Managing for Staying Power

Maine outdoor power equipment dealer chooses to focus on gaining knowledge, diversifying products and empowering customers to increase the staying power of his business.

Sandy and Jesse Laffely
Sandy and
Jesse Laffely

The outdoor power equipment business, like most any other business these days, has changed dramatically with the wealth of information available to consumers online.

At Brunswick Home & Garden Shop (BHGS) in Brunswick, ME, they’ve chosen to empower themselves and their customers in order to remain a competitive and successful dealer.

They regularly seek to gain knowledge and the opportunity to offer new products. They obtain as much information and skill as they can, and use it to improve their business and better inform customers.

Knowledge is Power

Falling complacent has never been an issue for BHGS. They stay keyed into the industry and their business, looking for ways to learn more and do more for their customers. Becoming a trusted resource for the customer is important when the customer can get a lot of information elsewhere.

“The customer today is more knowledgeable than they used to be. They have more access to more information through the Internet and other sources that they didn’t have before,” says Jesse Laffely, owner of BHGS for the past 14 years. “This means we have to stay as up to date as possible and be as knowledgeable as we can.”

Laffely warns that shooting from the hip with today’s well-informed customer base could leave consumers feeling unsure of your products and services.

“Customers want to be able to trust you and trust the fact that you know what you are talking about,” he says. “To stay on point we attend service schools regularly.”

At BHGS, they are dedicated to not just keeping up to date in the industry and at service schools, but also making sure their facility receives regular updates. A complete remodel of the service area in 2009 reorganized the workspace and parts department to help operations run smoother, and bring customers better service with quicker turnaround times.

“We own the building we are in, and the need to keep it up has kept us investing,” says Laffely. “We want to keep a fresh appearance for the customer. Showing some change shows that you are not stale or stagnant, but rather driven and motivated.”

The showroom also received a revamp, making it brighter and easier for customers to navigate. Five feet was added to the sales counter, making it more visible to customers as they enter the dealership, and allowing staff more space to work.

Power in Diversification

In search of finding new ways to grow business and increase their staying power, Laffely decided to diversify their product offering with home standby generators and electric-powered equipment.

“The sales increase we’ve had in the last few years has been due to the home standby generators and electric products,” says Laffely. “On the East Coast, generator sales are healthy and consumers are looking for more ‘green’ products. It has opened us up to a customer base we may have not seen through our doors before.”

Offering generators may have also bought BHGS an increase in equipment sales as the home standby generator customers learn of their other product offerings.

“When the customers who have generators installed hear about our power equipment, they often come in to see what lines we offer,” explains Laffely. “By selling one product, it opens the door for another product and it works back and forth. They see we do a good job with the one and they are happy to come to us for the other.”

The electric equipment has come as far as the product offering at BHGS, leaving Laffely confident in the products they offer. “The electric products are ideal for the in-town lots,” he says. “Years ago, the batteries barely had any power. The newer products deliver a much better performance.”

Empowering the Customer

Proof is the performance for the equipment, and Laffely feels the same about his services as a dealer. Today’s customers can access a wealth of information online and many are now researching products before even making a purchasing decision. The team at BHGS chooses to empower the customers, giving them a wealth of information, and allowing them to make an educated decision about what products are right for them.

“We want to give customers the information, options and power to decide on their own,” says Laffely. “The thing that secures our place in the market is trying to treat the customer well. We do that by making them part of the decision-making process.”

For generator customers, Laffely or another BHGS employee will visit their home before giving them a few options to choose between.

“If I’m just going to show them pamphlets and brochures, they can go to the box store and get the same information,” says Laffely. “If I go to their house and walk around, check the site and décor, I can give a few options very specific to them and make the customer a part of the decision.”

When a customer comes in looking for a piece of equipment, Laffely and his team try to “qualify” them for the right one by asking them a series of key questions about the size of the property, who will be operating the equipment, and at what frequency.

“We want to find out where they are going with the product and give them two or more suitable choices,” says Laffely. “By giving them a few, they have the options but we’ve pointed them in the right direction. We want to steer and guide them without forcing them.”

Laffely assures that empowering the customer to make the decision on their own, spending time with them, and treating them with respect, will make it easier for them to take that step toward what can be an expensive purchase.

He relates it to an experience he and his wife had when shopping for furniture. After finding what they wanted in a sofa, they realized they hadn’t found what they were looking for in service.

“We went for a more expensive choice because we found that going the cheaper route left us with customer service reps who didn’t have our cares in mind,” says Laffely. “We treat customers like we want to be treated: with respect. We develop a mutual respect and get a customer for life.