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Patrick Dunning, Associate Editor, Power Equipment Trade

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Dealer Speak: COVID-19 Continues

In a usual spring, dealers around the country are in the thick of a busy season. Not only do they see sales skyrocket, service departments jam pack machines onto every available surface, but also customers flooding through the doors either on their own or for a special weekend (or week long!) event of some sort. Whether it be a customer appreciation sale and event or an open house focusing on a specific make or model of machine, dealers in the spring add “event planner” to their laundry list of skills.

But the spring 2020 season is not usual. While some dealers say they are struggling to hold on in light of COVID-19 restrictions, others say they are having some of the best months in their histories. But what about the events? With federal and local guidelines in place for events, dealers are doing what they do best—pivoting and adapting. Here’s what a few had to say about their spring events and what business is looking like for them as COVID-19 continues.

California’s Gardenland Power Equipment

In San Jose, Calif. Gardenland Power Equipment twice a year no-tax sale fell the week before the state shut down. General manager Gabe Foo says it was a huge hit on revenue at a critical time.

“We bought a lot of inventory and had to stop our version of an ‘Open House.’ We qualified as a hardware store in California, so we never closed but have had to alter our hours and decided to limit the head count to three inside the store and make sure they wear masks. We are usually open five days a week, but we reverted to four. We still are experiencing steady business.”

Foo adds that with landscapers back in business, and the dealership having established online sales a few years ago, some customers were already used to a less traditional approach to shopping for parts and equipment.

“I would say 25% of the business shifted online after the shutdown and we added curbside pick-up and local deliveries to flex our business capabilities. Another 10-15% have started to call in orders. People want to avoid coming into the store. We have a Facebook and do social media, but we typically direct people to our personal website for updated information. We work hard to ensure our website is indexed properly and encourage online purchases. We extended our first no-tax sale of the year to reduce the amount of people in store. We’ve found solace in selling and servicing to first responders. What we’ve learned is to flex the business. Our local pick-up and delivery became successful very quickly; that tells us to expand on that in the future. What we tell customers is if there’s a line of customers, we have a waitlist and will text you when it’s your turn to pick up products while they wait in their car.”

Pennsylvania’s M&R Power Equipment Group

M&R Power Equipment Group, Butler, Penn., was lucky, like Gardenland, and they were able to have one three-day open house before the sate’s Stay-At-Home order went into effect.

“We had another four scheduled over the next month that we were going to hold—now, all open houses are postponed except for the John Deere Drive Green event that we are doing online,” marketing manager Jessica Pann says.

For the Pennsylvania dealer, going online has been key in keeping business steady.

“It was right after everything closed down and we didn’t have much direction,” Pann explains. “So, I created a virtual event on our Facebook group saying we had deals during our Drive Green event like we would usually do in store, but posted information to the website. After posting information on our personal website, if customers were interested they could call in or ask questions online. We’ve had a lot of online traffic since doors closed. Thankfully, we recently opened back up and we’re stayed consistently busy. We still offer curbside pick-up for our customers. Some of our customers aren’t comfortable coming into the store so we try to be available in as many ways as possible. We’ve discussed implementing FaceTime or virtual sales through our salespeople. Moving forward we’re definitely going to take a larger presence online. We want to be able to make sure our customers have every resource available if they aren’t able to purchase in-store; which includes having open, two-way communication throughout the stay-at-home orders and having our salesman in-store to answer phone calls and discuss products. We also implemented an online chat that I manage.”

Illinois’ Nord Outdoor Power Corp.

In Bloomington, Ill. Nord Outdoor Power Corp. did a hybrid open house, holding something in store but also going live on Facebook every hour of the day present different products. President Douglas Nord says it wasn’t as smooth as he hoped it would have been, with customers still coming in and phones still ringing, but doing something different is always going to have a learning curve.

Nord says they learned quickly that a phone wasn’t the best option for going live, as an incoming call would stop the recording, but that videos in general are popular and customers want to see more from the dealership.

“We looked and said, ‘hey we’re trying to maintain social distancing but want to advertise our new lines.’ We had a number of customers during the virtual open house that came in throughout the day and said they noticed the product on our live feed, and were interested. Moving forward there’s things we could change; I would probably pre-record a number of videos and have a couple live videos—it gets rid of some of the scheduling issues when trying to work and film. Our customers found out about new products we have in that they weren’t aware of or some changes to products and they really liked that. I wish we would have received more interaction on our live feeds throughout the day,” Nord shares.

 “A piece advice I was given before doing radio commercials was to smile before you speak. It puts you in the proper frame of mind. When we do these videos and are trying to pass information along I take that into consideration.”

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