The allure of a cozy fire crackling in the fireplace on a cold, wintery night is part of the rural lifestyle dream. And, for some, the satisfaction of felling the tree and splitting the wood for those fires is part of that vision. For others, burning wood for heat just makes good economic sense, with wood roughly one-third the cost of natural gas, electricity or oil.
For those customers processing any significant amount of wood, a log splitter is an essential piece of equipment. For a dealer serving the rural lifestyle market, log splitters can be a significant ancillary product that not only serves their current customer base, but also draws in new customers.
As is typical in the lifestyle market, customers typically fall into two categories: those who have done significant research and know what they want and those who require more education and consultation. For those who need your expertise, the first thing you need to determine is how many cords of wood they expect to process each season. That helps establish a baseline for determining the best splitter.
Matt Linn is a sales associate with Alexander Equipment, a large supplier of tree-care equipment based in Lisle, Ill., a Chicago suburb. He says that he asks several standard questions.
“We want to find out the volume of wood that they are splitting, the size and type of wood they are working with, what their budget range is, and what options, and styles of machines will fit them best,” he says.
In addition to stand-alone log splitters, there are many models that run off the hydraulics of a tractor.
There is a staggering array of manufacturers, types, options and quality levels on the market. While the log splitter is a relatively simple piece of machinery, it can be difficult for the lifestyle customer to choose the best machine for long-term needs.
Log splitters are the type of product that competes against commodity pricing and availability from the “Big Box” stores. As with other equipment in this category, developing a consultative sales approach offers value to the customer and becomes a critical point of differentiation for the dealership.
Mike Walters, sales and marketing manager for Pipersville Garden Center, a Kubota dealer in suburban Philadelphia, says that trying to establish the need for convenience is an important part of his sales process.
“How big are the pieces of wood you’ll be splitting? Will you be able to lift it up? Do you need something that is horizontal-vertical? Do you need a log lift? All of those things add cost, but also convenience,” says Walters. “A lot of times, that is the most important thing to lifestyle customers. Many of them aren’t necessarily looking to save a lot of money, they are just looking to get the job done in the easiest, most convenient way possible.”
Beyond the basic options, dealer sales personnel should be prepared to discuss the different types of ratings for log splitters. The ratings are one of the more obvious differences between machines. Many of the models sold at homeowner stores have higher tonnage ratings, but are still lower performing machines. This is because of the pressure ratings on the hoses. Typically, the more commodity-type machines have lower pressure systems that make it nearly impossible to reach the stated performance levels.
“I walk through why the brands we stock are rated the way they are, and the reasons why a 33-ton splitter at the home store won’t do what one of my 21-ton splitters will do,” says Walters.
After sales support — and not just on the service side — is also a very important point of differentiation for your dealership.
Ken Keiran, who owns Union Farm Equipment, a Kubota and New Holland dealer in Union, Maine, says he spends a considerable amount of time with customers after the sale.
“We aren’t going to let anyone walk out the door without them understanding how to use it. This is massively different than a Big Box store where the customer is picking it up, walking out the door and going home to set it up.”
Each customer has a varying level of knowledge and expertise, so Keiran doesn’t have a set list of things he goes through, but instead tailors it to the customer’s needs.
“For the person who has never owned a wood splitter, we are going to have a conversation with them until they are at the point that they are comfortable with it. We’ll show them how the equipment can really cause damage to life and limb if used improperly. It is a substantial piece of equipment, and one that is very dangerous if not used correctly.”
Adding a Log Splitter Line
Should you add a log splitter line to your product offering? How do you choose the best one to represent?
“What log splitters do for us is expand the boundaries of our business,” says Walters. “We have had sales leads from as far as four hours away. And those folks often do come and buy from me because I have multiple models in stock, side by side. Many times these customers become longer-term prospects because they realize I sell a lot more than log splitters.”
Log splitters are a simple hydraulic machine and customers can be lured by that simplicity, thinking that any machine will do. To hold up over the long haul, log splitters must be well-designed, made of quality materials and components and be robustly assembled.
Linn, from Alexander Equipment, says often when a lifestyle customer shows up at his dealership in search of a log splitter, they have already been to the Big Box store and weren’t happy with the results.
“Typically, by the time they find me, they have either done their research or purchased an inferior product that didn’t last and are now looking for a quality product,” he says. “You can buy a cheap one anywhere. When they get tired of dealing with the headaches, they start searching for a quality machine. They are willing to pay extra for a quality piece of equipment.”
