Dealers’ Domain

Question: What has been your most effective preseason service promotion?

We’ve tried all sorts of things, with very limited results. By developing good long-term relationships with our customers, we’ve been able to “train” them to “beat the rush.” We can then spend a little more time on each unit and take a little pressure off of the “rush.” As a result, we averaged a seven-day turn-around time in peak season.
— Dean Davis
Dogwood Inc.
Carbondale, Ill.

By far, our most effective preseason service promotion has been our “Winter Service” program, which offers a full-service preventative maintenance check for various types of equipment. We offer discounts for bringing in equipment early in the winter months, include basic parts with the flat rate; and if pickup service is needed, we charge only half price of the normal rate. Many people take advantage of this program, and, for the spring rush, it eliminates many customers’ worries for the coming mowing season. Flyers are sent out to about 5,000-plus customers each year. About 20-percent-plus of those customers have winter service completed each season.
— Tim Bockelman, owner
Gil’s Four Seasons Lawn Equipment
Evansville, Ind.

I have a 5×10 pickup and delivery trailer with a sign on the ramp that lists my Web site and phone number. As the new season approaches, I park the trailer in front of my shop. On the trailer, I place a piece of equipment that seems out of season, but points the way to the future: snowblower in fall, mower in late winter, blower in summer, and chipper/shredder in late summer.
The appearance of the offseason equipment reminds potential customers that they need to clean out their garage and bring me their dusty machine.
— Flute Snyder
Hudson Mower Doctor
Hudson, Wis.

Each year, we send out a direct mailer to our customers at the end of November, offering free pickup and delivery if they have a complete service tuneup performed on their ride-on equipment during December, January or February. This promotion is for customers who have purchased a ride-on product from us in the past 15 years. Most of the time, we also get their push mowers and trimmers when we pick up their ride-on equipment. This has been a tremendous success for over 15 years now. Keeps our techs busy in the winter and generates cash flow for the business. It also decreases some of the turnaround time during the busy spring season.
— David Vassey
Vassey Lawn & Garden Center
Cleveland, Tenn.

Did a free pickup and delivery service for a limited time and limited radius around us. In the past, I offered free blade sharpening and oil change on a spring tuneup. Both seemed to work well, but the free pickup and delivery was the most successful. With fuel prices nowadays, it could get quite pricey.
— Tony Nation
Nation’s Small Engine Inc.
Hot Springs, Ark.

Without a doubt, “free pickup and delivery on any ride-on product” has been our most effective preseason service promotion. With pickup and delivery rates where they are these days, free pickup and delivery adds a ton of value to our customers. We also offer service discounts to customers who purchased their equipment from us, and an offseason rate for tuneups.
— Jason Hicks, parts & service manager
West Chester Lawn & Garden         
Liberty Township, Ohio

Nothing has ever worked well! People don’t seem to get things serviced until after they need them. The best we usually do is personal phone calls from our customer list. We may offer pickup and delivery or a flat percentage off of their bill. We concentrate on customers who have purchased equipment in the previous year or two.
— Bill Valliant
Fayette Mower
Fayetteville, Ga.

We did offer a preseason parts promotion, which we coupled with vendor specials and dating. Yes, we sold a lot of parts. The problem was, after a few years, engine models and machines were replaced. Then, customers found they had extra parts they could not use and would return them. We no longer offer any deals or specials, and so far, there has not been a shortage of sales or work.
— Matthew Borden, owner
Ed & Matt Equipment
Greenville, R.I.

Our most successful preseason promotion was done a few years ago. We direct-mailed our best customers and offered free pickup and delivery, as well as 15-percent discount on parts and labor on machines repaired and paid by the end of January. The discount slid down to 10 percent for February and 5 percent for March.
The important part of the promotion was that the bill had to be paid by the deadline to qualify for the discount.
The promotion worked well in that it created incentives for customers to get their machines in early.
In retrospect, I’m not sure that the promotion was profitable, but it was successful in generating cash flow in the slow season and, at the time, that was critical for us.
I think preseason programs must be tailored to fit the times and the needs of the business.
I would not run that program in today’s market. Even though cash flow is still very important, we need to be profitable.
We have discounted equipment drastically all season long to keep it moving out the door. Now, we must make up for that lost profit in parts sales and service work, so we would not consider discounting either of those this season, and free pickup and delivery is a thing of the past.
Historically, providing pickup and delivery has never been profitable. We were not able to pass the actual cost for the service on to our customers without alienating them, and were not able to fully recover the loss through the repair invoice. So, this year, we stopped providing pickup and delivery services completely.
(I can hear dealers gasp in horror, “Stop doing pickups and deliveries? Unthinkable!”)
We partnered with a local commercial mowing service, and they now provide pickup and delivery for our customers that have no other way to get their machines to us. The customer pays the mower company for that service, not us.
The decision to get out of the mower transportation business has allowed us to redirect our energies to our core business, which is selling and repairing equipment. Pickup and delivery was a costly distraction.
And, that may be our most effective promotion idea, ever.
— Roger Zerkle, owner
Flat Rock, Ill.

I really believe that we have gotten exactly what we invested in or bargained for. The biggest difference in the specials has been where we went after the prospective customers or what way we got the word out. I feel you could offer your business up for free, and if you advertised in the wrong place, you might not get any takers!
Typically, we offer spring tuneup specials on everything from farm tractors down through the lineup to mowers. We have had times that it was tough to take care of all who called to take advantage of our offers. It has also gone the other way where only a few called, although it was essentially the same offers; it was just how we tried to get the word out.
We’ve offered discounts, as well as just fixed pricing at near standard rates, and all have worked as long as they were in front of the right readers.
— Art White
White’s Farm Supply Inc.
Waterville, N.Y.

During the last 16 years, we have offered a fall service special for our customers. We do all the basics — filters, grease, sharpen blades, wash and wax, etc. Every year, our returning and new customers get a letter regarding the service. If they respond, we put them on a waiting list. We try to respond to the list on a first-come, first-served basis; however, we service people with snow equipment first. The first year in business, we did 15; last year, we did close to 300 service specials. This is not a big money maker for us since we keep our prices low. What it does do is keep our techs busy in the winter, as well as free up our time in the spring to sell new equipment and work on trade-ins. Most importanly is the word of mouth about how great our service is, and that’s priceless!!!
— John Moon
Moon’s Farm-Yard, Inc.
Ulysses, Pa.

Our most effective advertising that we have used, we believe, is the radio possibly, although we live in a small community and it’s hard to say; but we don’t think our local paper does us any good because a lot of people don’t buy it as it only comes out once a week. We do have a little paper that comes out twice a week that is picked up at various businesses in town, and I think that helps when we do that, but don’t know for sure. Being it is a small town, the customers we have just know we are here and come for service.
— Kay Annear
Annear Equipment
Adel, Iowa

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