Dealers’ Domain

Question: What do you do to plan for the upcoming season?

I look at the previous few years and see if I can see a trend in what’s selling and what’s flat or not moving as well. I also look at part sales. I age my inventory. Do my annual parts returns. Look at what new products my manufacturers are offering for the upcoming year. I look at my techs’ service records to see if anything has changed during the year vs. the past few years. I set my advertising budgets. Reflect on the previous year, and think if we could do something better in all aspects of the business. Plan our next sales events for the year, and get ideas from everybody to see if we need to do something different. Clean up parts department. Rearrange things if neccesary. Remove 2009 files, and make room for 2010. Just get everything done that you have no time for when March arrives. And last, I guess…we talk to our commercial customers to get a feel of what they are thinking for their upcoming season…their needs…if we can be doing something better for them to be more successful.
— David Vassey
Vassey Lawn & Garden Center
Cleveland, Tenn.

EVERYTHING needs to be looked at in a cold, hard light. We have set or tied our all-time monthly sales record six months in a row, but I’m taking nothing for granted. For example, my best line of push mowers and generators is now available at Rural King & from Northern Hydro. Can you guess who is NOT placing a stocking order this spring?
— Dean Davis
Dogwood Inc.
Carbondale, Ill.

My biggest problem in repair work is dividing my time between the difficult jobs and the easy ones. In this coming season, I’ll be expanding on my newly discovered niche in the repair business: outsource the time-consuming jobs I’d rather not do. This includes major motor overhauls; transmission work; and taking on long-duration assignments, especially ATVs, quads and motorcycles.
I’ve found a second-generation small-engine repairman who welcomes the tough jobs, because he’s in a region where small-engine repair doesn’t pay very well and work is sparse. His shop is fully equipped, and work space is fully devoted to repair work. I contract my work to him in full compliance with the tax laws for contract work. He sets his own schedule, uses his own tools, and rarely consults me for technical assistance.
— Flute Snyder
Hudson Mower Doctor
Hudson, Wis.

As another year winds down, I look back and see that wholegood sales were down two years in a row. Repairs and parts sales were way up. I think sales will be strong this year, but in what area is anybody’s guess. My plan is just a fine-tuning of inventory management. When a few of the specialty items sell, I won’t restock them. I will keep a good selection of the popular stuff but not a big inventory. Because we are a one-brand-only dealer, our distributor works with us. Nothing can take a dealer out faster than paying a lot of interest on unsold inventory.
— Matthew Borden, owner
Ed & Matt Equipment
Greenville, R.I.

Our management team is in preparation mode now. We will have approximately 5 or 6, two-hour meetings to discuss our 2010 budget, needs and expectations. We will budget all expenses, sales goals, sales expectations, shop expectations, etc. A good budget is worth its weight in gold to an OPE dealer. You simply HAVE to know, day by day, whether or not you’re profitable to stay ahead in this business. In this industry, there are definitely losing months. The key is to make enough in the spring and summer to exceed the loss in the winter. We will create a logical gross profit margin for the company (sales and service combined) based on a 5-year average. Then, run expenses against our projected gross profit. If it’s a losing budget, you drop back and punt, and try again. Our owner (Dale Magie) has been very accurate in years past, planning budgets.
— Jason Hicks, parts & service manager
West Chester Lawn & Garden
Liberty Township, Ohio

2009 will be our worst year in the last decade. The economy and weather have even affected our rental business. Fortunately, we adjusted early, and we will end the year in the black. I don’t expect the economy to turn around, but those customers who were hesitant to spend money last season will need to replace equipment or start projects. Unemployment in our area is below national averages; our residents haven’t felt the economic problems, but have heard about them. I am planning and ordering for a better year than last, and will adjust as the season progresses.
— Rob Leiser
Leiser’s Sales and Rental
Easton, Pa.

If we can put any stock in what the economists are predicting, next year is expected to be a little better for retail sales. Acting on that premise, as shaky as it may be, our strategy for the upcoming season is to strengthen our core product lines with adequate stocking levels and try to regain some profitability. At the same time, we hope to take advantage of the better retail environment to eliminate inventory in under-producing lines.
Having been in business in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I remember the havoc created by government deficits, inflation, and 20-percent interest rates. I worry that we may very well see this again, and I want to be “lean and mean” when the music stops.
We are expecting better times next season, but they could be short lived. We want to take advantage of an improved economy to prune off excess inventory and prepare for another recessionary wave.
— Roger Zerkle, owner
Flat Rock, Ill.

To plan for next season, we look at last year’s sales trends and see what is selling before we place our spring orders. We also look at what the economy is doing and the local projected forecasts.
— Kay Annear
Annear Equipment
Adel, Iowa

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