Turf Magazine - February, 2012

DEPARTMENTS

To $1 Million and Beyond: Time to Fire Your Vendor?

By Steve Rak II

If you're like me you probably have a large amount of power equipment that your employees must have to do their production and generate your company's revenue.

You know what I'm talking about, the typical arsenal of commercial mowers, blowers, string trimmers and edgers. And of course, we can't possibly overlook our big-boy toys: skid steers, mini-excavators, dump trucks and various other implements of destruction (oops, I mean construction).

Do you ever add up what you spend on all that stuff? I hope you do, because I would venture to say that with all the money you spend on power equipment, trucks, trailers and hand tools, you could probably buy a new Ferrari (bright red) with money left over for all the speeding tickets you would get from driving it.

I do have a point here, and it's this: Do the vendors that sell you this wonderful stuff bend over backwards for you? And this is assuming that you pay your bills on time - of course, I think that you should. The fact is that you spend a lot of your hard-earned money on your equipment and vehicles. Recognizing that, and I'm sure all of you do, why should you accept sub-par service from your vendors?

In other words, have you ever had this conversation with your vendor while dropping off equipment for repair?

You: "Hi Mr. Vendor, I bought this mower here six months ago and the hydro pump is blown."

Mr. Vendor: (not looking up from his morning newspaper) "Uh-huh."

You: "Well, I really need to get it repaired - and fast. It's supposed to rain all next week so I need it back by tomorrow."

Mr. Vendor: "Impossible, I'm backed up and I won't be able to even look at it until next week."

You: "Do you at least have a loaner I can use until then?"

Mr. Vendor: (finally looking up) "A what?"

You: "Look I need this thing fixed. Every minute I stand here talking to you I'm losing money."

Mr. Vendor: "Just drop it off in back and tell Fred the mechanic what's wrong with it. But, like I said, we probably won't get to it until next week."

5 Steps to Finding a Great Vendor


1. Ask your colleagues who they use and what kind of experience they have had with their vendors.
2. Check with your local landscape trade association to see who they recommend.
3. Visit several vendors in your area and talk to them about your needs.
4. Ask potential vendors what their procedure is if you take them a piece of equipment to repair. Do they have loaners you can use? What kind of turnaround time can you expect on the repair?
5. Ask if they have financing available and what the terms are. A good vendor should offer financing.

About 15 years ago I had almost that exact conversation with the guy we bought our first new mower from. The only difference was that he had his feet up on his desk while he was talking to me. I walked out that door and never went back, and so did quite a few other people, because he has been out of business for years now. Amazingly there are still dealers out there who do this type of thing to their customers. If yours is one of them, it's time to start looking for someone new.

Now let me tell you about the guys I currently buy my equipment from. There are two vendors in my area that I use, and I can assure you that as much as I like the brand of equipment they sell, that's not the reason I buy from them. Here is the short list of why I buy from them:

1. If I have a problem with a mower or any other equipment I need repaired, my vendor sends a truck to my shop to pick up the broken equipment and then delivers it back after it's fixed.

2. That same vendor has a storage unit about 2 miles from my shop with a loaner mower inside that we can use whenever ours is down.

3. During snow events, my snowplow vendor is open 24/7 and his shop is fully staffed to repair breakdowns so we can get back on the road.

4. I have the cell phone number of both my equipment vendors and I can call them any time I have a question.

5. My crews can call the mechanics that work for my vendors when they are in the field and need to troubleshoot a problem with their equipment.

6. They do the repair and send me a bill; they don't need an open check or credit card to keep on file. I pay my bills. They trust me and I trust them.

7. They help me with financing.

8. I have had training sessions at my facility that my vendor set up for my crews. He brought out equipment and had a bi-lingual instructor do the training - for free.

9. They have brought out demo equipment for my crews to try.

10. I buy because of the service not the brand of equipment they sell. They make my life easy.

Hopefully your vendors are just like mine, and if so I hope you pay them on time and don't constantly beat them up on price. A good vendor should be like a partner to your company. Having that relationship is priceless when things break down - and as we all know even the best equipment breaks down.

If you're big enough and fortunate enough to have an experienced mechanic on staff, that's fine, but the next best thing is to have a vendor that takes care of your issues immediately. And don't forget about that Ferrari. With the right equipment, people, customers and vendors, you just might be able to afford one someday and still buy all that equipment.

The author is vice president of Southwest Landscape Management, Columbia Station, Ohio, and is a partner in Rak Consulting LLC. Contact him at steve@sw-landscape.com.