Dealers’ Domain

Question: What do you do in the slow season to generate preseason service?

In our area, the landscapers start in early April and cleanups go till late December. That only leaves three months for them to get things ready, so I can’t say we have a slow season. If I have a quiet week, I may call some people I have not seen and ask them to bring stuff in. We have sold enough equipment to keep us busy most of the time. The best way to generate preseason business is always provide top-quality service at a fair price all year-round. We also keep our customers informed if more work needs to be done so there are no surprises.
— Matt Borden, owner
Ed & Matt Equipment, Greenville, R.I.

We send out letters to our customers offering them reduced rates on pickup and delivery if they send their units in for winter service. We have been doing this for about 15 years, and it generates about 700 service jobs each winter. It really helps us to keep our techs supplied with plenty of work and generates cash flow when we need it most.
— Terry Coffin, president
Beard’s Outdoor Power Equipment Inc.
Crestwood, Ky.

Tried fall mailings and early-bird tuneup mailings. Didn’t see much foot traffic from them. Tried newspaper ads. Didn’t see much from it either. Did a customer phone calling, offering early-bird tuneups. Got a few more customers this way. Even did the radio push. Best thing I’ve tried was cable TV of all things. It didn’t set the woods on fire, but it did better than anything else. Other than this, I haven’t found anything that really draws the customers in. I’m waiting to see the November issue of OPE to see what the other guys have to say.
— Tony Nation
Nation’s Small Engine’s, Hot Springs, Ark.

We are a Western distributor so that keeps us busy through December. In December, we start contacting our own customer base; we have sent postcards in the past, but last year we tried something different. The parts department was slow, so we had the man with the best phone skills sit down with a list and call; he kept records of his calls and returned those he did not reach the first time. He offered half-price pickup and delivery, as well as your machine being ready by mowing time. Our man spent days on the phone, but we felt the personal contact was better and less expensive than postcards.
If the season in question is winter, I put a big snow blower on my open trailer, drive it around town whenever I run errands, and park it in the street at the front of the shop. The trailer ramp has a full-width sign, advertising my Web site and phone number. Sometimes, people call me in transit to ask about my service.
The pre-summer trailer attraction is a big riding mower. I’ve been tempted to park in a busy parking lot, post office, Wal-Mart, local grocery store, and box stores. So far, I’ve been too busy repairing equipment to seek a flood of new customers.
— Flute Snyder
Hudson Mower, Hudson, Wis.

Every December, we mail approximately 5,000 very colorful direct-mail pieces to customers who have purchased wholegoods from us. We offer 2008 pricing on repairs, along with a discounted pickup and delivery rate. We give them an option of the discount on pickup or 10 percent off the entire bill if they bring the unit in themselves during the sale period, which usually ends January 31.
— Anthony J. Petruccelli, president
Suburban Lawn & Equipment, Inc.
Wilmington, Del.

Over a long period of time, we have “trained” our regular annual customers to bring their equipment in early for the best service. “Avoid the rush” seems to get a good response without our having to discount our service!
— Dean Davis
Dogwood Inc., Carbondale, Ill.

In the past, we have sent out coupons with a specific special — either dollars off repair or free blade or free replacement bag as a promotional program with Honda. We have sent out notices when we have the time to do so. If we got 1-2 percent of the number sent out, that was pretty good. In recent years, we have not done anything.
— Joanne Klee, secretary/treasurer
Jim’s Lawn Equipment, Inc.
Cheektowaga, N.Y.

We have, for the last 4 years, used direct mail to our current customer base, offering free pickup and delivery to try to convince them to get their service done in the offseason. It obviously creates cash flow, but also allows us to take more time to give their machines a more complete inspection. You seem to see more when you are not rushed as you are in the spring. It has been very effective. We see an increase in sales every year.
— Chris Boring, owner
Harrison Street Power Equipment, Inc.
Shelbyville, Ind.

For several years, our company has generated preseason service by sending out approximately 7,500-8,000 flyers advertising our Winter Service program. We offer discounts for services, including charging only half price for pickup and delivery. In addition, we include services such as adding fuel stabilizer to the equipment and steam-cleaning each machine. Winter Service has become a very important part of our offseason business. Some of our customers have even requested Winter Service of their lawn equipment as a gift from their family during the holidays. Without this program or something similar to this, it would be difficult to keep the doors open during the offseason.

— Tim Bockelman
Gil’s Four Seasons Lawn Equipment
Evansville, Ind.

We have very bright, colorful postcards made and send them out to our customers who have purchased machinery within the last five years. We sort the customer lists by the machine and print the “Service Special” info. on the back of the postcard. Each customer gets a postcard with info. based on the type of machine they bought. Some get lawn tractor info., some get compact utility tractor info., etc. This helps to eliminate pricing & communication discrepancies. We also send calendars to customers who have bought within the past three years.
— John Boatman, president
Watkins Tractor & Supply Co.
Kelso, Wash.

We send out preseason service specials in December through February. We offer free pickup and delivery if they purchase a complete service tuneup. This keeps our techs busy during the winter, and this has worked very well for over 12 years now. We only send to customers who have purchased a mower from our dealership.
— David Vassey
Vassey Lawn and Garden Centers
Cleveland, Tenn.

With every tractor that we sell, we tell the customer about our “service sale” program and that they will get a letter in the fall if they want to participate. In the fall, we send out 300-400 letters for our “service sale.” The first batch is for people who participated last year. The second batch is for this year’s customers. We offer free pickup and delivery; install snow equipment; and do the usual oil, filter, sharpen the blades, etc. The first year in business, I did 15. This year, we plan to do more than 300. This “service sale” has never been a big “money maker.” So why do it? I spend thousands of dollars in advertising, but I get more people walking into my store wanting to buy equipment because they heard we have great service, and I believe it’s because of our “service sale.” Most of our service sales are done in the fall and winter months, which frees us up in the spring to focus on new sales and trade-ins!
— John Moon
Moon’s Farm-Yard Center
Ulysses, Pa.

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