Still going strong after 40-plus years

A lot has changed in southern New Hampshire over the last 40 years, as the region has grown dramatically to the point that it’s essentially a suburb of Boston these days, but in the midst of all the construction and traffic, some things have stayed the same. The Atlantic Ocean is still crashing up against the nearby shore and Philbrick’s (www.lawnmowersrus.com) is still selling and servicing outdoor power equipment.

The business was started in 1965 by George Philbrick, and today the business is run by his sons, David and Rick, who have been involved since the very beginning. “He had been an auto mechanic and people had been bringing him lawn and garden equipment to repair at his gas station,” says Rick of his father. “He started in a small shop on a back road location with six lawn mowers and six bicycles.” Rick helped his father build that first store by hand. “As we were putting on the shingles it was getting close to spring, and people were backing in with lawn mowers needing to be repaired.”

After five years, the business outgrew that small, out-of-the-way location in Rye and moved to its current site on Rte. 1 in North Hampton. “There have been several different buildings and configurations over the years as the business has grown,” says Philbrick. “We had a fairly large piece of property and we have to large steel buildings that we operate out of now. Three years ago we built a new state-of-the-art warehouse that’s so big people often think we’re a distributor when they see it. There’s a second floor and it has an elevator in it.” The structure is heated and is used for storage of both new equipment as well as customers’ equipment that’s worked on during the winter months.

Philbrick’s polished, professional showroom offers an extensive mix of both commercial and residential power equipment lines, from high-end Ferris zero-turn units to walk-behind rotary mowers. A recently constructed, state-of-the-art warehouse facility is so large that many people think Philbrick’s is a distributor rather than a dealer.
Carrying quality lines of equipment and offering tremendous service has helped the business continue to grow and expand over the years. Philbrick’s strategy to compete with the big box stores is to service equipment purchased there in hopes of getting those customers in the door, showing them that they offer many of the same brands at the same prices and bringing them back for their next purchase.

How devoted are the customers to this local landmark business? Wayne Vetter says he bought his first piece of equipment from Philbrick’s back in 1968 and remained a loyal patron ever since. In fact, Vetter joined the Philbrick’s team as general manager three years ago after a 33-year career in law enforcement. “I’ve known the family since the 1960s and I enjoy every minute of it here,” says Vetter.

Philbrick’s has been selling and servicing outdoor power equipment for more than 40 years in southern New Hampshire.

The showroom at Philbrick’s is designed to be modern and customer-friendly. “It’s a very clean, very professional space,” says Vetter. The service area has been put together with the same eye toward quality, he adds. “Each mechanic has a hydraulic lift so they can put the heavy zero-turn mowers up in the air. That’s important to be able to service them properly and get them out in a timely manner.”

Philbrick’s carries a wide range of mowers and large equipment from Ferris, Toro, Husqvarna and Cub Cadet, and the smaller/hand-held department is filled by Husqvarna, Stihl, Honda, LawnBoy and Echo.

“We work primarily with homeowners,” says Philbrick of the customer base. But, increasingly, he adds, those wealthy residential customers are in the market for the same equipment as the professional lawn/landscape customer. “This has become a very affluent area, and a lot of those people will buy commercial machines. We’ll sell high-end Ferris diesel mowers—that cost $18,000 or $19,000—to homeowners who purchase them for their groundskeeper and/or for themselves.” Vetter adds, “We have one customer who bought two of them, one for his house and one for his camp.”

Philbrick says that the business is careful to cater to all customers, and for that reason also sells and services all types of equipment. “If someone has a 21-inch push mower, we’ll take care of that as well.”

With the boom in high-end homes being built in the area, there’s been an increase in the number of professional lawn/landscape maintenance firms. Philbrick’s is making an effort to reach out to those companies. “We’re also catering more to the commercial guys; trying to bring them in and build up that relationship,” Vetter explains. “It’s working. We’re selling to more and more commercial customers every day.”

Philbrick’s has a staff of 25, including four in the sales department and nearly a dozen working in the service department. “Service is an important component,” says Philbrick.

That dedication to service has been especially important as a number of large chain retailers have infiltrated the once-rural area. “To our south there’s two Home Depots and a new Lowe’s less than 5 miles away. There’s a another Home Depot to the north and another to the west. So, basically within 10 miles there are five of these box stores,” says Vetter. (That’s all the more astounding when you consider that the ocean abuts the entire area to the east.) He adds, “The box stores can’t offer the type of service we do.”

“It’s been a source of competition, particularly for the homeowner customer,” says Philbrick of the box stores. “There’s two schools of thought on this issue: You can choose not to work with customers who buy at the box stores and make things miserable for them, but then you’re never going to see them again. Our philosophy is that the Lowe’s and Home Depot’s of the world are not going to go away, so our strategy has been to embrace those box store customers, to get them to come in for service. We’ve gone to those stores to make sure that our name is provided as a service source. We feel that if we get them in once, the next time they buy they’ll be looking at us. Typically, they can buy it at the same price here, so why not buy it at a professional, servicing dealer?”

Philbrick’s has an established name with long-time residents, but does do some marketing to attract the attention of all the new residents moving into the area. “We do some radio advertising and newspaper advertising. There’s a big switch in the industry to get into group advertising with other dealers, so we’re starting to explore that avenue,” Philbrick explains.

Much of Philbrick’s marketing is accomplished simply by keeping customers happy. “The backbone of the business is our repeat customers, who keep coming back to us all the time,” says Philbrick. “If you give the customers good service and take care of the product, they’ll be back.”

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who is always on the lookout for interesting and unusual stories. He can be reached at pwhitevt@aol.com.