Generating new commercial business

By Bob Clements

Now that the season is finally under way and your dealership is getting into the flow of handling the demands of customers, it’s a good time to begin thinking about how to position yourself to grow your share of the marketplace. With the economy still in a slump, and with more and more people seeking ways to generate income, many dealers are seeing an increase in the number of new people who are looking at starting a commercial-cutting business. While this does not bode well for the existing commercial market as prices are being driven down, it opens up new opportunities for outdoor power equipment dealers to attract those new customers and win them over with the value of doing business with your dealership.

Not all of these new customers will succeed in the business; as a matter of fact, most will fail. However, some will survive and grow into the future big commercial cutters you currently have in your marketplace.

Don’t make assumptions

My son Brian finished his schooling last fall and began job hunting. With the job market being in the condition it has been, he was finding little hope of landing a job. Having worked mowing and landscaping jobs while he was going through school, he decided to start his own business. He didn’t have a lot of money to get started but began visiting with some of the dealers in our market and would tell me how frustrating it was to be blown off by the salespeople who thought he was just a young guy wasting their time.

Now, I understand that there are people who are “just looking,” and many of those will never end up buying equipment. Yet some will, and my son was one of them. With no one actively following up with him, he ended up buying equipment from another cutter who was calling it quits. Money wasn’t the issue — apathy was.

I know that my son was just a young guy that didn’t look like he could afford what he was looking at, but what the dealers didn’t realize was that my wife and I would be helping him financially to get started. They made a bad assumption, and it cost them a couple of potential sales and a new customer that will continue to grow and expand his business.

Get out of the box

The question we have to ask ourselves in business is how do we find and identify this new potential growth opportunity. As I watched my son go through his process, I found that he spent a lot of time on Craigslist, looking for trailers initially and occasionally would run across ads for mowers, aerators and handheld equipment. He would make calls and many times drop by and look at what was available. He let friends on his Facebook page know what he was thinking about doing and would get feedback from them, encouraging him and letting him know they would like to be a customer.

I am guessing that my son is not much different from those other folks that are looking to get started in the business. He doesn’t read the newspaper, so your ad there won’t catch his attention. Most of his music comes from his iPod, so that radio station you market on isn’t probably going to reach him. Again, based upon my observations, it’s pretty simple: Craigslist, Facebook and outdoor displays are the keys.

The beauty of Craigslist is the cost. It’s free! Your challenge is to create an ad that will catch the eyes of those that are looking to get started in the business. The best thing you can do is to spend some time on Craigslist and get a feel for the type of ads that attract you. Again, your goal here is to get a potential customer to pick up the phone or e-mail you for more information so you can start that all-important dialogue with them.

Facebook is another area to which you can market. The great thing about Facebook is you can have your ad run based upon several criteria. It might be age, employment status or interests. While Facebook advertising is not free, you can easily control your costs and change your ad until you find one that works best for your dealership.

Don’t forget the power of an outside display. As my son was establishing his business, he would drive by dealerships and look at the equipment that was displayed outside. Had any of those dealerships had a trailer display with a zero-turn mower, a backpack blower and a string trimmer — priced as a package — I am confident that my son would have dragged me and my wife down to take a look at it. I know that many dealers don’t handle trailers because of space issues, but I do work with several dealers across the country that have worked out agreements with their local trailer manufacturers and have a display unit sitting on their lot, loaded and ready with the basic equipment that a new commercial cutter would need to get started. If you have a finance package available, for $300 per month you can probably help a new commercial cutter get started.

Help them learn

One of the problems of working with existing commercial cutters is that during mowing season, they rarely have free time. But that’s not the case with the new guys like my son. They are building their business and looking to learn.

I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to work with landscape and irrigation contractors over the years, and I’ve developed a strong understanding of the issues they face and what they have to do to make their business work.

As a result, I am working with my son to guide him as he walks through the pitfalls of business. Between software, websites, social media, advertising, employees, taxes, insurance, finance, bidding and the Department of Transportation, my son is discovering that there is a lot more about business than just the customer interaction.

Consider putting together some evening workshops for these new business owners. Bring in an accountant to talk to them about setting up their business, the importance of making those tax filings in a timely manner, and how to take advantage of the tax loopholes that help save them money. You might even want to put together a “Getting started with your new business” three-ring binder that gives them information and links to websites that will help them get moving in the right direction.

If you are willing to become that valuable resource that they turn to when they have questions, they in turn will become locked into your dealership as they need new equipment and want to expand their business in the future.

You have to ask yourself if it is worth taking time to reach out and try to grow this new business opportunity. I believe it is. It’s probably not going to produce you a fast sale of zero-turn mowers. But given time and effort, that young man or woman who walks in your door today could very likely become one of the dominant landscape contractors in your area a few years down the road.

 Bob Clements is the president of Bob Clements International, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in the development of high-performance dealerships. His organization works hands on with dealerships throughout North America, helping them attain the personal freedom and financial wealth all owners strive to achieve. For more information, contact Bob Clements at (800) 480-0737 or or visit his website at

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