Toro’s Lawnmower, Garden and Chainsaw Center has been in business for more than 42 years and Laura and Scott Toro have been running the business for more than 25 years. Despite their longevity, Laura Toro felt they could do more. And, as the person in charge of the finances, she wanted to better understand the business behind their business to help their dealership grow.

Toro’s is located in La Crescenta, Calif., about 15 miles north of Los Angeles. Last year, Toro had the chance to boost her business knowledge by participating in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. The program, which is held in 17 locations throughout the U.S., helps entrepreneurs with management issues, capital and support services.

“You get mired in the trenches and never have time to work on your business. The only document we had developed listed our capabilities and mission statement. We had no forecasting documents, no culture statement, no policies and procedures documents and no job descriptions,” Toro says. “I wanted to be more efficient, productive and profitable, but I didn’t know if I was doing that because I didn’t have the metrics to measure it. My drive was to better understand my financial statement.”

Networking with Business Peers

Laura Toro is one of the owners of Toro’s Lawnmower, Garden and Chainsaw Center in La Crescenta, Calif. 

To be accepted into the program, Toro completed an extensive written application and interview process to prove she was serious about learning and making changes. She had to commit to making every session — 11 full-day seminars held at Los Angeles City College. The class of 26 was chosen late last summer and the sessions ran from August to November. Each session was led by a professional, such as a labor attorney and bank underwriters.

“We were all equals. It was a peer-driven environment with a myriad of businesses represented, but there weren’t any competing businesses,” Toro says.

The sessions includes presentations and group projects and Toro completed homework between the sessions. The program also provided one-on-one business advising and resources for developing a customized business growth plan.

Formalizing Operations

Toro says one of the first tasks she and Scott took on was to write a job description for a new position. “That was the first job description we had ever written. It took us 15 hours to write it. We went through the HR module and followed it step by step,” she says. “We’re hoping to have all our internal policies and procedures documented by the end of the year, such as how an employee should take in a piece of equipment for repair and what to do when a customer enters the door.”

Toro is involving her team in their efforts to formalize procedures. “Unless all of us buy into the processes, it’s not going to work. It’s been exciting for our employees, too, to see that we’re investing in the business.”

They are also writing a business plan for the dealership, taking a detailed look at their history, growth aspirations, risks, opportunities, threats, size of market and feasibility analyses.

“The whole aim is to grow our business. We can’t grow if our financials don’t support it. And it’s about making ourselves ‘bankable’ because you never know when you’ll need an infusion of cash.”

Making Changes

Besides developing documentation, Toro is changing how she works with her accountant on monthly financial reports. “The program gave me the education to go to my accountant and say, ‘This is what we want moving forward.’ "

The Toros are also taking a closer look at some of the intangible aspects of running a dealership. She refers to that as “return on energy spent” or ROES. “With 52 things to do on your desk, which one do you work on? It’s easy to suffer burnout. ROES is a reminder to put energy right now into the things that will generate the most profit.”

“This program has helped us run our business in a way that I never dreamed we could. We’ve been in business 42 years and we’ve been profitable. But to now bring this aspect into our dealership…there won’t be anything stopping us.”