How to Sell Series

Adapted from an article in the Spring 2009 issue of Rural Lifestyle Dealer. Click here for the complete version.

Roger Peach, Contributing Writer

A few years ago, when the housing market was booming and people were flocking to the country for their piece of the rural life, small sprayers were flying off the shelves at equipment dealerships.

The housing market bust put a severe damper on the burgeoning rural lifestyle market, forcing dealerships to work much harder to find new customers and unload their sprayer inventory.

But signs are pointing to a rebound in the OPE retail market this year, which would be good news for both manufacturers of small sprayers and the dealers who sell them.

Choose Your Line Wisely

Equipment dealers interviewed by Rural Lifestyle Dealer say the path to increasing unit sales of small sprayers begins before customers walk through the door. The first step is choosing the right product line, as well as making sure the manufacturer has sales and service support.

East Allen Ag & Turf in Woodburn, Ind., sells small sprayers to many large-property owners, municipalities and professional landscapers.

David Bleke, sales manager for professional landscape equipment at East Allen, says small sprayer sales have been solid because of new uses emerging such as pre-wetting snow. “It’s boosted sales in a season that once had little sales traffic for the product,” he says.

Bleke says it’s important to choose a line that gives the best coverage for the application needs of customers, and that dealers should make sure the manufacturer provides the sales and service support for the equipment.

Dealers should talk to their peers about a manufacturer’s support capabilities before making a final choice. “Don’t just take their word for it. Make sure the story the manufacturer is telling matches dealers’ experiences.”

“Make sure the manufacturer you pick is going to support their equipment with outstanding parts availability,” adds John Chambers, store manager for Weingartz in Utica, Mich., one of 4 locations in the state.

“With the economy being so soft, we work very hard to cater to commercial customers, who can’t tolerate unnecessary downtime. Parts availability is mandatory to keep them up and running,” Chambers says.

“Rural lifestyle customers, as well as traditional homeowners and landscapers also benefit from a well-stocked parts department that can get parts from the distributor or manufacturer when time is critical.”

Dealerships wanting to get into a spraying line, or looking for a new supplier, must also consider the depth of the line offered by manufacturers, since customers will have varying needs.

While Weingartz has targeted municipalities for sprayer sales, the stores also have significant sales to rural lifestylers. Sprayers with capacities of 15-25 gallons are popular with that segment, with some jumping up to 50-100-gallon units and beyond.

“Many of our homeowners have a few acres or small orchards that require spraying,” Chambers says. “While we’re putting our emphasis on governments and school districts right now, it doesn’t mean we’re forgetting about the large-property owners and homeowners who need to spray weeds, bushes and trees with herbicides, fungicides and pesticides.”

Be the Expert

There’s no substitute for experience when it comes to small sprayer sales, says Mike Cooper, store manager at Race Brothers Farm Supply in Springfield, Mo.

 “We’re in rural lifestyle customer country if there ever was one,” says Cooper, who estimates 90% of Race Brothers’ small sprayer sales are going to that segment.

“While that’s a good thing for us, it also means there’s plenty of competition for small-sprayer dollars. There are a dozen places around here where a customer can pick up a sprayer to slap on the back of an ATV. But if they want to know how to maintain and use it properly, we tell customers there’s no better place to come than here.”

The most popular item sold at Race Brothers is a spot sprayer mounted on an ATV. Cooper estimates 75% of rural lifestylers purchase pump-up backpack sprayers or 12-volt sprayer units, which are mostly used for weed control. Race Brothers sells about 200 12-volt units annually.

Cooper specializes in equipment modifications, having designed, built and installed numerous racks for ATVs to carry small sprayers. That’s another asset to market to customers.

“Anybody can sell a sprayer,” Cooper contends. “What separates us from the pack is that we know how to calibrate and use them. We can modify vehicles and mounts to the customer’s specific needs so they’ll get maximum flexibility out of what they buy here.”

J&L Orchard Supply of South Haven, Mich., sells sprayers and also offers equipment customization for customers, many of them fruit and vegetable growers.

Pump-up backpack units are the predominant small-sprayer product sold for spot spraying weed control. Lorren says 80% of backpack units sold have a 3-gallon capacity, while the remaining units sold range from 4-500 gallons.

The customization services are crucial to specialty customers, says James Lorren, a partner in J&L. “Many of them have blueberry bushes. We will customize rear-mounted sprayer systems, using a $500 kit that allows a boom to be mounted at the front of a tractor,” he says. “That allows the operator to better see how to go between blueberry bushes without tearing up the bushes or the equipment.”

Ask Customers Questions

If there’s one thing dealers agree on, it’s the need to ask customers the right questions about their sprayer needs. That includes questions about their property, their application and their time constraints.

“The first question you need to ask is this: ‘What do you want to do with the sprayer?’ ” says Bleke. “Everything else revolves around the product application. Does the customer need a sprayer that must cover a large area completely — which will usually require a boom — or will they be using the sprayer exclusively for spot spraying?

“Also, is speed and efficiency high on the customer’s list of requirements, like with a professional landscaper, or is the customer not under so much time pressure as the professional — which you might see with a retired landowner?”

Don’t forget to ask what type of vehicle the customer is using. “Are they using a tow-behind unit or will they mount it on something?” Cambers says.