S&H Farm Supply learned some valuable lessons about the commercial mowing business in its first year of fully supporting that market.

"We had a couple of machines for loaners to keep the commercial cutters going," says Mike Wiles, general manager of S&H Farm Supply's Rogersville, Mo., store. "But we'd give them that new machine and then put fixing their old unit on the back burner. That didn't work, because we'd soon have new machines with a million hours on them. We also found that some of the commercial operators liked using the loaner more than their old machine. They were in no rush to get their old unit fixed or even pick it up."

Through the loaner program, the commercial cutters essentially had the free use of a new machine, and took advantage of that. "That winter we sat down with one of our big commercial customers and asked him what kind of support they needed from us. He said, 'I want these things in and out immediately.'"

Three years ago, S&H increased its parts stock and streamlined the repair process. Wiles told customers and technicians their goal was to be the NASCAR pit crew for commercial cutters. "When the customer wheels onto the lot, we want to know who they are and what their needs are. We want to get everything off and on the trailer and get the customer back down the road quickly. That's our goal."

The communication continued two years ago, when S&H began hosting a night dedicated to commercial cutters. Held in February or March, the evening is an opportunity to thank the customers as well as get to know them.

During that event, S&H introduced attendees to the service manager. "He needs to know the commercial operators, so when they walk in the door we'll know to drop what we're doing and fix their machine," says Wiles. "We told them that whatever tools or parts we needed to stock, we'll have them, but you need to tell us what those are. We got a lot of feedback that first night. We increased our parts stocking rate and added another mechanic."

S&H still keeps loaners on hand, but their usage is down considerably. For 2011, S&H's demos will have around 30 hours on them, instead of the 500 hours they racked up in previous years.