The outdoor power equipment industry is diverse, so it’s not surprising that the economic fallout from COVID-19 has affected it in diverse ways. Tim Berman, Innovation Manager at Constellation Software, points out that how well dealers are doing right now largely depends on what they sell. If your product line consists mostly of discretionary items like boats or ATVs, sales are probably down as customers tighten their wallets and pare their budgets down to necessities. If you sell more essential items like lawn-care products, you’re probably faring better. After all, the grass doesn’t stop growing just because there’s a pandemic.
As someone who works closely with all types of OPE dealers, Berman has witnessed how different owners have responded to these extraordinary events. An avid Lord of the Rings fan, Berman says there are two types of dealers: those who behave like Aragorn, valiantly fighting to protect their kingdom at all costs, and those who behave like Denethor, who give up when it seems like all hope is lost.
Times are tough, but there are a few things you can do to help strengthen your OPE business–and they’re a lot easier than marching through Middle Earth or defeating the Dark Lord Sauron.
The key, Berman says, is diversification across three channels of your business:
1. Diversify your product
“Great businesses go away when they put all their eggs in one basket,” Berman says. For example, a shop that sells seven different lines of zero turn mowers may provide brand diversity, but if demand for this type of equipment dries up–say in the wake of a drought–your business will find itself with a lot of inventory it can’t sell. The same goes for dealers who only sell discretionary products. If there’s an economic downturn and customers have less disposable income (like now), they’re going to focus on buying what is essential. If this describes you, consider offering some essential products or services like utility trailers, which people often require to move equipment. Selling replacement parts or repair services is also a good idea since people might be more inclined to fix a broken tool than buy a new one.
If you’re worried about bringing on so much new inventory, work with your bank or lender to set up a floor-plan financing option, which will allow you to set up a line of credit against the value of your inventory and pay it back as you sell items to your customers. Of course, space will also be a consideration. Outdoor space can work as a great marketing tool. Why not set up a line of shiny new mowers in front of your shop so people can see them as they drive by? If you don’t have room to stock all of your new inventory (indoors or outdoors), consider an e-commerce option so customers can buy online. This also provides an extra layer of convenience if someone isn’t able to make it to your store in person.
2. Diversify your marketing
Even if you have a good product mix, you still need to attract customers to buy whatever it is you’re selling. This requires marketing. If you’re primarily doing offline marketing (e.g. billboards, direct mail, or events), consider adding a digital element like online advertising or search engine marketing. These allow you to target customers based on the terms they search for. If you’re new to digital marketing, it can be confusing to get started, so Berman recommends working with an agency that specializes in OPE like True Radius Marketing or Team SI.
These agencies can also help you social proof your business by aggregating reviews of the products you sell so customers can easily find them when doing online research. More and more, customers want unbiased information, especially before they make a big purchase, so third-party reviews are essential to building their trust. Berman also recommends joining Facebook groups dedicated to owners of certain products so you can better understand what they’re looking for. For example, Berman started a Bad Boy Mowers owners group. In observing the conversations in this group, he noticed that many of the members don’t actually own the product yet; they’re just doing research.
Do you have a website? This may seem obvious, but Berman says one-third of dealers don’t have a website, and many that do only offer basic contact information. Your website should include product information and pricing–not just a link to the manufacturer’s website. Including this information will help your business appear in search results for specific products, which increases visibility.
3. Diversify your communication
Marketing expert David Cancel often says, “Whoever gets closer to the customer wins.”
If your customer can’t get in touch with you, they’ll be less likely to buy from you, so you need to make it super easy for them to communicate. Most places rely on customers calling or emailing, but not everyone wants to call, and it can sometimes take a while for people to respond via email. That’s why texting has become popular with retailers recently. Texting gives you the opportunity to speak directly to consumers at their convenience, answering questions, sharing updates, or offering promotions that they are sure to see. Live chat via your website is also a good option, though texting has the advantage of being mobile.
While improving your communication options, consider also improving your payment options. Especially now, consumers are looking for ways to pay for things without having to touch a terminal or pass cash or a card back and forth. There are lots of contactless payment options, such as text-to-pay, mobile payments, or card storage capabilities through your existing POS. If you accept integrated payments, like the ones offered by Gravity, you can also work with your provider to set up these touchless options.
In short, giving your customers as many options as possible will allow you to be more resilient both now and in the future. If you’re interested in learning more about how Gravity Payments can work with you to diversify your business through transparent and seamless payment options, view our services page or reach out to one of our OPE specialists here.
by Brooke Carey, Lead Storyteller