Back in my newspaper days, I heard the newly-elected mayor of a down-and-out city in Michigan say something I’ll never forget: “I’m not one for making speeches, and I’m not one for listening to them either.”

These words have stuck with me. Why? They’re a call to action. When times are tough, progress isn’t made by preaching and making empty promises. His words meant it’s time to stop talking, roll up your sleeves and get to work.

With the difficult times some rural lifestyle equipment dealerships have faced lately, I could use this space for a rah-rah speech. But you’ve probably heard a lot of them already, and it wouldn’t change anything. You’ve still got equipment to sell, bills to pay and employees to keep working.

Instead, my plan is to offer 5 ideas that could boost your dealership’s bottom line. These ideas came from four Midwestern equipment dealers and a consultant who participated in a panel discussion at the GIE + EXPO in Louisville last October.

They included: Dan Weingartz, Weingartz Supply, Utica, Mich; Garnett Vance, Vance Outdoor Power Equipment, Glasgow, Ky.; Tom Rigg, Rigg’s Outdoor Power Equipment, with 4 dealerships in northern Indiana, and Duane Nolden of Prairie Power Center in Sun Prairie, Wis.

Here are their suggestions:

The Top 10 List. As your dealership sells equipment, make a quick “Top 10” list of most-needed replacement parts. Vance keeps a cheat sheet at his computer to pare down the time spent looking up parts for customers. “If a customer comes in with a lawn mower, you can use the list to pick out the part. It speeds up the process,” Vance says. “You can get the customers in and out in 4 minutes.”

The Price Matrix. Dealerships must be competitive on the prices of items like batteries, filters or spark plugs. But take a hard look at the price point for some of your other parts. Weingartz and Nolden say they’ve rounded the prices up for some parts: If the current price is $10.64, make it $10.99. If it’s 95 cents, make it 99 cents. “It’s made a huge different in our margins, they’ve gone up 3-4%,” Weingartz says.

All You Have to Do is Ask. Many dealerships get by with a minimum amount of fees for extra services, but they might be missing an opportunity to improve margins. Think about levying assembly, setup or delivery charges for that $1,499 mower you’ve sold, Weingartz says. “We’re finding little resistance on setup and delivery charges. Many dealerships are afraid of it in a big way.”

Some customers will pay $120 to have the dealership set up their equipment, Vance says, so he pays service technicians a flat rate to do the work after hours. “It’s an extra $200 a week for them.” Nolden says he finds less resistance to fees and charges at the time of purchase.

Do Your Own Branding. While there’s nothing wrong with a dealership taking advantage of co-op advertising, it isn’t always easy to analyze results, Weingartz says. “If you know half of your advertising works, you need to figure out which half. We do some of our own branding. We did a newspaper insert last year with our own stuff.” Vance says his store bought shirts with the dealership’s name on it to hand out for lawn mower purchases. “We believe if a customer wears a shirt with our brand, it’s seen more than a newspaper ad. And if it’s a newspaper ad, we put a coupon in it so we can track our success.”

Pound the Pavement. “For too many years, dealers have sat back and waited for customers to come in their doors,” says Jay Gaskins, an outside sales consultant for STI Turf Care Equipment in Charlotte, N.C., who attended the dealer panel discussion. Dealers need to aggressively pursue municipalities, park districts, largeproperty owners and hobby farmers.

“There’s a lot of money left on the table with customers outside your walls,” he says. “People move every year. Go out and shake hands and put your business card out there. Maybe they’re not buying products right now, but they still need their products serviced.”

These are all “little ideas” — but it’s little ideas adding up that provide big results.