2,400-square-foot shop, an 18,000-square-foot showroom and a 4,000-square-foot storage building. They use every inch to meet customer product needs and service demands. Another example of their growth is the additional staff now on the payroll. The staff now includes four full-time service technicians, two sales managers, one parts manager, and a dedicated equipment pickup and delivery person.

Sherry handles any day-to-day tasks that need addressing around the dealership. Gerald is shop foreman, in charge of making sure shop turnaround meets customer demand and dealership goals for profitability.

Helping pros with propane

In recent years, 321 has taken on propane mowers and propane conversions to fill the needs of their contractor customers. The dealership has done nearly 25 conversions since offering the service. The propane products and conversions help 321 customers to recover operating costs and reduce maintenance needs, while setting the dealership apart from the competition.

“Not many people in North Carolina offer propane conversions because of the expense of getting certified,” says Havens. But he saw that the certification and training expense was an investment in the businesses of his customers. “With the cost of gasoline, it just seemed like a good idea for our commercial cutters who are now buying propane at $2.20 a gallon. Continued EPA and government regulations are even more of a reason to offer propane options to customers.”

Havens himself doesn’t offer propane refills on site, but says most of his contractors have the filling stations at their home base. He thinks more contractors should consider it for the added convenience and time savings.  “They no longer have to stop in the morning and fill the units with gas,” says Havens. “They can avoid a lot of downtime associated with those stops.”

Helping pros with productivity boosters

Havens and his staff keep a close eye on what products they can provide to meet commercial user needs. Helping customers to stay productive and operational is a constant goal.

“Commercial users are looking for more productive ways to get their jobs done,” says Havens. “In the past they would just add an employee. Now they look at more productive, updated equipment to get the job done with the employees they have.”

Havens says his customers have turned to these three products for high productivity with reduced operator fatigue:

  • The high-capacity TurfEx RS7200 ride-on sprayer and spreader
  • SourceOne Plugr lawn aerator for easy maneuverability in hard soil
  • Ferris mowers with a suspension that allows the user to mow faster without having to slow down on rough terrain

Will travel for a top-notch dealer

321 Lawn Mower Sales & Service has seen a large amount of customers traveling from outside of town for equipment and service. It’s fair to say that some followed Haven from his previous post.

“When I started our business here, everyone said I was crazy and that it was too small of a town to make it,” says Havens. “After 10 years we have found that 8% of our business comes from Maiden and the other 92% comes from other towns. It’s about giving good customer service and offering good products worth the trip.”

One brand of product that Havens has had much success with is Ferris. They have been one of Ferris’ top 10 dealers since opening, with 80-85% of their sales coming from Ferris mowers. Both commercial and homeowner customers alike are choosing mowers from the line.

“In our area, a lot of homeowners have a lot of acreage,” explains Havens. “They aren’t going to get by with a 30-inch mower.”  

Something that has helped 321 continue to provide top-notch customer service is their refusal to grow beyond their ability to provide that quality service. They keep their advertising to a minimum, using the local newspaper and TV, and have changed their service offering to only include brands they sell.

“We used to service all brands to keep our mechanics busy while we took eight years to build up our customer base,” explains Havens. “To keep offering good service to our customers, we stopped working on the products we don’t sell a year and a half ago.”

Havens says he expects moderate growth in the future as his customer base expands, but he will not sacrifice quality of service, customer satisfaction, or reasonable profitability in growing his company too fast.

“We’re really doing what we want to do,” says Havens. “Bigger is not better sometimes. We just hope to maintain the sales we’ve got and take good care of the customers we have." 

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