Whatever Floats Their Boat

Minnesota trio opens dealership selling everything from cars and campers to waterfront toys and zero-turn mowers.

Cody Diederich of The Dock Shop & Outdoor Power Equipment in Jenkins, MN
Cody Diederich of The Dock Shop & Outdoor Power Equipment in Jenkins, MN

Cody Diederich wanted to start a business that was unique, yet catered to a specific need in the market. A little over a year and a half ago, he teamed with his father-in-law and brother-in-law, Jamie and Casey Emans, to do just that.

The trio opened a new store in Jenkins, MN, in February 2015 that is actually home to two companion businesses. Diederich is the sole owner of The Dock Shop & Outdoor Power Equipment. All three are partners in Epic Auto & Sports Center.

"This kind of product offering really gets people in the door," Diederich says. "It has been interesting. We'll sell a customer a used car, then down the road we'll sell them a boat and then a lawnmower."

Focusing specifically on The Dock Shop & Outdoor Power Equipment, Diederich says roughly 60% of revenue comes from the waterfront side of the business. Products include "lake toys" such as rafts and waterslides, along with boat lifts and docks and related installation and service.

The other 40% of revenue is in outdoor power equipment—every penny of which comes from selling Altoz mowers. That's because Altoz is the only power equipment line the dealership currently carries. Now that they've been open a couple of seasons and have displayed the ability to attract a good lawn and garden customer base, Diederich is starting to look at other lines he might be able to add to the mix.

Altoz will continue to be part of that mix. "We sold 15 mowers last year and had already sold 25 by August of this year," Diederich says. "We're pretty proud of that because, from what I hear, there are a lot of dealers who've been in business a long time that sell 20-30 mowers a year. I think we're off to a pretty good start."

Consumer, commercial and an unknown brand

The Dock Shop has been catering to a mix of homeowners and commercial cutters. "Our first year, we mainly had landscapers coming in to see the new mowers," Diederich recalls. "This year we've had more homeowners, really because Altoz had introduced a new high-end, homeowner-targeted model this year, the XR Series."

The fact that Altoz is a relatively new, unknown brand has helped to pique consumer interest, Diederich points out. There are many other dealers selling many other brands in the area. He has tried to leverage the novelty of the Altoz brand to his advantage—especially considering how The Dock Shop & Outdoor Power Equipment is a new business itself.

"When people come in to see what this Altoz mower is all about, we're in a pretty good position," Diederich says. "It's a high-quality mower. Altoz's sister company, Central Boiler, is really good at bending and fabricating steel. They have made one heck of a steel frame. We felt like this mower was right on par with others that are out there. So far we've sold over 40 of them and have not had a serious issue come back to our shop in two seasons.

"Before we opened our business, we took the opportunity to look at many different brands," Diederich continues. "What it really came down to was the company and who they really are. We were able to tour the Altoz headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Minnesota, a few hours away from us, and meet their employees and founder, Dennis Brazier. We were really impressed by the amount of enthusiasm and pride at all levels of the company."

Additionally, Diederich felt that it was important to go to market with a brand that was unique and locally made. "We were also impressed that Altoz has been very selective in building a healthy and profitable business model for its dealers, as opposed to stacking dealers too close to one another."

So far it has worked out well. Going forward, as Altoz builds its name recognition and has more dealers knocking on its doors, Diederich is confident the business model won't change.

"The mower market is pretty saturated already," Diederich says. "There are only so many dealers and those dealers are only going to take on so many lines. Regardless, Altoz doesn't seem to want to grow too fast so they can't keep up with supply. They are taking a more controlled approach to growth—growing with their dealers. They've taken their time and are doing a great job of observing the market and taking feedback from their dealers."

A good example is the mower's deck chute deflector. "They changed it from a hard plastic to a softer plastic so it can bend and give a little when going around trees and other obstacles," Diederich explains. "It's a little thing, but very important. It shows how detail-oriented they are, and how willing they are to listen to their dealers to make the product better."

Pioneering a new brand, especially when you're a brand new dealer yourself, is not without its challenges. "It's really just name recognition," Diederich says. You have to build both awareness and trust. That requires a little bit more aggressive approach.

"We offer demo units to everyone, allowing them to try before they buy," Diederich says. "In this industry, the consumer needs to be comfortable with the dealer first—then the mower sales will come. We have one of each model in stock so the customer can look at each option and decide on what best meets their needs." From there the dealership is willing to take trades, provides free delivery and offers 0% financing. "We also make sure the customer understands that they have the support of a local manufacturer whose customer service reps will answer any questions they might have," Diederich adds.

Of course, Diederich is there to answer questions too. As he'd pointed out, winning the customer's trust is the dealer's first hurdle to closing a sale. As a former sales manager for ShoreMaster Docks & Lifts, he is well-versed in customer service. He knows a thing or two about mowing lawns as well. Like many of today's most successful landscape contractors, he had a mowing business as a teenager. His mowing days are long behind him, though. Now he's an equipment dealer, helping to pioneer a new brand from a new store in central Minnesota.