Other dealers agree that to be successful in selling log splitters, you must first choose to represent a high quality product.
The four-way wedge on the Timberwolf TW-5 log splitter is an option that improves efficiency for the rural lifestyle customer.
“Make sure the quality is something you can stand behind,” says Keiran. “Rural lifestyle customers are not willing to wait a week or 10 days to have their log splitter repaired because your shop is tied up working on tractors. You want to try to eliminate that situation as much as possible from the outset by representing quality equipment.”
Dealers need to understand the design and assembly of the log splitter. The configuration and the way the splitter operates are directly related to overall wear and tear.
“The I-beam is really important. The pusher and how it is mounted is really important,” says Walters. “Whether the shims are easily replaceable is critical, so when it starts to wear you can tighten it back up.”
Keiran carries two lines of log splitters at his dealership in Maine. He chose to represent two particular manufacturers because of quality construction.
“Everyone and their brother makes a wood splitter, and everyone wants the bigger dealers to pick up their line, so we are always being approached. We have looked at all the products and decided to go with Timberwolf as our primary line because the wedge itself is stationary vs. being attached to the moving cylinder. This results in much less wear and tear on the cylinder.
“The other splitter that we represent is Split-Fire. It is another quality machine, but is less expensive because it has fewer options and features, and is tractor mounted, which eliminates the expense of having its own power unit. The tractor-mounted unit splits wood in both directions, so the wedge is traveling back and forth between two stationary ends and the cylinder is working on both ends of the scope. It is slower, but is working off the tractor’s hydraulics, which are much lower on the compact tractors. To make up for that, the wedge is only traveling half way. You don’t have to go back to the start each time.”
Walters says that the market for log splitters is fairly strong year-round, but that sales can vary from year to year, depending on market conditions.
“That’s the only challenge with log splitters … it’s either feast or famine. Weather conditions, economy, price of gas and oil, I don’t know what it is, but it seems like everyone gets the bug at the same time. On the professional side, we sell a lot in the summer because that is when you are splitting for the following year; the same for the spring. The homeowner doesn’t generally come around until September or October. They don’t feel the urgency earlier than that, but if the price of fuel oil goes up, you will get a spurt.”
To help capture more segments of the market, consider taking the route that Keiran took at Union Farm Equipment.
“I added that second line of splitters because it was a much lower price point and I knew for years that we were missing out on the customers that don’t necessarily want to spend a couple thousand dollars for half a cord of wood a year.”
Other Success Factors
In addition to selling a quality machine, another essential aspect of selling log splitters is to keep them in stock.
“If someone is ready to buy one, they want to see it,” says Linn. “They don’t want to see a brochure. They have already seen that on the Internet. They are ready to look at the piece of equipment.”
Dealers need to understand the design and assembly of the log splitter. The configuration and the way the splitter operates directly relate to overall wear and tear.
Walters says the need to stock equipment is more important than ever since the Internet is taking a much more prominent role in the information gathering stage of the sales process.
“You absolutely have to stock the equipment. There are many, many ways for customers to get information on log splitters, so the first question they often ask me is ‘Do we have one in stock?”
Demonstrations and open houses are another effective method for selling splitters.
“Every year we have landscaper days,” says Walters. “We don’t tailor that to the homeowner, but a lot of the homeowners attend because they hear about it and they want to come and talk with the reps. It is more of a low-pressure situation, because they can watch someone else do it or hear the sales pitch given to someone else. Just strictly having one for the homeowner doesn’t work well for us, but having it as part of the professional days where we demonstrate a lot of equipment, then homeowners come because there is more here for them.”
Keiran also has open houses to showcase the equipment he sells.
“We’ll have an open house a couple times a year, one of them is specifically “chip, split and drive,” so we are working splitters, wood chippers and various other products that we sell,” he says.
Providing customers with the opportunity to see how the splitters work on different types of wood is also beneficial, says Walters.
“We have a $7,000 log splitter that we just put time on to show people how it’s used,” he says. “And we encourage customers to bring in all kinds of wood to try it out — wood so hard it would crumble instead of split.”
Taking that one step further, Keiran has a rental fleet of splitters that he loans out to customers to help them make a final decision.
“If someone is on the fence about one model vs. another, I’ll spot them our equipment so they can try it out.”
The bottom line is that adding log splitters to your product offering can be great for the bottom line. It may be an ancillary product for most dealers, but if done right, it can bring in six-figure sales numbers.